Rochdale 1-0 Blackpool: Seasiders' play-off hopes dented as League One strugglers end 16-game unbeaten run
Blackpool’s play-off hopes took a setback after having their 16-game unbeaten run ended in frustrating fashion by League One strugglers Rochdale.
The Seasiders were made to pay for a surprising lack of urgency and creativity, something we don’t often associate with Neil Critchley’s side - especially in recent weeks.
Ollie Rathbone’s second-half strike proved to be the difference in what was a largely dull, lifeless tactical battle at Spotland, where Dale successfully stifled Critchley’s men.
Despite the setback, Pool still remain three points clear of seventh-placed Oxford United with two games in hand, with just five fixtures remaining.
The defeat is Blackpool’s first loss since the 2-0 reversal against Ipswich Town on February 6, a run that has kept them in top-six contention.
Neil Critchley opted to make two changes to the side that beat Sunderland 1-0 at the weekend.
One was enforced, with Daniel Gretarsson dropping out after dislocating his shoulder and suffering a dead leg during Saturday’s victory.
Jordan Thorniley was the man to take his spot in the centre of defence, where he partnered Dan Ballard.
Elliot Embleton, returning after being forced to miss out against his parent club at the weekend, came back into the starting XI in place of Demetri Mitchell.
Kevin Stewart, Keshi Anderson and Gary Madine are all making good progress in their recovery from injury, but they remain out along with Matty Virtue and CJ Hamilton, who will miss the remainder of the season.
Bez Lubala continues to be unavailable due to a ‘club matter’.
Rochdale, who began the night inside the bottom four, named an unchanged side from their 3-1 win against Accrington Stanley.
Former Seasider Ryan McLaughlin started the game for the hosts, as did ex-AFC Fylde keeper Jay Lynch.
Blackpool were the first side to threaten as Luke Garbutt swung in a dangerous cross from the left towards Jerry Yates.
Space opened up nicely for Blackpool’s top scorer after he had taken a touch, but he was penalised for a foul on a Rochdale defender before he could get a shot away.
Rochdale’s first shot in anger came from the unlikely source of defender Paul McShane, who lofted a shot over the Blackpool bar from the edge of the area.
Dale, who were looking lively early on with their high press, brought a good save out of Chris Maxwell.
It came from a teasing cross from Aaron Morley, which Jake Beesley managed to poke towards goal for Pool’s skipper did well to turn it behind.
The home side continued to probe around the Blackpool box, looking for that incisive final through-ball to carve open the away side’s backline.
After a couple of ricochets, the ball fell kindly for Conor Grant from barely six yards out by Maxwell rushed off his line quickly before making another big save.
While Pool were finding it difficult to keep hold of the ball, they were having some joy with their own high press - only to lack that final killer ball.
To Pool’s credit, they came through the opening 20 minutes unscathed and began to pose more of a threat themselves.
Ollie Turton had a chance for the visitors, glancing wide with a header from Sullay Kaikai’s corner.
Following a couple of lengthy stoppages, the game fizzled out at this point and became a little predictable, lifeless and dull.
Pool began to see more of the ball in the final stages of the opening period but they didn’t do a great deal with it, with their final ball leaving a lot to be desired.
We finally saw an attacking threat from the Seasiders at the start of the second-half, with two good chances going to waste.
The first came after Maxwell had set off Jerry Yates with a quick throw after the Seasiders had dealt with a Dale corner.
Yates played a quick one-two with Luke Garbutt before side-footing his effort agonisingly wide of the upright.
Barely a minute later, Ellis Simms - who looked to be offside, saw a powerful shot well parried away by Lynch.
This began a period of domination from Blackpool, who worked the ball much quicker and put the home defence under constant pressure.
But, like Blackpool did in the first-half, Dale saw off the period of pressure and began to grow back into the game themselves.
It resulted in Brian Barry-Murphy’s side edging their noses in front with just over 20 minutes remaining.
Pool were caught out by a quick throw, which allowed Ollie Rathbone the chance to surge towards the edge of the box where he produced a clever finish into the far corner of the Blackpool goal.
Pool, who responded by bringing on Jordan Gabriel and Demetri Mitchell, a double change that ought to have been made sooner, finally began to play with some urgency.
The change didn’t alter a great deal though, with Blackpool unable to muster much of a response and Dale able to hold on fairly comfortably.
Critchley turned to the bench again with five minutes remaining, handing a debut to youth-team striker Brad Holmes.
There wasn’t a great deal Holmes could do though and, despite five minutes of time being added on, the home side saw out the victory without any late fanfare.
Rochdale: Lynch, Osho, McShane, O’Connell, Dooley (Lund), McLaughlin, Morley (Shaughnessy, Keohane, Rathbone, Grant (Done), Beesley
Subs not used: Bazanu, McNulty, Newby, Baah
Blackpool: Maxwell, Turton, Ballard, Thorniley, Garbutt, Dougall, Ward (Robson), Embleton (Holmes), Kaikai (Mitchell), Simms (Gabriel), Yates
Subs not used: Moore, Husband, Ekpiteta
Referee: Craig Hicks
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