Underdogs strike again, Bowler brilliance and Bloomfield Road bedlam: Matt Scrafton's verdict as Blackpool upset Fulham to record first league win
“The Seasiders love being the underdogs”, a certain Ben Burgess wrote on Twitter at 1.40pm on Saturday afternoon.
He’s not wrong, is he? And he should know…
Not that they were necessarily the underdogs in League One last season, but it was no coincidence Neil Critchley’s men had the best record against the top six in the third tier last term.
Blackpool have historically always risen to the biggest occasion – you only have to look at their sterling play-off record to prove that.
And while, prior to Saturday, Pool made a slower-than-hoped start to life back in the Championship, with no win to their name after their opening fives games, they’ve already taken four points off arguably the two best sides in the division in Bournemouth and Fulham.
To me, that’s no coincidence.
It’s just typically Blackpool to go and beat the league leaders in impressive style to record their first three points of the campaign. Where’s the fun in doing things the easy way, eh?
Style of play perhaps has something to do with it. As a general rule of thumb, the sides towards the top end of any division try to play the most attractive football. Fulham certainly fit the bill.
Marco Silva’s men played the ball out from goalkeeper Paulo Gazanigga at every opportunity in a bid to play through the thirds. But Blackpool simply wouldn’t allow them to.
This was evidently clear from the first whistle, as the men in tangerine swarmed forward and pressed right from the top.
As soon as a short pass was played into a midfielder, the Fulham player would be surrounded and hunted down within an instant.
Roared by a boisterous home crowd – more on that later – the hosts were absolutely relentless and wouldn’t allow their opponents a split-second to think, never mind actually control the ball and pick out a forward pass. It was mesmerising to watch.
Fulham’s players were clearly technically proficient and willing and able to take the ball, even when they were under pressure.
But when the high press is perfectly timed and well orchestrated, with two, three, sometimes even four opposition players snapping at your toes within a split second of receiving a pass, sometimes there’s not a great deal you can do.
Fulham are a very good side and chances are they’ll be back in the Premier League next season. But Blackpool were making them look distinctly ordinary.
But as impressive and as dominant as the home side were during the first-half, they had nothing to show for their efforts heading into the interval.
Time and time again the Seasiders would force Fulham’s backline into mistakes near their own 18-yard box and rob them of the ball. But once Pool took hold of it, too often their final ball let them down.
On two separate occasions Josh Bowler had time and space to pick out a fairly routine through-ball for Jerry Yates to latch onto, which would have left last season’s top goalscorer one-on-one with the goalkeeper. But on both occasions his passes were overhit.
It was fitting then that Bowler would atone for his first-half mistakes and prove to be the hero with a stunning solo effort just four minutes into the second period.
Turning and running towards goal with purpose as he does so well, and with Jordan Gabriel providing the overlap to distract the Fulham defender, Bowler waltzed past challenge after challenge before slipping the ball past Gazzaniga at his near post. It was a scruffy effort in the end, which probably made it more difficult for the keeper to read.
Cue bedlam as Bloomfield Road erupted. The noise that greeted the winning goal had to be heard first-hand to be believed. It was simply something else.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, pound-for-pound Blackpool must have the loudest fanbase out there.
Of course they can’t compete with the noise generated by the 76,000 at Old Trafford or the 54,000 at Anfield, but what the Seasiders lack in numbers, they more than make up for in decimals.
While Bowler’s moment of brilliance will grab all the attention and rightly so, Marvin Ekpiteta was the standout performer. He was an absolute colossus and won every header that came his way.
To think the 25-year-old was playing non-league football just two years ago...it’s been an extraordinary rise.
Richard Keogh was also rock-solid alongside him, producing the best performance in tangerine to date.
While Aleksander Mitrovic wasn’t given a sniff, the one time he did win a header inside the Pool box Chris Maxwell was there to make a vital stop.
That’s always the hallmark of the very best goalkeepers, number ones that are able to produce the big saves in the big moments having been a virtual spectator for much of the game before that.
Elsewhere, Kevin Stewart and debutant Ryan Wintle were simply magnificent with their closing down and break-up play in the middle of the park. Keshi Anderson played like a man possessed, especially in the first-half.
Playing over on the left wing, Anderson ought to have been given the chance to put the game to bed late on when he was left in acres of space following a threatening Pool counter.
Goalscorer Bowler did superbly to turn his man and cut inside to create the space, but he ended up making the wrong decision, opting to shoot when Anderson had a better angle and was in more space to his side.
Bowler’s eventual shot flew high and wide, much to Anderson’s frustration.
It was a good job the Seasiders weren’t made to pay for that miss in the dying stages, when Fulham – as you’d expect – came on strong.
The away side’s one big chance fell for substitute Harrison Reed, after the ball bounced kindly for him after a spot of pinball inside the Blackpool box. But the Fulham man could only stab wide, much to the relief of the thunderous home faithful.
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