Fighting back from controversy to finally win in front of travelling fans: Matt Scrafton's verdict on Blackpool magnificent comeback against Middlesbrough
On September 17, 2019, Blackpool beat Doncaster Rovers 1-0 away from home thanks to Armand Gnanduillet’s stoppage-time header.
What’s the significance of that exactly, I hear you ask?
Well – barring Wembley, when only 4,000 fans could attend – it was the last time the Seasiders won away from home in front of Blackpool’s travelling support.
The Seasiders’ richly deserved victory at the Riverside on Saturday came almost two years to the day (733 days,to be exact). Spooky, or what?
While the late nature of Gnanduillet’s dramatic winner caused wild scenes of celebration among the 424 Seasiders at the Keepmoat, it doesn’t compare to Saturday’s jaunt to Teesside.
For a start, Blackpool were going nowhere fast under Simon Grayson’s management at the time. While the supporters were delighted to be back from their boycott, the true togetherness we have now didn’t truly sow its first seeds until Neil Critchley took the reins.
Secondly, there were almost triple the number that made the trip to the Riverside in the North East sunshine.
The tangerine faithful were in fine voice from start to finish, even when their side was trailing. While Boro led for almost an hour, the home crowd were suspiciously quiet and were shown up throughout. Thankfully they got their reward with two goals to celebrate in the second-half, and boy, did they celebrate.
Unfortunately they didn’t have a great deal to shout about during a fairly drab opening half, in which Pool never really got going.
That’s not to say they were particularly poor, either. It was just a bit of a nothing game, not a lot was happening and both sides were cancelling each other out. The ball seemed to be spending more time off the pitch than on it.
It had 0-0 written all over it, but the scoreboard said differently.
That’s because the hosts took the lead with just eight minutes on the clock in what can only be described as contentious circumstances.
Marcus Tavernier was the man to tap home from close range, but it was what happened in the lead-up to the final touch that caused such outrage among the Blackpool ranks.
Neil Warnock’s men worked a short corner back to James Lea Siliki, whose deep cross appeared to be heading straight towards Dael Fry, who had timed his back-post run perfectly.
But before the ball reached him, it appeared to be flicked on by the head of Lee Peltier. When the Boro man made contact, his teammate Fry was a good three or four yards off.
Now, as kids we’re always told to play to the whistle, but Blackpool’s players froze and stood like statues watching with mouths wide open as the clearly offside Fry played the ball back across the face of goal for Tavernier to tap home.
Confusion reigned supreme, but the linesman’s flag remained down and the referee allowed the goal to stand. The officials clearly didn’t spot Peltier’s flick-on.
Blackpool were incensed, but their appeals fell on deaf ears. Nevertheless, irrespective of the manner of Boro’s goal, the Seasiders needed to up their game.
The away side were badly missing the experience, know-how and quality of Kevin Stewart, who missed out through injury.
Their decision-making left a lot to be desired, too, because they were getting into some promising attacking positions on a fairly regular basis, only to choose the wrong ball at the all-important moment far too often.
To their huge credit, they didn’t allow the controversial setback to negatively impact their performance. If anything, it spurred them on to get back in the game.
They should have done exactly that when, somewhat ironically, a Ryan Wintle cross was flicked on – albeit by an opposition player this time – into the path of the unmarked Tyreece John-Jules.
The Arsenal loanee, who endured a frustrating day at the office, settled himself, cut inside his marker to open up the space only to blaze well over. He had to score.
Not a great deal else happened in the first-half, other than Andraz Sporar grazing the top of the Blackpool bar and Shayne Lavery firing over after John-Jules opted against shooting first time from Garbutt’s well-worked corner.
The visitors emerged with more purpose at the start of the second period and began to take control.
John-Jules headed wide at full stretch from Dujon Sterling’s right-wing cross, while Lavery toe-poked onto the post after former Pool loanee Joe Lumley made a mess of Garbutt’s cross.
Critchley’s men continued to pile forward, momentum was on their side. It seemed like only a matter of time until they would equalise.
No-one could have guessed how Pool would draw level though, with their two centre-backs combining exquisitely to get the goal their play deserved.
Kenny Dougall played a short free-kick into the feet of Richard Keogh, who picked out defensive partner Marvin Ekpiteta with a sumptuous forward ball.
Ekpiteta held it up like a true centre forward, using his height and strength to back into his man before swivelling and firing past Lumley. Cue bedlam in the away end.
Fifteen minutes later, the 1,131 travelling Seasiders couldn’t believe their eyes when the away side completed their turnaround to take the lead.
Garbutt, a threat from set-pieces all day long, saw his corner fly into the back of the net off Middlesbrough defender Grant Hall, a player that spent a brief loan spell at Bloomfield Road in 2015.
It was a truly bizarre goal, but the travelling Blackpool fans didn’t care one bit.
They were almost momentarily quietened when Boro substitute Martin Payero hit the bar with a curling effort from the edge of the box, but other than that Warnock’s side, who looked distinctly average throughout, failed to offer much of a response.
It left Pool able to celebrate a crucial second victory of the season and their first on their travels.
It’s been a good week for the Seasiders, with wins over Fulham and Middlesbrough either side of a defeat to Huddersfield Town that doesn’t tell the whole story.
The Championship is so tough, we all know that. But the signs are there that Blackpool, who have spirit and resilience in abundance, are now beginning to acclimatise.
And let’s not forget, after eight games in League One last season, the Seasiders were on seven points, one fewer than their current tally in the division above.
There’s a long, long way to go.
Thanks for reading. If you value what we do and are able to support us, a digital subscription is just £1 for your first month. Try us today by clicking here