'A point was the least Blackpool deserved': Matt Scrafton's match verdict after Blackpool snatch late draw against Southend
It is a well-known running joke among Blackpool fans that the club’s abnormal recent history would make for a great film. The story really has it all and if anything, it’s just too far-fetched.
It should therefore come as no surprise that the day the boycotting fans finally stepped back inside Bloomfield Road after years of painful exile, the exhilliaring 90 minutes of football refused to follow the script.
What the Blackpool story always delivers is drama, and that was again the case on Saturday as almost 16,000 fans crammed themselves inside Bloomfield Road to mark the end of the Oyston regime and the start of an exciting new era.
Pool’s 96th-minute equaliser was the players’ reward for their never-say-die attitude, showing great grit and determination to come from behind on two occasions.
A point was the least Blackpool deserved. They had 15 shots to Southend’s six, 61 per cent possession and 11 corners. The stats tell its own story – only one side was interested in winning the game, yet that same side were seconds away from losing it. Football, huh?
But Pool’s achilles heel in recent weeks, especially at home, has been their defending from corners. Four of the last five goals scored against them at Bloomfield Road have come via that route.
That’s how Southend came so close to spoiling the party, first taking the lead just 20 minutes in when Rob Kiernan directed a free header into the bottom corner before Michael Turner cleverly flicked home at the other end to put the visitors back in front after Armand Gnanduillet had levelled matters with a clinical effort into the roof of the net.
It is worrying that Pool are still struggling to see off the league’s poorer sides on home turf, a problem they’ve had for most if not all of the campaign.
Southend might be 14th in the League One table but they’ve now only won one of their last 11, have just one fit senior striker and hover just four points above the dropzone.
Football’s never simple, but with the backing on their side Blackpool really ought to have claimed all three points. But did that take away from what was an utterly joyous occasion? Absolutely not.
Before the game most agreed this game was an occasion for the fans to enjoy and the result itself was largely irrelevant. The supporters being back inside their rightful home was all that mattered.
But, with both Doncaster Rovers and Peterborough United losing, a win would have helped continue the momentum and keep that feelgood factor rolling on. Thankfully they still managed to achieve that with the last-gasp equaliser, which made it feel like a win as pandemonium ensued on the terraces.
Pool owe a lot to goalkeeper Mark Howard for the pivotal save he made in the 89th minute, at a time when Southend were still leading 2-1 and looking likely to hold on.
With the home side throwing the kitchen sink at Southend, that opened up gaps for the visitors to exploit on the break and one such attack saw 15-goal striker Simon Cox go one-on-one with the Pool keeper, only for Howard to stand up and make the vital save.
Only a few minutes later, there were fans on the pitch as they celebrated like Pool were back in the Premier League. Those celebrations were more to do with four years of pent-up anger and frustration than a stoppage-time own goal to seal a draw with Southend. But that’s what transpired.
Howard’s goalkeeping counterpart Nathan Bishop was in fine form at the other end of the pitch, making a couple of sublime fingertip stops - one in either half.
Without him it probably would have been a comfortable victory for the Seasiders but he kept pulling these saves out of nowhere, much to the frustration of the home supporters.
The ball inadvertently hitting the head of defender Taylor Moore was probably the only way Bishop was going to be beaten for a second time.
For Blackpool, Armand Gnanduillet led the line well and took his and Blackpool’s first goal extremely well, staying onside before taking a touch and lashing home high into the Southend net. There was simply nothing Bishop could have done about this one.
That goal was set up by Liam Feeney, who continued his recent revival by enjoying another impressive afternoon for the Seasiders.
He still frustrates from time to time, but that’s now two games running he’s had a say in both of Blackpool’s goals, having also provided the cross into the Southend box that caused so much havoc and resulted in the ball bobbling into the bottom corner off the head of the unfortunate Southend defender.
Another performer to pick out is Matty Virtue, who enjoyed possibly his best display since signing for the club in January.
Fresh from bagging his first goal for the Seasiders in the win at Accrington on Tuesday night, the former Liverpool Under-23 captain produced a calm, astute performance amid all the chaos surrounding him.
The 21-year-old has got a wise head on young shoulders and if he can deliver displays like that in such atmospheres on a regular occasion, he could have some future.
As for Terry McPhillips and his Blackpool side, play like that from now until the end of the season and there’s no reason why they can’t challenge for that sixth spot in League One’s play-off spots - as long as the EFL don’t see fit to ruin their chances.
What is for certain is that these Blackpool players will give everything for the cause. The commitment Blackpool fans demonstrated in the stands on Saturday was matched by the players’ efforts. Surely that’s all you can ask for.