'Seasiders rue one lapse in concentration': Matt Scrafton's verdict on Blackpool's thrilling draw against Luton Town
If you had told me before Saturday’s game that we’d all be disappointed with a draw away at League One’s runaway leaders Luton Town, I don’t think I’d have believed you.
But that’s exactly how it transpired, the Seasiders coming minutes away from becoming the first side to win at Kenilworth Road this season and ending the Hatters’ incredible 28-game unbeaten run in the process.
The chances of Pool claiming anything from the game seemed even more unlikely just six minutes in, when the home side capitalised on their blistering start by taking an early lead.
It was a sloppy goal to concede from the Seasiders’ perspective, but you have to give the Hatters credit for the way they started the game.
It was easy to see why they’re top of the league and destined for the Championship. They looked streets ahead in the opening 20 to 25 minutes and Pool couldn’t get near them.
They were in scintillating form, moving the ball at pace and constantly finding their attacking players in pockets of space in and around the 18-yard box. I don’t think any side in the division could have lived with them.
Kazenga LuaLua, brother of former Seasider Lomana, was the main threat and it was from his smart turn and cross that saw the league’s top scorer James Collins steer home at the near post.
Ollie Turton, who looked a little rusty in the early stages on his return from a one-month lay-off through injury, was beaten all ends up by LuaLua who stormed past him.
Christoffer Mafoumbi will also be a little disappointed not to have gotten a stronger hand to Collins’ shot, which slipped underneath him rather than flying into the bottom corner.
With the game just a few minutes old, you’d be forgiven for fearing the worst. It appeared a case of how many Luton would get rather than if Blackpool would be able to get themselves back into the game.
But Terry McPhillips’ men did well to hang in there when they could quite easily have folded. Were that to have happened, they wouldn’t have been the first team to have endured such a collapse – just a few weeks back Doncaster Rovers shipped four against Mick Harford’s men.
But for all of Luton’s early dominance and sublime play, did they create any other real chances of note? Other than a couple of half chances – Matty Pearson seeing a header cleared away from danger and Mafoumbi palming a mishit cross over the bar – I don’t recall any.
That’s all credit to Blackpool for the way they defended, and they got their rewards when they levelled matters out of nowhere on the half-hour mark with their first real attack of the game.
The goal came from Nya Kirby, who demonstrated why most people have been calling for him to be utilised more often with an exquisite volley. It beggars belief that this is just the 19-year-old’s second start for the club since he joined on loan from Crystal Palace in January.
But the midfielder owes a lot to Marc Bola and Matty Virtue for his first senior goal, with Bola making one of his trademark surging runs down the left before playing in Virtue, who kept the ball alive by beating the onrushing goalkeeper to the ball before lofting it up nicely to Kirby, who made no mistake from the edge of the area.
The Seasiders came firing out of the blocks at the start of the second period and were the side in the ascendancy even before Luton were reduced to 10 men.
Armand Gnanduillet came close with a couple of headers before Pool were denied the most blatant of penalties you’re ever likely to see when Marc Bola was shoved off the ball as he raced into the Luton box. It was just one of a plethora of bizarre decisions from referee Lee Collins, who was equally poor for both teams.
But the home fans can have no complaints with the referee’s namesake receiving two yellow cards in the space of as many minutes.
The striker, the scorer of Luton’s opener, needlessly picked up his first yellow by slamming the ball into an advertising hoarding in frustration after fouling Curtis Tilt.
It can’t have been any more than 100 seconds later when he flew into a late challenge on Virtue, leaving the midfielder in a heap on the ground. It was a cynical tackle that arguably merited a red by itself. It was a moment of pure madness from Collins.
Blackpool wasted no time in taking advantage of their one-man superiority, taking the lead for the first time through Virtue, who hauled himself off the floor to slam home from the edge of the six-yard box after Luton had failed to clear their lines from a corner.
Leading 2-1 against 10 men, you’d like to think the game was all but wrapped up. But even with a man less, Luton remain a formidable outfit.
Were Blackpool guilty of sitting back on their lead when they could have looked for a third? Perhaps. But that’s an easy accusation to make when the opposition get a late leveller. It wouldn’t have been a debate had Gnanduillet stuck away his gilt-edged chance on the break.
Playing on the counter seemed like the right tactic, there were gaps all over the place to exploit after all.
In the end, the Seasiders were left to rue one lapse in concentration four minutes from time, with substitute Jason Cummings given far too much time to take not one, not two, but three touches inside their box to settle himself before finding the bottom corner of Pool’s net.
It was a sickener, but we shouldn’t be surprised to see late drama when these two sides take on one another at Kenilworth Road...