Blackpool’s fairytale run in the FA Youth Cup came to an end at the last-four stage after being resoundly beaten by Premier League giants Arsenal.
Despite drawing 2-2 with the young Gunners in the first leg of their semi-final clash, Arsenal’s extra quality told at the Emirates’ big pitch in what was a one-sided affair - the hosts winning 5-0 on the night and 7-2 on aggregate.
The game was put to bed inside 20 minutes, as Arsenal raced into a two-goal lead on the night thanks to a quickfire double. Another two were added before the interval.
It was very much a case of damage limitation for the Seasiders in the second half, as they looked to halt the Gunners building on their commanding lead.
They managed to do that as Arsenal only added one more, a fifth in stoppage time, after being forced to battle on with ten men for the last 20 minutes after Jack Newton was sent his marching orders.
The young Seasiders defied the odds just to reach this stage, having won five away games to reach the last four.
During that run, they also beat three clubs with category one academies – the highest status.
But last night there was little they could do to stop an Arsenal side packed full of young internationals progressing to the final of the competition, where they will face holders Chelsea.
But the defeat takes nothing away from Blackpool’s superb run to the last four, where John Murphy’s side defied the odds time and time again to do the club proud.
The Under-18s, heading into the game looking to make history by becoming the first third-tier side to reach the final in 30 years, were boosted by the return of star player Rowan Roache.
It comes after the forward was forced to miss the first leg while on international duty with the Republic of Ireland’s Under-19s side.
However, there was also positive news for Arsenal who were back to full strength after missing six of their players for the first leg.
Despite the Seasiders taking the kick off, it was the young Gunners who took hold of possession right from the off - giving Blackpool the run around for the first couple of minutes.
The evening’s first effort on goal came from the home side as well, as Robbie Burton tried to catch Craig Thordarson off his line only to see his effort fly well over.
But they came agonisingly close just a minute later, when Fol Balogun side footed wide at the back post after being found by Xavier Amaechi’s left-wing cross
Blackpool’s first attack almost paid dividends as Finlay Sinclair-Smith slipped in Owen Watkinson, with the striker all set to race through on goal only to see the linesman’s flag go up - when it looked marginal.
But the Seasiders were lucky to escape on nine minutes, when Balogun went close again - this time rattling the woodwork from close range as he turned and shot after having the ball cut back to him by marauding full back Vontae Daley-Campbell.
Thoirdarson was called into action to make a fine double save to first deny Balogun and then Amaechi on the follow up.
As important as that save seemed at the time, it counter for little when the Gunners found themselves 2-0 up with a quickfire double.
Balogun finally found his clinical touch to head home from close range, finishing off a swift counter break from Blackpool’s own corner.
One instantly became two as Arsenal captain Danny Bullard headed into the back of the net from Amaechi’s dangerous corner.
The tie was then virtually put to bed just 23 minutes into the game. Bullard tried an ambitious curling effort from the edge of the box which took a wicked deflection, leaving Thordarson rooted to the spot.
Blackpool were handed an opportunity to get one back when they were awarded a free kick right on the edge of the Arsenal box, but Rowan Roache’s effort - which appeared a good one - clipped the wall before looping safely into the hands of goalkeeper Joao Virginia.
Arsenal could have been four ahead before the half-hour mark was up, but James Olayinka saw his shot blocked after turning the Blackpool defence inside out with a mazy run.
But that fourth did come on 33 minutes, when Emile Smith-Rowe - a World Cup winner with the England Under-17s, confidently swept home a penalty after being brought down in the box.
Amaechi should have added a fifth prior to the half-time interval when he was played in down the left, but the forward dragged his shot wide of Thordarson’s far post.
Blackpool made a confident start to the second half, pressing high up the pitch and looking to force the hosts into making mistakes.
But Arsenal’s chances kept on coming, with Thordarson forced into making a superb block to deny Amaechi who was one-on-one with the Pool keeper.
Tyreece John-Jules then wasted a gilt-edged chance to add a fifth, as he fired wide at the back post when under no real pressure.
Balogun, who managed just the one goal despite being presented with four or five presentable opportunities, missed the target again when well placed in the box.
As if the challenge that faced Blackpool wasn’t difficult enough, they were then reduced to ten men when Jack Newton was shown his second yellow with more than 20 minutes to go.
Despite the red card, the Seasiders ended the game in determined fashion and came close to adding a late consolation through Ben Jacobson - who tested Virginia with a curling effort from distance.
Arsenal completed the scoring in stoppage time as substitute Matthew Smith added a fifth, firing home from close range.
Blackpool: Craig Thordarson, Tom Williams, Ben Jacobson, Jack Newton, Will Avon, Dylan Sumner (Brendan O’Brien), Nana Adarkwa (Emil Jaaskelainen, Nathan Shaw, Rowan Roache, Finlay Sinclair-Smith, Owen Watkinson (Will Dunne)
Subs not used: Harvey Simson, Sam Maddox
Arsenal: Virginia, Daley-Campbell, Thompson, Burton, Ballard, Medley, Balogun (Smith), Olayinka, John-Jules, Smith Rowe (Coyle), Amaechi (Saka)
Subs not used: Okonkwo, Olowu
Referee: Craig Hicks