Good omens, superlatives and play-off dreams: Matt Scrafton's verdict on Blackpool's final-day win against Bristol Rovers which secured a third-placed finish

Blackpool’s final-day win against Bristol Rovers secured a third-placed finish and meant Neil Critchley’s men ended the season on 80 points.

Monday, 10th May 2021, 2:04 pm
Updated Monday, 10th May 2021, 2:59 pm

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Blackpool’s final-day win against Bristol Rovers secured a third-placed finish and meant Neil Critchley’s men ended the season on 80 points.

You have to go all the way back to 2007 for the last time the Seasiders reached that points tally.

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Fourteen years ago, Simon Grayson’s men ended the season with 10 straight wins to also finish in third before securing promotion to the Championship via the play-offs.

As omens go, that’s a pretty good start.

There won’t be a repeat of the ‘Perfect 10’ on this occasion, but after ending the season with four straight wins, the ‘Magnificent Seven’ is still possible. And that doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

It’s difficult to lavish praise on the Seasiders without resorting to superlatives, but Critchley and co deserve all the credit that is currently coming their way.

Ellis Simms scored the winner as Pool ended the regular season with a 1-0 win against Bristol Rovers

To finish in third and to reach 80 points after their disastrous start - where they lost six of their opening nine games - is simply stunning.

It’s a statistic I continue to use, and I’ll never tire of it, but since the 1-0 defeat at AFC Wimbledon at the end of October, Blackpool have been the best side in League One, collecting a hugely impressive 73 points from 37 games - an average of virtually two points per game.

The consistency levels they’ve shown during that sterling six-month run, the quality and the tactical acumen has been top notch.

To collect so many points during normal circumstances with a fully-fit squad would be an unbelievable achievement as it is, but to do it without key players through injury and Covid, and in the midst of a ridiculously congested schedule owing to seven postponements, is an achievement that is simply on another level.

Critchley has demonstrated all season-long why he was considered such a highly-rated coach prior to making the move to Bloomfield Road.

Players have come in and out of the side on a regular basis, but not once has it affected the team. That’s all down to Blackpool’s head coach and his staff.

The players know their roles down to a tee and, irrespective of what system they adopt, they seem to fit in seamlessly.

We witnessed more proof of this on Sunday when, with a play-off place already guaranteed, Critchley opted to make six changes to his side.

It allowed the likes of Chris Maxwell, Dan Ballard and Jerry Yates a well-deserved breather, while handing vital minutes to Marvin Ekpiteta, Kevin Stewart and Keshi Anderson.

While it might have taken Blackpool a little longer than expected to make the breakthrough, you couldn’t fault the performance levels.

The Seasiders were excellent during the first-half, albeit against a Bristol Rovers side that were already relegated.

Anderson in particular was exceptional playing on the left wing, on what was his first start since returning from a four-month lay-off. But you would never have guessed it.

On the other flank, Demetri Mitchell was a constant threat and has given Critchley a big selection headache ahead of the first leg of the play-off semi-final.

Pool really ought to have got the job done and dusted in the first-half, but they were thwarted on a number of occasions by 17-year-old Jed Ward, who was making his professional debut in goal for the visitors.

In the end, it was left to Ellis Simms to score the decisive goal 15 minutes from time, striking barely three minutes after coming off the bench.

The Everton loanee produced an emphatic finish from Mitchell’s pinpoint cross to cap off a flowing Blackpool move, scoring for the third time in two games.

Simms was brought on in place of 18-year-old Brad Holmes, who performed beyond his years on his first professional start.

The good news didn’t end there though, as a certain Gary Madine also came on late in the game to make his first appearance in three-and-a-half months. Hopefully the striker’s re-emergence will put those ridiculous conspiracy theories to bed.

Madine and co made their way up to the Presidential Suite in the West Stand not long after full time to show their appreciation to the supporters that had been standing outside since 10am.

As touching as the scenes were, let’s hope this is the last time I ever have to report on a competitive Blackpool game taking place behind closed doors.

With official confirmation expected soon, 4,000 or so Seasiders will get to witness the second leg of Blackpool’s play-off semi-final against Oxford.

It won’t be an easy tie by any stretch of the imagination, but given Blackpool’s form and their imperious play-off heritage, you’d be a fool to bet against them.

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