Job done and onto the next one: Matt Scrafton's verdict on Blackpool's Good Friday victory against struggling Swindon

The biggest compliment I can pay Blackpool is that this victory felt as routine as you can get.

Saturday, 3rd April 2021, 10:01 am
Updated Saturday, 3rd April 2021, 10:02 am

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Swindon Town 0-2 Blackpool: Jerry Yates scores against his former side as Seasid...

That might not seem particularly significant given Blackpool are in the play-offs and Swindon hover nervously just a point above the dropzone, but Neil Critchley’s side haven’t always made easy work of the league’s ‘poorer’ sides this season.

But that’s exactly what they did on Good Friday, as they claimed a first victory at the County Ground in 35 years.

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More importantly, the victory - their fifth away win on the spin - sees them move back up into the play-offs ahead of Easter Monday’s pivotal encounter against top six rivals Gillingham, who sit just two points behind.

Perhaps I expected too much from Swindon, who clearly have a big fight on their hands to avoid relegation straight back to the fourth tier.

But coming into this game on the back of consecutive away wins against Fleetwood Town and Bristol Rovers, you’d have been forgiven for thinking they’d want to back up their away-day triumphs with another three points on home turf.

But, and this is taking nothing away from Blackpool whatsoever, because they were in control from start to finish, but Swindon didn’t even make much of an attempt to win this.

Neil Critchley embraces Chris Maxwell at the full-time whistle

Instead, they sat back and looked to frustrate the in-form Seasiders, who are now unbeaten in their last 12 outings - a record that no other League One side has managed to better this season.

Sitting deep and hitting sides on the counter-attack is an effective approach adopted by several sides in the third tier, but 33-year-old lone striker Brett Pitman - an excellent finisher, but not exactly a pacy frontman - isn’t exactly the man you want leading the line when you’re trying to play this way.

Jordon Garrick did pose problems with his speed for Luke Garbutt early on, which led to Swindon’s clearest opportunity of the game. The winger got in behind Garbutt and pulled the ball back into the path of Pitman, who surprisingly failed to hit the target from 10 yards.

But the Seasiders soon got to grips with their tweaked system, which saw Elliot Embleton and Sullay Kaikai come in from the flanks to outnumber Swindon in midfield, allowing them to play through the hosts almost at will.

It was a little harsh on Demetri Mitchell to be dropped after his Man of the Match display against Plymouth Argyle last week, but it was a tactical tweak from the ‘tinkerman’ Critchley that paid off. He’s making a nasty habit of that, isn’t he?

But for all of Blackpool’s good build-up play and patient, controlled possession, working Swindon from side to side, they were a little slow and ponderous at times and were struggling to find a cutting edge in the final third.

But the longer they remained in total control, as they did with 70 per cent of possession in the first-half, the more likely it became they would find a way through at some point.

Embleton blazed over before Grant Ward volleyed just wide, but Blackpool’s patience was rewarded on the stroke of half-time when Ellis Simms handed them a deserved lead in emphatic style.

The Everton loanee, scoring for the fourth time since joining in January, latched onto a lovely ball over the top from Jordan Gabriel. The ball sat up nicely for Simms but he still had plenty to do, but he controlled his volley to perfection to lash home Blackpool’s opener.

You were half expecting Swindon to come out at the start of the second-half and put it on Blackpool, but an onslaught never materialised. In fact, I’m not sure they were even capable of one.

It was just a matter of time until the Seasiders found a second to put the game to bed and lo and behold, Jerry Yates was the man to double his side’s lead with a composed finish against his former club.

The 24-year-old, who scored 14 goals in 36 appearances for the Robins during their promotion from League Two last season, beat the offside trap with a well-timed run, rounded the keeper before slotting the ball home into the back of the empty net for his 18th of the campaign.

Pool came a little sloppy after this, almost as if they thought the game was already done and they’d be able to see out the remaining half an hour with ease.

Thankfully Chris Maxwell was on hand to make a superb stop to deny Jack Payne barely 60 seconds after Yates had found the back of the net.

Swindon enjoyed a bit more possession in the final stages, something of great annoyance to Critchley, who wanted his side to keep the ball and stay away from their own goal.

But the home side, who only began to show a bit of attacking intent once going two goals down, never looked likely to do anything with their belated pressure.

The Seasiders probably ought to have extended their lead with two or three counter-attacking situations, but Yates volleyed over and Embleton curled just wide after bamboozling two Swindon men with some sublime footwork and trickery.

In the end, Pool had to settle for their second 2-0 victory over Swindon of the season, completing a comfortable league double against John Sheridan’s strugglers.

Up next? The small matter of Gillingham, who bullied and outsmarted the Seasiders earlier in the season to claim a 2-0 win of their own at the Priestfield Stadium.

Have Blackpool learned their lesson from that occasion? We’ll soon find out, but you’d imagine Critchley and co will have something up their sleeve.

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