Gillingham 2-2 Blackpool: Seasiders produce gutsy comeback to move top of League One table
Blackpool climbed to the top of the League One table after producing a spirited comeback to draw at Gillingham.
While the Seasiders have lost their 100 per cent record, they will be delighted to come away from the Priestfield Stadium with a point after surviving an onslaught from Steve Evans’ side.
The hosts raced into a deserved two-goal lead, the dangerous Alex Jakubiak netting both goals to put Pool on the back foot.
But the Seasiders fought back with a gutsy display, earning a point thanks to goals from Sullay Kaikai and Armand Gnanduillet.
But Blackpool still had to do plenty of defending in the second half, surviving after Gillingham had thrown the kitchen in a pulsating affair.
Pool have now won three of their opening four games, drawing the other, to move them to the top of the table on 10 points, ahead of second-placed Lincoln City.
Simon Grayson made just the one change to his side from Saturday’s hard-fought 2-1 win against Oxford United.
Skipper Jay Spearing recovered from a shoulder complaint, returning to the centre of Blackpool’s midfield.
That saw Ollie Turton revert to left wing-back, while Nick Anderton dropped down to the bench.
Jamie Devitt, subject of transfer speculation in recent days, travelled with the team but was left out of Pool’s 18-man squad.
Matty Virtue, Joe Nuttall and Mark Howard all remain sidelined while James Husband served the third and final game of his three-match suspension.
After a quiet opening, both sides exchanged a couple of long-range efforts, Brandon Hanlan shooting straight at Jak Alnwick for the home side before Nathan Delfouneso curled one comfortably wide.
The first real opening of the game, on nine minutes, resulted in a goal for the home side as Alex Jakubiak took advantage of some sloppy defending from Rocky Bushiri.
The centre back was pulled out of position too easily down Pool’s right-hand side giving Jakubiak time and space to pick out the bottom corner from just inside the box, and the forward made no mistake, slotting beyond Alnwick’s despairing dive.
The home side continued to target Blackpool’s right-hand side, Mark Byrne beating Nathan Delfouneso to the ball by the touchline before delivering a dangerous cross which somehow managed to evade everyone inside the six-yard box.
Steve Evans’ men, without a midweek home league win in 1,365 days, continued to exert the early pressure and Alnwick was forced to come racing out of his goal to punch away a long ball over the top of Pool’s backline.
The home side appealed for handball as the shot stopper made contact with the ball right on the line of the 18-yard box, but the referee adjudged Alnwick to have made the punch inside his box, not out of it.
With the match not even half an hour old, the Seasiders were dealt another blow when Nathan Delfouneso was forced to hobble off with an injury.
The forward was replaced by Callum Guy as Grayson shook things up in an attempt to get a foothold of the game in midfield.
Pool were at sixes and sevens at the back and, having survived a scare when Alnwick saved from Elliott List, they soon found themselves two goals down.
Jakubiak was the man to take advantage once again, drilling a shot at Alnwick which the goalkeeper couldn’t handle, resulting in the ball looping up and into the back of the net.
With the half not even over, Blackpool looked dead and buried, but Armand Gnanduillet almost immediately pulled a goal back with a drilled effort from 20 yards out that flew just wide of the left-hand post.
But Grayson’s men did reduce the arrears with their following move, Sullay Kaikai finishing off a sublime flowing move to find the back of the net for the first time in tangerine.
The hosts were carved wide open as a quick one-two found Kaikai in space inside the box, and the forward made no mistake by slotting beyond Bonham with a calm finish.
As poor as Pool were in the opening half, they were inches away from drawing themselves level on the stroke of half time when Curtis Tilt slammed a volley on the turn against the inside of the post and away to safety.
But there was still enough time for Gillingham to go close once again, Stuart O’Keefe somehow managing to skew his effort wide from inside the six-yard box after Jakubiak had beaten Ryan Edwards for pace.
Yet, in the second minute of stoppage time, Pool amazingly evened things up - via yet another superb move and a clinical finish from their in-form striker.
Liam Feeney provided a peach of a cross that Gnanduillet met perfectly, sending a well-guided header beyond the keeper and into the bottom corner to complete Pool’s dramatic turnaround, making it four goals in five in the process.
Feeney and Gnanduillet almost combined again at the start of the second half, the former providing a searching ball in behind to Gnanduillet whose shot was well blocked by a recovering Gillingham defender.
The second half, however, was a much more quieter affair than the first, with both sides looking more solid at the back.
A half chance of sorts came Pool’s way, Ryan Edwards sending a header back across the face of goal from Jordan Thompson’s deep corner only for Gillingham to clear their lines ahead of substitute Guy.
With 20 minutes left on the clock, the Seasiders came within a whisker of taking the lead for the first time in the game.
It came via that man Gnanduillet again, the striker - now brimming with confidence - launching a long-range effort that took a vicious deflection, seeing the ball loop up and over the goalkeeper and just wide of the post.
Pool continued to up the pressure, Kaikai the next man to go close as he fired over on the turn from Gnanduillet’s knockdown.
With 12 minutes remaining, Kaikai thought he had put Blackpool ahead when he made the perfect contact with a volley, again from Gnanduillet’s knockdown.
But somehow keeper Bonham flew across his goal to make a superb fingertip save to send the ball behind for a Blackpool corner.
Surprisingly, the home side took off the man who had scored both of their goals in Jakubiak but it almost paid dividends immediately, as the man who replaced him - Mikael Mandron - saw a back-post header saved by Alnwick.
The follow up was then cleared off the line by Guy as Pool continued to come under the cosh in the final stages.
The Gills continued to throw the kitchen sink at the Seasiders in the dying stages, Mark Byrne volleying over after Grayson’s men had failed to clear their lines.
The pressure kept coming Blackpool’s way in the four minutes of injury time, the Gills winning corner after corner, but Grayson’s men held firm to maintain their unbeaten start to the new season.
Gillingham: Bonham, Hodson, O’Keefe, Ehmer, Ogilvie, Hanlan, Fuller, Jones, List (Marshall), Byrne, Jakubiak (Mandron)
Subs not used: Walsh, Cisse, Woods, Tucker
Blackpool: Alnwick, Bushiri (Nottingham), Edwards, Tilt, Feeney (Anderton), Turton, Spearing, Thompson, Kaikai, Delfouneso (Guy), Gnanduillet
Subs not used: Mafoumbi, Pritchard, Shaw, Hardie
Referee: Neil Hair
Attendance: 4,219 (308 Blackpool)