Brave and gutsy Blackpool survive another breathless affair - Matt Scrafton's verdict on Gillingham draw
A recent study revealed that watching football can actually be good for your health as it can provide a beneficial workout for your heart.
If that truly is the case, and on the basis of the Seasiders’ most recent displays, Blackpool supporters should be among the most physically fit of fanbases in the country.
For Blackpool were involved in yet another thrilling, end-to-end encounter at Gillingham on Tuesday night, which came on the back of Saturday’s breathless affair against Oxford United.
I don’t know if it’s the way Simon Grayson is setting up his side, or these two games were just exceptions rather than the rule, but it still appears Pool fans will be in for a topsy-turvy ride this season.
Whatever happens, win, lose or draw, it certainly won’t be dull.
Fortunately for the Seasiders, they’ve still yet to taste defeat in the league. While their perfect win record has gone, their unbeaten streak remains intact and they’re back at the summit of League One.
You don’t get handed anything on a plate for free in this division and Grayson’s men were certainly made to work hard for their point at the Priestfield Stadium.
Like Saturday, Pool were second best for large parts of the game, although on this occasion they were a much more potent threat in attack, having only produced four shots on goal against Oxford at the weekend.
But they had to show the same sort of character and guts that was on display against the U’s, surviving an onslaught of long balls and dangerous crosses into their box.
There were several occasions on both Saturday and Tuesday where I was thinking to myself ‘they can’t keep defending like this, the opposition will score at some point’.
And yet it almost appears their last-ditch, desperately brave approach to defending comes completely natural to them. Without exaggerating for effect, it’s like they thrive on it.
It says a lot about this crop of players that, following their exhaustive efforts against Oxford, and going into this game without four key men, they were able to produce another backs-against-the-wall rearguard display having made the arduous 280-mile trip down to Kent to face a Gillingham side that enjoyed the weekend off.
Whether their fresh legs had an impact or not, who knows, but it definitely seemed that way in the opening stages.
Steve Evans’ side, in typical Steve Evans fashion, laid siege to the Blackpool goal and the Blackpool box.
The Seasiders were very much off the pace and yet still posed more of a threat in attack than they did at the weekend, where they still somehow managed to score twice and earn their third straight win.
That winning sequence looked dead and buried when Gillingham flew into a two-goal first-half lead, both goals coming from the dangerous Alex Jakubiak.
The Gills had clearly done their homework and realised the weakness on the right-hand side of Blackpool’s back three.
While Rocky Bushiri is young and still learning, and he quite clearly has potential, he is also a defender who makes rash decisions and is prone to a mistake.
That’s exactly what happened after just nine minutes, the 19-year-old being pulled out of position not once, not twice but three times, allowing Jakubiak the time and space to pick his spot and slot home into the far corner.
Pool were again caught out 10 minutes before the interval and it was the same man to benefit, Jakubiak completing his brace with a driven effort that was too hot to handle for goalkeeper Jak Alnwick.
Grayson’s side were staring down the barrel before the game had even reached the interval and yet, with two quickfire goals, they fought and battled their way back to level terms.
The first came via a sumptuous piece of flowing football. Callum Guy, on for the injured Nathan Delfouneso, played a lovely-weighted ball into Sullay Kaikai who slotted beyond the onrushing keeper to break his scoring duck in convincing fashion.
We’re only four games into the season but it already feels like Kaikai’s goal has been a long time coming. I’m sure this will be the first of many.
Just five minutes had passed when Blackpool, completely outplayed for much of the first half, drew level through their in-form striker Armand Gnanduillet, who has now scored four times in the first five games.
The 27-year-old timed his jump to perfection to meet Liam Feeney’s pinpoint cross and you just knew the ball was ending up in the back of the net before he even made contact - the keeper had no chance.
Such clinical finishing was an alien concept to Blackpool last season, who of course only managed the 50 goals in league games.
But the Seasiders do appear to have found that killer touch in front of goal which can only bode well, especially in those games when they are at their free-flowing best, a la Bristol Rovers and Southend United.
The second half against Gillingham was much of a muchness, although Kaikai and Gnanduillet both came close to edging Blackpool in front for the first time.
But it wouldn’t be the Seasiders without a scare, and that’s exactly how it transpired for the last 10 minutes or so as Gillingham threw the kitchen sink in search of their first win of the season.
Bodies were laid strewn across the box, defenders were camped inside the six-yard box, there were headers and desperate blocks aplenty. Whatever it took to get the job done, Blackpool were prepared to do it.
A rival League One manager often claims teams must have “the right minerals” if they are to taste success. It’s only early days but Blackpool are displaying all the right signs, even if it does come at the expense of our health.