Exeter City 2-3 Blackpool: Matt Scrafton's match verdict on Seasiders' FA Cup win
Many feared the worst when a Blackpool side - exhausted by their exploits at Arsenal and depleted by injuries and suspensions - were beaten convincingly at home by lowly Bristol Rovers.
With two mammoth trips on the horizon, totalling 1,120 miles, it would have been easy for the Seasiders to fold. Was this the moment it all went south for Terry McPhillips’ men after their impressive start to the season?
Well McPhillips and his players have issued a resounding response these last two games, showing not only their character but also their quality to record back-to-back wins.
Firstly they defied the form book to edge out a Gillingham side that had won their last two games 4-0 and 3-0 respectively. Blackpool made them look ordinary and produced an inspired, battling display to claim the win as well as their ninth clean sheet of the season.
And yesterday they backed up that up with another win, this time in the FA Cup at Exeter.
On the face of it, it looked like a fixture ripe for an upset - although McPhillips insisted pre-match it wouldn’t have been a major shock had the Grecians progressed.
Exeter are in fifth place in the division below and, with the Seasiders making wholesale changes and travelling all those miles again, it always looked a tricky task.
But 25 minutes in, the game was as good as over. Given the ferocity in which the Seasiders came out of the traps, you’d have no idea they were without a number of key players and were still feeling the effects of their recent lengthy coach journeys.
Exeter came into the game complaining of injuries, with boss Matt Taylor saying they would be without seven or eight players.
But let’s remember, so were Blackpool. They were without Mark Howard, Marc Bola, Donervon Daniels, Paudie O’Connor, Joe Bunney, Jay Spearing, Jimmy Ryan and Armand Gnanduillet.
One of those men to come in from the cold and benefit from those absences was Joe Dodoo, who has barely featured in recent weeks.
But the on-loan Rangers man took just three minutes to put Blackpool ahead, heading home a fine move for his second of the season.
It all started with Ben Heneghan playing a pinpoint diagonal from the back to Harry Pritchard out on the left. The midfielder curled in a deep cross to John O’Sullivan at the back post, another player in desperate need of minutes, and his header back across goal was met by Dodoo who leapt highest before nodding beyond the goalkeeper and into the far corner.
It got even better on 19 minutes when Dodoo’s strike partner for the afternoon, Mark Cullen, took advantage of some lax defending from the hosts to find the back of the net from close range after getting on the end of Jordan Thompson’s dangerous corner.
It was great to see Cullen get on the scoresheet, his first goal since the middle of September, as the forward has done a huge amount of unseen and unselfish work in recent games, without getting his rewards in front of goal.
It was just a happy coincidence that his fourth goal of the season came against the side that he netted the winner against in that League Two play-off final at Wembley in May of last year.
A third opportunity came Blackpool’s way just five minutes later and sure enough, a third goal followed. The Seasiders were guilty of not showing a ruthless touch in front of goal earlier on in the season but there can certainly be no similar complaints here.
This time it was Pritchard who got in the act, the midfielder gambling at the back post to bundle home Dodoo’s scuffed effort which was heading wide of goal. The home side’s appeals for offside were in veign.
That was pretty much it until the start of the second half, when Callum Guy came close to adding a fourth with two opportunities in quick succession.
But Blackpool knew a fightback of sorts would come at some point and it started in earnest 20 minutes from time, when Ryan McLaughlin conceded a poor penalty bringing Archie Collins down in the box.
Pierce Sweeney’s spot kick was saved by Christoffer Mafoumbi, diving low to his left, but Pool failed to react and Jordan Tillson was there to pull one back for Exeter, tapping home the rebound into the empty net.
You would think this would result in a siege of pressure from the hosts but, in all honesty, it didn’t really come. Not until the dying moments of stoppage time anyway.
It might not look like it given the late scare they were given, but Pool actually managed the game very well, keeping Exeter at arm’s length with tidy possession in the opposition half.
But, with one minute remaining of normal time substitute Tristan Abrahams set up a nervy finish when he capitalised on a rare Curtis Tilt error to make it 3-2, with his long-range effort deflecting and looping up over Mafoumbi.
The Grecians threw the proverbial kitchen sink in the four minutes of stoppage time and Blackpool were hanging on a little bit, but thankfully the final whistle blew time on the hosts’ comeback.
The statistics will show you it was even affair, with both sides managing seven shots on target and Exeter edging the possession stats by one per cent.
But it was the Seasiders’ superior finishing in that first half rout that did the job and sealed their spot in the second round.
Pool can only hope the draw is kind and they’re given a home tie...