Match verdict: Credit to Pool’s players, they are showing character

Blackpool players celebrate Mark Cullen's goal
Blackpool players celebrate Mark Cullen's goal
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They say you can judge people when they are at their lowest – if that’s the case, then maybe this Blackpool squad are stronger than we think.

At Oldham just under three weeks ago, the Seasiders were dead and buried. Confidence was at an all-time low and their position in League One was looking desperate.

Who knows what happened in their behind closed doors meeting two days later but it worked wonders.

To bounce back with three wins and a draw deserves real credit, and shows that although this Pool squad may not be the most gifted ever to wear the tangerine shirt they aren’t half committed.

Take Tom Aldred, who has been left out of criticism all season in these reports. If Pool do survive the drop, there’s no point having a player of the year vote - he’s won it by a country mile.

It was he who stepped-up to find a winner at Crewe four days after the Oldham nightmare, and he who once again flung himself in front of goal wards efforts at the weekend against Southend.

There’s been luck, and a couple of very ugly displays, but you have to give credit where credit is due – and it’s well due at the moment.

There’s always a downside, and despite sitting four points from the drop zone, Pool’s work is far from done.Tomorrow’s results will be crucial, with Fleetwood having two and Oldham three games in hand.

Even so, a win against Colchester on Saturday will leave Pool with almost one foot in League One for next season.

Unsurprisingly Blackpool named the same starting 11 for the third game running, with McDonald clearly happy with what he’s seen in recent weeks. It meant Jacob Blyth got another chance to make his mark in attack, with the only changes to the squad coming on the bench.

After missing last weekend’s game with a hip injury, Jack Redshaw returned to take his place amongst the substitutes.

And after criticising McDonald’s tinkering a few weeks ago, you have to say his consistent selection is starting to help his players.

While the game plan remains very much about picking-up knock downs and second balls, for the first time in a while passages of play were also starting to create chances. That comes from knowing the players around you, and there’s no doubt Pool’s now consistent line-up is playing its part.

Just about every week we talk about the importance of a bright start for Blackpool, and they certainly started on the front foot on Saturday.

Straight from kick-off they showed real intent, having their first effort on target after just 20 seconds when Danny Philliskirk’s pass was fired goal wards by Blyth.

Sadly when keeper Daniel Bentley spilled it none of Pool’s strikers reacted quickly enough to take advantage.

Two minutes later they again came forward though, this time offering Mark Cullen a superb chance from 12 yards.

He shifted the ball a yard to create space and fired wide. He will feel he should have at least hit the target.

It was the perfect start for McDonald’s men against a Southend side who were clearly worried about the Bloomfield Road pitch. In the week their boss Phil Brown had talked about it, but it’s probably the best it’s been in weeks - although still not great.

There’s no doubt it was Blackpool who were the better side of the opening exchanges, and looked to be full of confidence after their three game unbeaten run. And on 11 minutes they had another chance of a bright start, at the end of a lovely move involving Blyth and Cullen.

They exchanged passes at the edge of the area before finding Philliskirk at the right-hand side of the box who fired an effort back across goal, and wide. It gained warm applause from the home supporters, and rightly so, it was their most positive attacking move in weeks.

Southend offered very little in the opening quarter of an hour, but anything decent they were producing came via left-winger Stephen McLaughlin.

And it was his cross which created their first effort on goal after 16 minutes when Tyrone Barnett’s header was easily saved by Colin Doyle. After such a bright start the game was always going to calm down a little, and it did for ten minutes until an incredible let-off for the Seasiders.

Brad Potts surrendered possession in the middle, allowing Jack Payne to burst forward. His shot bounced kindly for Jamar Loza just yards from goal but he hit a post.

As the rebound fell to Barnett his follow-up threatened only those sat in the back row of the Armfield Stand. It was a huge let-off for Pool, but would have been a desperately unlucky goal to concede.

The game was pretty end-to-end, though Pool were struggling to create clear-cut chances, their run of corners all handled well by Bentley in the Southend goal.

Jim McAlister was Pool’s dead-ball man, floating his deliveries, which were pretty easy for defenders.

As half-time approached there was time for a big opening for the Seasiders, and a very well worked one at that.

Philliskirk drove down the right and his cut-back was met on the half-volley at the edge of the area by Potts who struck a powerful effort just wide. It was a brilliant burst from the midfield man, the likes we don’t see nearly enough of.

Potts has been one of McDonald’s biggest challenges this season, clearly a talented player, he goes missing in games far too often. Those areas around the edge of the box is where we’ve seen the best of Potts, sadly not nearly enough.

At half-time opinion was split in the press room about the opening 45 minutes, with no-one agreeing on which of the two sides had been on top.

It was a game there for the taking for both sides, and with news Fleetwood were ahead at Swindon it was vital Pool found a breakthrough.

They started the half in shaky fashion and just a minute in Payne had a big chance to fire Southend ahead, he shot wide after Blackpool failed to deal with a ball into the box.

But just a minute later Blackpool had themselves ahead. David Norris did well volley into the turf and across the box, where Cullen was to head past Bentley to fire Blackpool ahead.

It was a poacher’s goal, with Cullen reacting well to pop-up in the right place. Blackpool’s last home game saw them almost instantly throw away a lead in the second half against Bury, but there was no sign of that on Saturday.

McDonald would have been delighted with his side’s management of the game for the 20 minutes following the goal, restricting their visitors to very little in front of goal.

At this stage the Seasiders were more than happy to sit back and soak up the pressure.

With this in mind Southend boss Brown used all three substitutes in an attempt to take the game to Pool, and for a spell it livened his side up.

That said, Barnett’s looping header from a corner was the closest they game to threatening Doyle’s goal, and it was a threat he had more than under control. Southend were getting the ball into Blackpool’s box on a much more regular occurrence, with Barnett a constant areal threat.

Luckily for Pool they have defenders who love a battle, with the duel between him and Aldred becoming a key part of the afternoon.

And those two were at it on 73 minutes when a cross was turned goal wards by the striker, only for a superb Aldred block to clear the danger.

‘Aldred block’ being one of the most used phrases of the season. Moments later the size of the block grew when Blackpool doubled their lead after a brilliant counter attack.

Cullen showed determination to burst into the box down the right before his cross found Blyth who controlled and blasted into the net. It was a big moment for the striker who was much better all afternoon and repaid the faith shown in his by McDonald.

Pool’s spine holding strong to keep a clean sheet. Real credit goes to Pool’s back four, with Luke Higham once again superb at left-back, as well as Norris in midfield and strike pair Blyth and Cullen.

Another good day but it’s not over yet.