Sunderland 0-1 Blackpool: Sullay Kaikai's thunderbolt caps off perfect night for the Seasiders in play-off quest
Sullay Kaikai’s thunderbolt handed Blackpool a crucial victory over top-six rivals Sunderland to cap off a perfect night for their play-off ambitions.
The forward smashed home his seventh goal of the season from long range to decide a tight, tense and nervy game at the Stadium of Light.
In completing the league double over the Black Cats, Neil Critchley’s men move up to fifth with just three games remaining.
They hold a three-point gap over Oxford United, with a game in hand still to play.
After suffering back-to-back defeats, Neil Critchley opted to make three changes to the side from the weekend setback against Shrewsbury Town.
James Husband came into the starting XI to make his first start since March 16, while Ollie Turton and Ethan Robson also came into the fold.
For Robson, who was facing his former side, it was his first start since the 5-0 thrashing of Wigan Athletic at the end of January.
Jordan Gabriel, Elliot Embleton and Ellis Simms were the three to make way, loanee Embleton missing out against his parent club.
Kevin Stewart returned from a six-week absence with an ankle injury to take his spot on the substitutes’ bench.
Daniel Gretarsson, Matty Virtue, Keshi Anderson, CJ Hamilton and Gary Madine all remain sidelined, while Bez Lubala remains unavailable due to a ‘club matter’.
Third-placed Sunderland, who came into tonight’s game on the back of a six-game winless run, made one change from their 3-3 draw against Accrington Stanley at the weekend.
Blackpool’s three changes saw them switch from their tried and trusted 4-4-2 to a 3-5-2, a system they’ve not used this season.
Husband came into a back three in the new-look formation, which allowed Luke Garbutt to play a little higher up as a left wing-back. Elsewhere, Robson joined Kenny Dougall and Grant Ward in a midfield three, while Sullay Kaikai played just off striker Jerry Yates.
The home side, as they often do, made the brighter start with some direct balls up to 30-goal striker Charlie Wyke, but the Seasiders saw off the early threat.
It was a fairly muted start to the game, although Pool will have been encouraged by how they saw off Sunderland’s threat and stopped the hosts from playing through them.
The tactical battle didn’t make for the most enthralling game though and we had to wait until the 24th minute for the first opportunity.
Even then, it was only a half chance for the hosts, as Aiden O’Brien - at full stretch - did well to reach a long ball over the top, but his toe-poked effort sailed straight into the arms of Chris Maxwell.
Charlie Wyke then met Denver Hume’s left-wing cross but couldn’t make a clean contract with his header, eventually stooping well over.
Pool were, in the main, managing the game well and continued to get into some good positions, but too often their final ball was found wanting.
Five minutes before the interval, the Seasiders finally produced an opportunity and it fell to the man they would have wanted it to fall to in top scorer Yates.
A long, hopeful ball up to Kaikai inadvertently bounced into the path of the Blackpool striker who hit a first-time volley at keeper Lee Burge, who did well to claim.
The home side also threatened on the stroke of half-time when Luke O’Nien produced a teasing, inswinging cross which Wyke almost reached just six yards out.
Maxwell was the first keeper to be tested at the start of the second period, doing well to get across his goal and push Max Power’s curling shot behind.
The Black Cats looked to build on their momentum and pile on the pressure, resulting in two good chances.
The first came the way of the dangerous Aiden McGeady, who fired over from a good position after skipping past a couple of challenges.
Maxwell then made a big save to deny Wyke from a corner, producing a strong hand to keep his close-range header out of his net.
Pool immediately countered and looked to be through on goal when Yates skipped past a challenge, only to be harshly penalised for an innocuous collision.
Their complaints were soon forgotten about though when Critchley’s men opened the scoring in stunning fashion.
A corner was partially cleared into the path of Sullay Kaikai on the edge of the box, who thundered the ball into the top corner in stunning fashion.
Pool had threatened during the seconds leading up to their breakthrough, Ollie Turton seeing his shot from Kaikai’s pullback turned behind.
The visitors became much more menacing on the counter as the game wore on as spaces began to open up, with Sunderland having no choice but to commit more men forward.
Pool were dealt an injury blow with 20 minutes remaining when their goalscorer was forced off with a knock, Demetri Mitchell the man to replace him.
Sunderland almost levelled matters on 73 minutes when substitute Ross Stewart headed McGeady’s free-kick back across the face of goal. But Maxwell was there once again to make another stunning stop to deny Wyke.
While Sunderland were a threat from set-pieces, Pool looked the more likely to score in the final stages.
With just five minutes remaining, they wasted a good opportunity to double their lead and put the game to bed when Yates fired wide of the near post, with Turton in acres of space to his right.
Max Power then flashed a hopeful effort just wide of the Blackpool upright which had Maxwell scrambling.
Pool wasted another golden chance to make sure of the three points when Ethan Robson looked to have the simple task of rolling the ball across goal to Yates, who would have had a simple tap-in. But the former Sunderland man got the ball stuck under his feet and the chance went begging.
Sunderland’s aerial onslaught continued into the five minutes of stoppage time and the hosts thought they had levelled in the 92nd minute, when once again Wyke directed a header towards goal.
It looked enough to beat Maxwell, but the Pool keeper flew across goal to claw the ball off his line.
The Seasiders survived another major scare in the fifth minute of stoppage time when a left-wing cross deflected off James Husband towards the bottom corner of his own net, but fortunately it bobbled wide.
It turned out to be the last chance of a tense encounter, as Pool picked up a crucial victory - their 20th of the season.
Sunderland: Burge, Wright, O’Nien, Hume, Power, Scowen (Winchester), Leadbitter (Jones), Gooch, McGeady, O’Brien (Stewart), Wyke
Subs not used: Matthews, Diamond, McFadzean, Maguire
Blackpool: Maxwell, Turton, Ballard, Thorniley, Husband, Garbutt, Dougall, Ward (Stewart), Robson, Kaikai (Mitchell), Yates
Subs not used: Moore, Gabriel, Ekpiteta, Holmes, Simms
Referee: Will Finnie
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