'Chris Long did his talking on the pitch': Matt Scrafton's match verdict on Blackpool's win at league leaders Portsmouth
There are certain headlines that just seem destined to write themselves. After the week Chris Long has had, the striker scoring on his debut after his recent war of words with former boss Joey Barton was one of them.
After having your attitude called into question in public, there’s only one way to answer your critics and that’s by shoving their words down their throats.
Of course, scoring against former side Fleetwood Town in April wouldn’t be a bad way to do that, but netting on your first appearance for your new club after having to read some not-so-complimentary things about yourself by your former employers isn’t a bad way to start either.
Long, told to expect a “dose of reality” at Blackpool where he will be washing his own kit according to Barton, has experienced an exemplary start to life at Bloomfield Road.
Fresh from signing for the club, he dealt with those comments perfectly on Thursday and then did all of his talking on the pitch by coming off the bench to net Pool’s winner at Fratton Park.
It was an impressive finish, too, drilling low beyond the Portsmouth keeper into the far corner after being set up by Armand Gnanduillet’s precision knockdown.
Probed once again about Barton’s comments post-match, Long again dealt with the situation well, insisting his short-lived and unsuccessful spell at Fleetwood has been firmly put behind him and he now only has one focus in mind: scoring goals for Blackpool. Well, it’s not been a bad start in that respect.
Thrown onto the scrapheap and made to feel unwanted at Fleetwood, it must have felt sweet for Long to issue an instant response, however much he might play it down.
Long will have been delighted to get Blackpool to winning ways, too, against the league leaders of all sides.
It was important Blackpool, who had lost four of their last five games going into Saturday’s fixture, stopped the rot as soon as possible.
While Pool’s recent form has been poor, it would be a stretch to describe it as a crisis as the Seasiders still remained in the top half of the table.
But Blackpool did need to pick up a win sooner rather than later to stop their slide down the table, but not many would have expected it to come against the side leading the pack in League One. This was just their fourth defeat of the season.
And that’s with Pool still having to do without Mark Howard, Ollie Turton, Curtis Tilt, Jimmy Ryan, Joe Dodoo, Max Clayton and Mark Cullen.
But the Seasiders were well worthy of their three points. They limited Kenny Jackett’s side to very few clear-cut opportunities and made a very good side look ordinary. That’s not easy to do, but in the first half Portsmouth didn’t produce a single attempt on their goal.
That’s of course testament to their display as a team, but special recognition must go to Nick Anderton who was in fine form in the centre of Blackpool’s defence.
The 22-year-old was making his first appearance for the club since August, the cup win against Barnsley, having only recently returned from a fruitful loan spell at Accrington Stanley where he got the game time he badly needed.
With Pool’s injury crisis, McPhillips threw Anderton in at the deep end by picking him against the table toppers at Fratton Park, but he certainly didn’t let him down.
Anderton is predominantly a left back but we were told he is also capable of playing in the centre. Now we can certainly see why.
He was in solid form alongside Ben Heneghan, another who performed well despite being up against the experience and guile of Brett Pitman.
We often hear how good a player Armand Gnanduillet is when it’s his day, well that day appears to be coming round more often.
While the striker has now gone six games without a goal, his all-round game has gone up another notch. His hold-up play was superb against Portsmouth and he used his brute strength to good effect against some equally stocky defenders.
He’s rapidly becoming one of the first names on Pool’s teamsheet, which is some going since it wasn’t long ago he wasn’t guaranteed a spot on the bench.
Gnanduillet did have a couple of chances to notch his 10th goal of the season, producing an airshot when well placed in front of goal before directing a glancing header straight at the Portsmouth keeper.
But the 26-year-old still managed a hand in Pool’s winner, heading the ball down to Long who was given a surprising amount of space to pick his spot and execute his drilled finish to perfection.
Portsmouth, up until then, had been blunt. But the goal sparked them into action and they flung the ball into the Blackpool box at every opportunity possible.
Christoffer Mafoumbi, in for the injured Howard, looked a little hesitant and shaky from crosses, but he deserves credit for continuing to come out of his goal to help relieve pressure.
He also helped Pool keep a deserved clean sheet, making a smart stop down to his left to deny Matt Clarke three minutes from time.
Blackpool’s hearts were in their mouths for a few minutes towards the end, but other than that they dealt with Portsmouth extraordinarily comfortably.
The home side, like Pool, were without a few key players but, despite that, they still looked surprisingly limited. Like all Jackett sides, they’re extremely difficult to break down and rely on their quality in attack to make the difference. But on this occasion Pool stifled them.