One step forward, two steps back - Matt Scrafton's verdict on Blackpool's maddening and inexplicable defeat to Gillingham
If Saturday’s win against Southend United was a small, but much-needed step forward for the Seasiders, last night’s inexplicable defeat to Gillingham felt like another two steps back.
Only Blackpool, blighted by this miserable run of form, could equalise in stoppage time only to go on and still lose the game having earlier led for 67 minutes.
The discontent that greeted the final whistle won’t have escaped the attention of owner Simon Sadler, who was back in the country for the first time in a few weeks.
But it would be an ironic twist of fate should Grayson now get the sack given this was one of Blackpool’s best performances in recent times.
Now hear me out here, because I know that statement probably won’t go down very well.
But for 70 minutes or so, the Seasiders were the most convincing as I’ve seen them since the Fleetwood Town win on December 7 – other than the original FA Cup tie against Reading’s second-string last month.
On this occasion they managed to get that early breakthrough, something they’ve threatened to do so often this season only to regret missed opportunities.
It was a fine solo effort from Armand Gnanduillet too, the forward muscling his way past two challenges before firing across the goalkeeper and into the far corner for his 18th goal of the season.
The Frenchman, two goals away from becoming the first Pool player to hit 20 in a season since Andy Morrell, broke the deadlock just a minute after Gary Madine had been denied from point-blank range with a first-time effort from inside the six-yard box.
Madine somehow transpired to miss a simple tap-in at the back post later in the half after Connor Ronan had hit the side-netting when he really ought to have done better.
Gillingham could have had no complaints had they been three-down at the interval – and how often have we said something like that this season?
In the first half Pool had set up like the away side, hitting the visitors on the break having soaked up any pressure that had come their way from their more direct opponents.
It was a risky tactic to employ in front of the expectant fans on home turf but it was proving to be an effective one, the only drawback being the goals column only stood at 1-0 at the break.
The second half, however, was a different story. The Seasiders, who had been relatively comfortable in defence in the opening 45 minutes, soon fell to pieces.
Having led for over an hour, Grayson’s side unforgivably found themselves trailing with 15 minutes remaining after being hit by Gillingham’s quickfire double.
Unforgivable is certainly an apt word to describe the manner in which John Akinde was allowed to get in behind Marc Bola before slotting past keeper Chris Maxwell.
It was a good through-ball from Jordan Roberts, but one that ought to have been dealt with by the recovering left-back who has been hit-and-miss since returning on loan from Middlesbrough.
Fewer than two minutes later, Gillingham added a second to flip the game on its head as Regan Charles-Cook capitalised on Ben Heneghan’s weak headed clearance to squeeze a shot in at Maxwell’s near post.
Having previously looked fairly comfortable, with first back-to-back league wins since November in their sights, Pool were left utterly shell-shocked.
After 70 minutes of positive play and promising signs, the Seasiders were staring down the barrel of yet another costly defeat thanks to a defensive capitulation where Blackpool’s fragility was brought right to the surface.
And yet, somehow, Pool appeared to have rescued themselves a point late on having looked devoid of ideas between minutes 75 and 90.
Nathan Delfouneso, making an impact off the bench for the second time in four days, headed home unmarked at the back post from Liam Feeney’s deep cross.
The Gillingham players desperately looked over their shoulders in the direction of the linesman, whose flag – much to their ire – remained down by his side.
At this point, the Seasiders smelt danger and went for the kill. While an admirable stance to take, they ended up with egg on their faces – Gillingham going on to snatch the three points with the last action of the game.
Again, Bola was at fault as he allowed his runner Brandon Hanlan to escape his attention before heading home from a 94th-minute corner.
That sparked a mass exodus from the home stands, with those still inside the ground at the final whistle making their dissenting voices heard.
“You’re getting sacked in the morning” was the main chant from the North Stand, whose inhabitants had earlier been singing the praises of Pool legend Ian Evatt, who is now performing miracles with National League table-toppers Barrow.
Grayson, as he so often has done during this bleak run of results, opted to point the finger at his players – claiming that individual errors were to blame.
He is right, the defending in particular was abject. But when these mistakes are happening again and again and again, that possibly suggests there are deeper-lying issues at play here.
How often can Grayson continue to trot out the same excuse and refuse to take any responsibility himself? The clock is ticking...