Rocky delivers a last-gasp knockout blow - Matt Scrafton's verdict on Blackpool's EFL Trophy win against Wolves' U21s
A last-gasp knockout blow from Rocky Bushiri sealed Blackpool’s progression into the knockout stages of the EFL Trophy.
The Seasiders appeared to be heading for the lottery of penalty kicks to decide who would be the benefactor of a bonus point as the two sides played out a competitive goalless draw.
Had that been the case, Simon Grayson’s men would have been relying on Morecambe to overcome Carlisle United next week in the final Group G game to ensure their qualification.
But, despite the apt name, up stepped the unlikely hero Rocky to finally end Wolves’ stubborn resistance to snatch the three points for Blackpool in the third minute of stoppage time.
As contests go, this Bonfire Night encounter never truly sparked into life and it seemed inevitable it would fizzle out into a draw.
But Grayson and his players have a burning desire to do well in this competition and their persistence was rewarded at the death.
The Seasiders dominated for large swathes of the game, yet they still had to survive three major scares.
Their goal lived a charmed life throughout the game, which was accompanied by a fine array of fireworks above the Bloomfield Road skyline.
While there weren’t a great deal of fireworks on the pitch, Blackpool had to tread carefully against a well-organised and talented side of Wolves youngsters.
This wasn’t your normal Under-21 outfit that could be bullied off the ball. This was a team made up of talented players – most in their 20s – that would certainly not look out of place were they to ply their trade in League One (but don’t get any ideas, EFL).
They struck the foot of the post not once, not twice, but three times. Yet somehow Blackpool came away unscathed and Mark Howard – making his first start of the season for the club – clung onto a clean sheet.
Two of these close-calls came in an even first half, which saw the visiting youngsters threaten early on.
The first of Wolves’ three strikes against the woodwork came when Curtis Tilt almost produced another costly mistake on his return to the side after serving his one-match suspension.
The centre back’s pass on the edge of his own box went straight to Benny Ashley-Seal, who bore down on goal before striking the foot of the post.
Pool responded well and created two or three good chances, eventually hitting the woodwork themselves through Ryan Edwards’ looping header.
But the Seasiders were given another major warning sign when Chem Campbell slammed a dipping effort onto the Blackpool post from range.
The woodwork was rattled for a third and final time three minutes into the second half, when Taylor Perry side-footed an effort onto the post after shrugging off the attention of Edwards.
From this point onwards, Grayson’s men remained in the ascendancy and continued to pepper the Wolves goal.
While the EFL Trophy might not be the most popular of competitions – and for good reason – it’s one that Grayson wants to do well in. Getting to Wembley is the goal.
The proof was in the pudding when the Pool boss brought on big hitters Liam Feeney, Armand Gnanduillet and Sullay Kaikai – in that order – in the ultimate mark of respect for their opponents.
Try as they might, that elusive goal seemed beyond them. The 1,036 in attendance thought Bushiri had wasted their last chance as the game entered stoppage time when the defender was denied from point-blank range.
But the big Belgian wasn’t to be denied for a second time, the on-loan Norwich City man drilling home a clinical low shot into the bottom corner after being laid off by Gnanduillet.
Not to be outdone by his dramatic late finish, Bushiri then celebrated his first senior goal in comical style – ripping off his shirt and receiving a yellow card for his over-exuberance.
It may only be the EFL Trophy, but don’t tell that to these Blackpool players.