'This felt like a big win': Matt Scrafton's verdict on Blackpool's last-gasp win against Doncaster Rovers
There’s something about a hard-earned, last-gasp away-day victory that just warms the cockles of your heart.
Blackpool are only nine games into the season but last night’s triumph at the Keepmoat felt like a big one.
It seemed the players felt that way too considering the passion they showed at the final whistle when celebrating with the 424 hardy souls that made the trip across the Pennines.
Having suffered two defeats on the spin, with the second of those coming in humbling fashion at home to MK Dons at the weekend, it was imperative Simon Grayson’s men avoided a third straight setback.
To achieve that goal, it was clear they had gone back to basics, setting their stall out to defend resolutely, keeping a disciplined shape while gaining control of the football.
It was imperative the Seasiders kept a clean sheet having come into Tuesday night’s clash on the back of shipping six goals in their last two outings.
If that meant drawing 0-0 away to a team that were previously unbeaten, having finished in the play-offs last season, then so be it.
And it looked like the game was heading that way until the third minute of stoppage time. Enter Armand Gnanduillet.
The Frenchman made a match-winning impact off the bench having been surprisingly dropped alongside Sullay Kaikai – Pool’s top scorers this season.
Gnanduillet was clearly frustrated by Grayson’s decision and that’s a good sign. As the 27-year-old warmed up in the second half in front of the away contingent, he applauded the Pool fans as they serenaded the striker with his popular chant.
The top scorer was sending a clear message to his manager: get me on the pitch now. And Gnanduillet returned that faith.
With Doncaster piling on the pressure in stoppage time, pinning Pool in their own box, Gnanduillet sparked a flowing counter that would result in pandemonium in the away end.
He showed composure to chest the ball down before embarking on a powerful run, where he set Liam Feeney free down the right.
The wing-back, who was crying out for some space all night, delivered one of his now trademark deliveries into the six-yard box where the big man met it perfectly, heading beyond the goalkeeper for his sixth of the season.
It was one of those crosses from Feeney where, as soon as the ball came off his boot, you just knew it was destined for Gnanduillet’s head. That’s now eight assists for the season for the 32-year-old.
The move was also an impressive display of counter-attacking football, just 10 seconds passing between the moment Gnanduillet picked the ball up deep in his own half and the striker nodding the ball across the line.
The only thing lacking in tempo was Gnanduillet’s celebration. While his teammates were jumping around in jubilation around him, the Frenchman slowly marched away with a steely look of determination on his face.
There’s no doubting Grayson took a risk in dropping Gnanduillet and Kaikai, but it was one that clearly paid off.
The team selection was widely questioned prior to kick off and I will gladly hold my hands up and admit I was one of them.
I had no issue with Grayson sticking with the same system, as I thought that was the right thing to do, but taking the attacking duo out of the team – who now have 10 goals between them – left the Seasiders’ line-up badly lacking in goals.
While Grayson kept faith with the back three and wing-backs, there was a slight tweak in midfield where Matty Virtue came into the fray – adding a third midfielder in the centre of the park to help bring energy to assist Jay Spearing and Jordan Thompson.
While Thompson was the more advanced of the three, it meant when Blackpool were defending they were able to sit in and remain compact – a tactic that clearly frustrated the home side who struggled to create openings all night.
The men in blue – who wore their away strip for the first time this season – looked more balanced and in control than they had done in their previous two games. That helped Grayson’s men gain a foothold against a side that liked to pass the ball around.
While Gnanduillet will grab all the headlines for his late winner, it was a man at the other end of the pitch that was the standout performer.
Curtis Tilt answered his critics in the best fashion possible, delivering a commanding display at the back which demonstrated why – if anyone had forgotten – he is widely regarded as Blackpool’s best player.
It would have been easy for Grayson to take Tilt out of the fray after the defender’s costly mistake against MK Dons on Saturday, when the centre back was punished for a glaring error for the second home game running.
But, despite those high-profile mistakes, Tilt has still been one of Blackpool’s most impressive performers this season and it would have been harsh to drop him.
If Tilt’s confidence had been knocked, you wouldn’t have noticed it. The 28-year-old was typically confident on the ball, while doing the basics of defending in his usual assured fashion.
He made a goal-saving clearance, too, somehow managing to steer his neck in the right direction to head Niall Ennis’ shot away for a corner from under his own crossbar after the Doncaster forward had nipped the ball past onrushing goalkeeper Jak Alnwick.
It was a piece of defending that was as good as a goal, almost as important than the one from Gnanduillet that got the Seasiders back on the winning trail.