Town: Mark Halstead, Matt Tootle, Mark Ellis, Nat Knight-Percival (c), Abu Ogogo, Mat Sadler, Tyrone Barnett (James Collins, 46), Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro, Larnell Cole, Jordan Clark (Liam Lawrence, 89), Sullay Kaikai
Subs not used: Shaun Rowley (GK), Shaun Whalley, Ian Black, Sam Patterson, Liam McAlinden
Blackpool: Colin Doyle (c), Clark Robertson, Lloyd Jones, Brad Potts, Mark Cullen, Jack Redshaw, John Herron, Tom Aldred (David Ferguson, 81), Emmerson Boyce, Kwame Thomas (Martin Paterson, 59), David Norris (Henry Cameron, 71)
Subs not used: Kyle Leatheren, Jim McAllister, Connor Oliver, Jose Cubero
Referee: Darren England
Assistants: Anthony Moore and Stephen Rushton
Fourth Official: Ollie Yates
Attendance: 5,241 (478 from Blackpool)
Martin Wild reports from Greenhous Meadow
Two late second-half goals from Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro finally put paid to Blackpool’s plucky performance at the Greenhous Meadow this afternoon. With Larnell Cole threading through two beautiful passes, the recalled Akpa Akpro did the rest – applying smart finishes just when it looked like another home game would pass without a victory. But Shrews stuck to their beliefs and finally opened up a stubborn defence with two well worked goals.
Micky Mellon made changes to his side following last weekend’s home setback against Crewe Alexandra. Keeper Jayson Leutwiler – for so long an ever present in goal – missed out with a back injury, and that gave a start for former Blackpool goalkeeper Mark Halstead with Callum Burton also on the treatment table. Jermaine Grandison’s first minute slip last week proved costly in more ways than one. The central defender wasn’t named in the squad and skipper Liam Lawrence had to be content with a subs jersey with NKP taking the armband. Akpa Akpro and Sullay Kaikai were both promoted from the bench as Micky looked to redress a worrying start to the season on home soil.
Both sides traded a couple of early corners before Tyrone Barnett and Kaikai made Colin Doyle in the Seasiders goal earn his keep with two saves in 30 seconds. The first one was a smart one too after JLAA had played in January’s capture. Barnett’s left foot shot wasn’t struck with any great conviction but it was still destined for the corner of the net and Doyle did very well indeed to push it out.
It was all Town in the first 15 minutes but then Blackpool threatened twice in quick succession. Kwame Thomas burst forward only to be denied by a smart tackle from Mark Ellis, and then Barnett popped up in the danger zone to clear a superb cross from Jon Herron to the back stick. There were plenty of efforts on goal with Barnett’s header the latest - only to drift harmlessly over, with Cole, Akpa Akpro and Kaikai all seeing goalbound attempts blocked or routinely saved. Kaikai flashed another one wide having swapped flanks over to his preferred left but you sensed that patience might be the name of the game. The league’s bottom club were holding on with home fans desperate to see their side break their home hoodoo - which has continued from the last game of last season when Plymouth won 2-0 to end any lingering title aspirations.
There was warm applause around the ground though when a terrific move built from the back took Town to the edge of the visiting box before Kaikai was crowded out. It involved a number of players with some intricate passing and slick movement meriting the crowd’s appreciation.
The early excitement had died away a little with a succession of misplaced passes or poor control evident from both sides. Brad Potts summed up everybody’s frustrations by belting the ball out of play after the referee’s whistle had blown, in a ridiculous show of petulance that brought the obligatory card.
But moments later came a great chance for Neil McDonald’s men. Mark Cullen danced away from Knight-Percival on the halfway line with acres of space ahead of him. With Thomas making a dash down the middle, Cullen played a perfectly weighted ball into his strike partner’s feet but out came the on-rushing Halstead to make a brilliant save, demonstrating immense bravery by putting his head in the way of what might have been a full-on collision.
At the other end Clark shot well over as Town looked to get on the scoresheet in the first half for the first time in a league game here this season, before Doyle came through a crowd of players to punch clear, ensuring parity at the break.
Half Time: Town 0 Blackpool 0
As the teams emerged from the dressing rooms, Barnett’s number was up – quite literally – with the number 23 held up by the 4th official indicating at least 45 minutes for replacement, James Collins.
Collins was right into the thick of things taking up some menacing positions inside the first few minutes. One snap shot was deflected behind with Doyle making a desperate attempt to stop the ball from going over the deadball line for a corner. He ought to have saved his breath. The reaction from the man with the whistle was to point for a goal-kick. Almost as amusing was each time Mr. England got out his can of spray, nothing came out of the end of it but still he persisted with it. He tried it once more to indicate where Blackpool’s defensive line should stand ahead of a Kaikai free-kick, with the defenders far more effective than the aerosol – deflecting behind the set-piece which was 25 yards from goal.
Just past the hour came arguably the game’s best chance. Kaikai looked to have overrun the ball but he did enough to pull it back invitingly for Clark. Doyle had already committed himself plunging to his right in anticipation of the shot, but with Clark at full stretch the ball was tamely struck and bobbled against the keeper before going out of play. Seconds later it was déjà vu as Doyle scampered again to the far right of his area just failing to keep the ball alive. This time though, there were loud and ironic cheers from home fans as the ref correctly pointed to the corner flag.
Collins came to the sidelines to get bandages applied to a head wound and Town supporters cranked up the noise levels in an attempt to boost their team. But it was the Blackpool supporters who had cause to celebrate when Potts tried his luck from distance only to see Halstead save low down. The keeper was powerless to prevent Cullen from bundling home the rebound but as the away supports roar went up, so did the linesman’s flag to save Town’s blushes. It proved to be a pivotal moment in the match.
With seventeen minutes left the deadlock was finally broken and it was Akpa Akpro who finished smartly, shooting beyond Doyle after a jinking run and magnificent through ball from Cole. The Frenchman wrapped his bootlaces right through the ball and smashed it low under the advancing keeper to lift the tension.
And four minutes later, the same two combined again with equally devastating effect. The part which Cole played in both goals couldn’t be under-valued. His second assist was also perfectly weighted and as Doyle came out to narrow the angle, Jean-Louis clipped it past him into the far corner for another accomplished strike.
The rest of the game was carried out at a much slower pace with Town more than content to keep the ball. The first home points are finally on the board and though they’ve been a long time coming, few could argue they were very well deserved this afternoon.
Full Time: Town 2 Blackpool 0