Matt Scrafton column: Blackpool's play-off story is about to gain another chapter

Well here we are, the eve of yet another play-off campaign involving the mighty Seasiders.

Friday, 14th May 2021, 12:30 pm

Having been in this role for almost five years now, I’m naturally well aware of Blackpool’s imperious record in play-off campaigns. I was even fortunate enough to report on one back in 2017.

I’m continuously astounded at just how good the record is whenever I go back and look at it in more detail.

With five promotions from eight campaigns and 16 wins from the 23 ties they have taken part in, it’s no wonder they’re the most successful side in English play-off history.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Dan Ballard scores in Blackpool's win at Oxford United

Read More

Read More
Oxford United boss Karl Robinson banned from the touchline for League One play-o...

While some sides wilt on the big occasion – like a certain club down the M55 – others rise.

Of course, the glorious triumphs of the past are exactly that, history. They’ll count for absolutely nothing when the Seasiders line up at the Kassam Stadium on Tuesday evening.

Can the current crop of players take confidence and inspiration from the glory of the club’s past? Of course they can.

I was a little surprised to see Blackpool ranked as only second favourites behind Sunderland to win promotion through the play-offs.

The Seasiders completed a league double over the Black Cats without conceding a goal.

Plus, let’s not forget, it was Neil Critchley’s men that finished third, not Sunderland.

I’d imagine this will suit the Seasiders just fine. Going under the radar and being written off by outside observers has served them well in the past, after all.

Getting past Oxford United in the semis will be no easy task at all but Blackpool have fared well against them this season, picking up four points from the two games.

Karl Robinson’s side will be full of confidence, having snatched the final play-off place from under the noses of Portsmouth.

The U’s, much like Blackpool, finished the season in great form, winning six of their last seven games and scoring 24 goals in the process.

Oxford are slight flat-track bullies though, as they’re very good at recording comfortable victories against the so-called lesser sides.

When it comes to facing sides in the top six, they’ve only won two of the 10 games they’ve played this season.

Pool did a job on Oxford during the most recent meeting between the two teams back in March, which they won 2-0 to secure victory at the Kassam for the first time in the club’s history.

It was a tactical masterclass on the day from Critchley, whose players were on the front foot from the off.

They were fluent in their build-up play and simply didn’t allow Oxford to get into gear, thanks to their high press. It was arguably their finest away display of the season.

Will Pool’s head coach use that result as a blueprint for the first leg coming up?

Or will he accept it was a different game, played more than two months ago, and determine a lot has changed since then.

For example, in recent weeks, the Seasiders have performed well in a new 3-5-2 system, which has suited both Ellis Simms and Jerry Yates who have both been in the goals and have struck up a promising partnership.

Of course, different personnel were available at the time as seven players were out injured, but Critchley opted to go 4-2-3-1 for the game back in March.

That saw Elliot Embleton perform well in a number 10 role just off Yates, with Sullay Kaikai and Grant Ward either side of him.

The conundrum for Critchley and his staff is whether to revert back to that system which proved so fruitful in their last meeting with Oxford, or keep faith with the 3-5-2 formation that has produced four straight wins without a goal being conceded. I suspect it’ll be the latter.

Either way, it promises to be a special and memorable occasion when the Seasiders bring Oxford to Bloomfield Road for the decisive second leg next Friday.

To have 1,000 fans inside the ground for the pilot event against Swindon Town back in September was a huge boost and it ended up sounding like 10,000.

So I can only imagine the sort of atmosphere we’ll get with so much on the line next week.

Finally, I can’t finish this week’s column without paying my respects to Jordan Banks, who tragically passed away on Tuesday after being struck by lightning.

The nine-year-old was just doing what he loved, playing football on the Common Edge playing fields when a freak thunderstorm – which hadn’t been forecast – passed overhead.

How utterly cruel for his life to be taken away at such a young age in such unlikely circumstances.

I can only imagine the grief and sorrow his family are having to endure.

In this profession, you often become desensitised when you report on tragic accidents, gruesome crimes or anything else of that nature but this has completely knocked me sidewards.

Rest in peace Jordan and my heart goes out to your friends and family.

Thanks for reading. If you value what we do and are able to support us, a digital subscription is just £1 per month for the first two months. Try us today by clicking here