Memory Match: Gillingham 1-3 Blackpool, 2000

Steve Bushell scored a belting goal for the Seasiders
Steve Bushell scored a belting goal for the Seasiders
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Blackpool FC writer Matt Scrafton trawls back through the archives to look at Blackpool's 3-1 win at Gillingham on January 22, 2000.

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Blackpool eased their relegation fears to climb out of the relegation zone with a long overdue win.

Until seven days ago, Blackpool hadn’t scored three goals in a league game for more than 15 months. Now they’ve done it twice in two games.

Most importantly of all, Pool netted their long-awaited fourth league win of the season to climb out of the bottom three for the first time in more than two months and only the second time since September.

They did it in some style too down in Kent to land four-game unbeaten Steve McMahon his first league win.

Of course there will be no real cause for celebration tunil McMahon’s men finish the job they set out to do – secure Second Division survival. And even now it’s still going to take something of a super-human effort.

But at least beneath the thermals and woolly hats of those who braved the freezing cold open Priestfield terraces (including Pool chairman Karl Oyston no less), there is an underlying belief that under McMahon it can be done.

Not since the Seasiders raced into a 3-0 lead in the snow at Shrewsbury under Gary Megson on New Year’s Day 1997 – which was the last time Pool had scored three goals two games running – had the Tangerines had so much fun on their travels.

And here the goals were even more sweet given the hostile nature of the setting in which they were scored.

“Cheats” screamed a placard protest by Gillingham fans still aggrieved by Blackpool for breaking the unwritten rules of the game with their controversial equaliser in the 1-1 draw at Bloomfield Road back in August.

David Bardsley, the only player involved in the move to be playing at Priestfield, bore the brunt of the barracking, was mercilessly taunted by home fans every time he touched the ball just yards in front of them down the right flank.

Bardsley has always maintained a worldly-wise approach that there’s worse things that can happen to you in life that being verbally attacked on a football pitch.

And such a commendable attitude certainly paid dividends here. Because if the jibes were getting more than skin deep, he certainly didn’t let it show, never once losing his cool or reacting to the crowd.

Two minutes before half time, Gillingham’s vociferous fanbase were silenced.

Pre-match stats showed Blackpool hadn’t scored from a free-kick all season. On 43 minutes all that changed.

When Kevin Richardson floated in the free-kick from way out on the left, Gillingham keeper Vince Bartram was ready to react to the change of direction, expecting Phil Clarkson to get a header in the box.

Clarkson came, but the touch didn’t. Instead, the ball carried on its course straight into the far corner with Bartram unable to react quickly enough to keep it out.

Two minutes later life just got better and better. And there was nothing remotely streaky about the Seasiders’ second, it was a real belter from Steve Bushell.

Again, only a week ago pre-match statistics showed Bushell hadn’t had a shot on target all season. But he duly scored against Luton and followed it up here to make it two in two with a gem of a goal which will live long in the memory.

When after a patient Pool build up, Bushell got the ball back from a one-two with Tommy Jaszczun, 25 yards out on the left side of the area. He looked up and, with nothing on, only had one thing on his mind.

Richardson again takes some of the credit for shouting “hit it”, but few at any level could have bettered the way Bushell did just that, unleashing a screamer of a shot which curled away into the top right hand corner.

From settling for going in 0-0 at the break, suddenly the Seasiders were 2-0 up and in control.

Gillingham understandably didn’t know what had hit them.

And just three minutes after the break it was 3-0. When Richardson played the ball through, Rob Matthews found himself facing two defenders 25 yards out with no Pool options around him.

So he did what he knows best, setting off for goal, beating both defenders in front of him before rifling a shot home from 16 yards out.

When Nicky Southall struck with a superb 22-yard shot just three minutes later to bring the score back to 3-1, the Seasiders sensed deja vu from the previous week’s 3-3 heartache against Luton.

But cue Tony Caig.

In his best performance yet for Blackpool, the Pool custodian answers all the questions which have been asked of him and more.

Caig has suffered his fair share of criticism from fans for punching, not catching.

But you wouldn’t find anyone who wasn’t singing his praises after this display.

He made a string of fine saves, but when Caig wasn’t there to save the Seasiders – Blackpool’s backline was to make some vital tackles.

When Graham Poll – a Premier League referee who is no stranger to controversially, yet ironically didn’t make any bookings – blew the final whistle, the joy in the Tangerine camp was tangible.

Attendance: 6,805