It wasn't pretty overall, but it was effective, deserved, and had its moments of sweetness - despite a couple of scary moments - as the Lads worked their socks off against a decently organised and equally hard-working home side. Maja's deadly first half touch was enough to claim all three points in a game in which he benefited from the physical presence of Big Chas. The going Oyston saga, which has decimated Seaside support, almost inevitably had an effect on the Tangerines - when it's so obvious your owner has less passion for the club than a certain chubby cockney has for a certain bunch of barcodes, it's unsurprising that the players wonder if they're in the right job at the right place. No matter how much of a brave face they put on, the effort expended in maintaining that expression takes its toll elsewhere....and when the fans are sick of the whole sorry saga, you're basically fighting an uphill battle every home game, although battle they did.
With many having chosen to see in the New Year playing Beer Pong in Blackpool with Mr Methven, whose challenge to turn Blackpool red and white was met with the same gusto as the Boxing Day 40,000 target, the town's new colours were well in evidence when we parked up at 11:45 - bus number three of fifty-plus. Social media was already awash with images of pubs bursting at the seams and fans sporting SAFC regalia in the bright winter sunshine.
Which it as it should be. Awayday first-timers must have wondered why they'd waited so long to take the plunge, and seeing so many in the colours evoked memories of craziness on the Golden Mile over the decades. Having avoided the tackiness of the seafront, we indulged in some cracking ale (£1.95 on a Tuesday!) at The Saddle after breaking the metaphorical ice at the Bloomfield Brewhouse, listening to the tales of disaffection with their owners from the home fans. We allowed plenty of time to get to the ground, but once we arrived it became apparent that summat radical needed doing to get us all in by 3pm. So they sensibly opened some exit gates, and most of us made it in before kick-off, being ushered to any unoccupied seat because of the rather confusing numbering system. In our smart, but wholly unnecessary black away kit – I thought we were supposed to be turning Blackpool red and white? – we lined up:
O’Nien Flanagan Baldwin James
Gooch Wyke Maja McGeady
Pool kicked off toward our fans - the ones behind the goal, that is, as we filled a side and an end while the home fans were scattered sparsely around the south and west stands, and we agreed that Watmore’s absence from the bench was probably down to nothing more than the fairly hefty workouts he’d been given over the Christmas period. No sign of Honeyman either, so that central gap between the deep-lying Catts and Power and the attack would have to be filled by other means- McGeady drifting in from the left, perhaps? He certainly looked likely to do something, as he kept popping up all over the place in the early stages of the game. Neither side could maintain long periods of possession, but with Wyke looking sharp and mobile, Gooch seemed more willing to hoy in a cross that he has been of late.
Without Oviedo, who may well be signing a contract somewhere else in the next few days, it was up to James to be the foil to McGeady’s twinkling toes, and he proved a willing runner. The home side played with three up front, although none of them gave us real problems with Flanagan and Baldwin winning most of the aerial exchanges and protecting McLaughlin well. Gooch got away the afternoon’s first shot, but it cannoned off a defender and was cleared.
Catts got a bit over excited and was booked for a foul on Delfouneso, which might have put the dampeners on things and will mean he’ll miss some games, but if he doesn't get stuck in his game suffers, and so, consequently, does the team. A few minutes later we had something else to discuss, as McGeady ran down the wing for me, onto a pass from Power, put in a cross, and watched as Maja did what Maja does, sticking his right boot to put the ball in for the crucial goal. 7,804 people went barmy as the remaining 3,190 cursed life, the universe, and their owner and Maja was mobbed by his team-mates. Again. Sign the papers, Josh, please.
Five minutes later we had McLaughlin to thank for a good save, then whoever hoofed it off the line in the ensuing scramble. Close, but it didn’t go in. After a bit more pressure from Blackpool we got to grips with the game for the last five of the half, and McGeady was nearly there again, drawing another save from the home keeper.
A single added minute preceded a half-time break in which there much to discuss – mainly about whether we’d get a second. There were no changes for the second half, and it only took Blackpool four minutes to think they’d equalised, but the ball didn’t cross the line (well, it was a lot less of a goal than the one Bradford claimed on Boxing Day) and we had to produce a bit more defending in our box before we set Maja away, and their goalie had to save with his feet when a second looked more than likely. He repeated the trick, this time getting his hand to a typical Maja shot after a clever turn, at the expense of a corner. Looking canny, Lads.
Gooch and O’Connor were booked after the former took exception to the latter being unsporting at Wyke’s expense – nice to see a shorthouse (sorry, Lynden) stick up for a much bigger team-mate, despite the yellow.
Between the hour and 70 minutes we really should have doubled our advantage, with McGeady’s shot almost deceiving the keeper and going for a corner off his shoulder, being followed by a number of close things in front of the Mortensen Stand. Gooch crossed to Power, but the volley went wide as we went for the killer second goal. Baldwin got a header in from a corner, but Howard caught it - only just before it went over the line. With ten to go, McGeady was forced into some unaccustomed defensive work, doing well in our own box as his team-mates struggled to get it away, and we swept it down the other end for Howard in the home goal to get his hand to Gooch’s shot and prevent a second that would probably have been deserved. McGeouch replaced the tiring Wyke with seven minutes left on the clock, and his task was very obviously to hold onto the ball as much as possible and prevent the home side from getting a touch – which he did well enough.
With only a couple of minutes to go, Maja was replaced by Maguire, and while the fans were screaming for another score, I reckon Ross the Boss had sent Chris on to help kill the game by other means – which he did. He chased, he won a couple of throws, and he generally got in the way of Blackpool as much as he could in the added four minutes. There’s always a hint of nervousness at 1-0, no matter how well you are playing, and Blackpool were nothing if not enthusiastic, meaning that the roar at the final whistle from the visiting fans was a mixture of relief and celebration. A deserved victory
Man of the Match? I’ll give it to Maja for the goal and a couple of nearly goals, and for looking like he can play alongside a Big Bloke… and the Big Bloke also did well. Special mention for Baldwin as well, for getting it off the line when a Blackpool leveller looked likely after McLaughlin was beaten. O’Nien and a less attacking games as he wa preoccupied with defending against a hard-running winger – a task he completed well. Like I said at the top of the page, not the most fluent of games, but we battled hard against a side that also battled hard – if you’re going to be matched for effort, look for and find the bit of quality that makes the difference. He’s called Josh Maja, you know, he’s better than Joel Asoro, he’s Maja, you know…
Onwards and upwards, Lads. See you at the Valley.