Gillingham 0-1 Blackpool: Nathan Delfouneso the match winner as Seasiders get back to winning ways
Nathan Delfouneso was the match winner as Blackpool got back to winning ways with a hard-earned three points at in-form Gillingham.
The forward’s second half header proved to be the difference in an evenly-contested affair at the Priestfield Stadium.
The Gills came into the game on the back of two straight home wins, winning 4-0 and 3-0 respectively against Bradford City and Fleetwood Town.
But they had no such luck getting past Blackpool’s rearguard defence, which clung on for their ninth clean sheet of the season.
The victory takes the Seasiders back up into the top half of the table, just three points off the play-offs with a game in hand still to play.
Terry McPhillips promised he would ring the changes from Saturday’s 3-0 defeat to Bristol Rovers and that’s exactly what he did, bringing in three new faces.
In came Michael Nottingham, Chris Taylor and Callum Guy as Jordan Thompson, Harry Pritchard and Liam Feeney all dropped to the bench.
Neither Mark Howard and Donervon Daniels were fit enough to return, so Christoffer Mafoumbi and Ben Heneghan continued in goal and in the centre of defence respectively.
There was a slight tweak in formation too, with the introduction of Nottingham seeing Ollie Turton pushed into midfield, while Taylor occupied the number 10 role behind Mark Cullen and Nathan Delfouneso in a diamond system.
After a dull opening 10 minutes, the Gills came inches away from breaking the deadlock as they rattled the woodwork. It came after Curtis Tilt skewed a clearance out to Connor Ogilvie, who drilled a left-footed effort onto the top of the Blackpool crossbar.
A well-worked corner routine also presented further problems for the Blackpool defence, with Luke O’Neill’s pullback allowing Darren Oldaker a chance to shoot, but his effort was charged down.
Pool created their first opening of the night on 21 minutes, with Jay Spearing’s deep corner finding Heneghan who saw his header punched away from goal by Gills keeper Tomas Holy.
A Spearing corner caused even more problems for the Gillingham backline on the half hour mark, this time his delivery resulting in penalty appeals being turned down.
Tilt appeared to have beaten his man to the ball at the back post only to be hauled down to the ground, but the referee remain unmoved and the Blackpool players were surprisingly muted in their appeals.
Blackpool continued their promising spell, Nottingham firing a dangerous ball across the face of goal which took a slight deflection which saw it loop just wide of the far post.
Such was the effectiveness of Blackpool’s display, the home fans began to get a little edgy and started taking out their frustrations on the officials.
Their remonstrations started to have an affect, too. Guy was blatantly shoved to the floor but received nothing, resulting in the midfielder complaining to the linesman that the officials were allowing the home fans to influence their decisions.
Mafoumbi was forced to make his first saves of the evening five minutes before the interval and he dealt with them well.
He parried away Oldaker’s swerving free kick before recovering and getting up to tip over Mark Byrne’s follow-up header.
Blackpool almost made the perfect start to the second half as Marc Bola fizzed in a superb ball from the left which just eluded Cullen in the centre.
It wasn’t to matter though as, just five minutes later, the Seasiders broke the deadlock with a flowing move.
Taylor was found in space down the left and he provided a pinpoint cross for the unmarked Delfouneso, who headed home his fourth goal of the season to give Pool the lead.
The Seasiders weren’t simply prepared to sit on their lead and continued to attack in search of that second, which at times proved to be a risky move as it left them in danger of being caught out on the counter.
They did, however, come close to finding that second on the hour mark when Delfouneso almost turned provider for Cullen who was inches away from tapping home from close range, only to see the keeper beat him to the ball.
Jordan Thompson, off the bench to replace Taylor, went close with a low free kick 20 minutes from time which missed everyone in the six-yard box, but Holy was there to claim for the hosts.
Steve Lovell’s men looked like they were slowly but surely running out of ideas, but the outlet of tall striker Tom Eaves offered them a longer route to the Blackpool goal.
But Heneghan and Tilt remained unmoved in the centre of defence, winning aerial challenge after aerial challenge.
The introduction of Thompson helped Blackpool wind the clock down in the dying stages, with the Northern Irish midfielder showing some superb footwork to earn a handful of free kicks in the opposition half.
The Gills were struggling to create clear-cut openings which led them to having hopeful pot shots from range. Full back Barry Fuller produced one of these six minutes from time but Mafoumbi got down well to his left to make the save at his near post.
At the other end, with 89 minutes on the clock, Thompson cut inside his man before unleashing a powerful shot which Holy collected at the second attempt.
The Gills thought they had found the equaliser in the first minute of stoppage time but Mafoumbi thwarted them again, making a superb reaction stop to deny sub Josh Parker.
That proved to be a vital save as Blackpool clung on during the four minutes of stoppage time to earn a superb three points on the road.
Gillingham: Holy, Ehmer, Zakuani, Fuller, O'Neill (List), Ogilvie (Parker), Oldaker, Byrne, Charles-Cook (Parrett), Hanlan, Eaves
Subs not used: Hadler, Simpson, Nasseri, Mbo
Blackpool: Mafoumbi, Turton, Nottingham, Heneghan, Tilt, Bola, Spearing, Guy, Taylor (Thompson), Delfouneso, Cullen (Pritchard)
Subs not used: Boney, McLaughlin, O'Sullivan, Feeney, Dodoo
Referee: Craig Hicks