Last-gasp heartbreak for Fleetwood Town at Bloomfield Road...
I’ve written that before...
But this time it probably hurt more because Fleetwood Town were clearly the better side.
Though the story of their season – simple mistakes, missed chances and needless red cards – all played into the hands of an organised Seasiders side who made up for a lack of bite up top with sheer endeavour.
It should have been a historic day for Town, with boss Barton toasting their first ever win on Bloomfield’s far from pretty turf.
Barton switched to a 4-4-2 system as he brought Good Friday’s super subs James Hill and Ash Hunter into the starting line-up.
For 17-year-old Hill it was a first Football League start at his dad Matt’s old club. Hill junior joined Ash Eastham in the centre of Town’s defence as Wes Burns and James Husband moved into full-back roles.
Lewie Coyle was pushed up into central midfield and partnered Nathan Sheron, with Ross Wallace and Hunter deployed on the wings.
Paddy Madden and Ched Evans returned to a front two, with Ashley Nadesan and Harrison Biggins moving to the bench.
Town’s electric opening 30 minutes posed a simple question: why have they not been playing his 4-4-2 formation all season?
It was used for the 5-0 demolition over Scunthorpe earlier in the term, and with the form of Hunter on that left wing and Evans and Madden causing problems, Town should have been en route a comfortable victory.
Hunter was unplayable at times on that left as he renewed the profitable relationship he had created with Husband earlier in the season.
Town went for the jugular early doors, with Hunter’s set-piece only cleared as far as Burns in the box. But the right-back could only drill the ball wide of the left stick.
Evans tested Christoffer Mafoumbi as his header stung the Blackpool keeper’s palms.
Madden was a whisker away from connecting with Husband’s diagonal ball.
Up the other end, Armand Gnanduillet got his eye in. He outfoxed Eastham on the edge of the box, with Alex Cairns at his cat-like best to bat the ball away.
With Town’s midfield injury list mounting, Coyle and Sheron did their jobs in the middle in the first half.
It was a new out and out central role for Coyle and he did not look out of place as he added bite to that midfield.
And that tenacity nearly led to an opener as Coyle robbed Jordan Thompson and sent Evans roaring through.
The net rippled and the Cod Army thought they were ahead but their cheers soon turned to groans as they realised it was the side-netting.
Town were made to pay for those wasted opportunities as a toothless Blackpool side were given a free shot to open the scoring through another tame penalty.
Gnanduillet had just the one sight of goal as Town dominated but Husband gave the referee a decision to make in front of the home fans.
He pulled Nya Kirby back in the box and the referee pointed to the spot.
It looked soft but Cairns could not repeat his heroics from Good Friday as Jay Spearing coolly slotted home in the 31st minute.
But that did not rock a Town side that had barely been tested in open play by the Seasiders.
Husband bounced back to link up with Hunter once more on that left wing. It was Town’s main source of joy in the first 45 and it would be their way back. Hunter out-foxed Thompson as he switched from foot to foot before whipping in a peach of a left-footed cross.
The wing-wizard has been working on his left foot and it showed as he picked up his 13th assist of the term, with Evans nodding home his 18th of the season. It was Evans’ fifth goal in seven games as captain.
Up the other end Hill had a wobble. The 17-year-old scuffed a clearance, with Gnanduillet and Long looming.
Gnanduillet pounced on the loose ball and surged forward but Eastham was on hand to block his effort.
That was perhaps the only shaky moment in an otherwise impressive first league start for Hill. He showed off the new attacking threat he brings to Town’s side too in the second half.
His long throw caused chaos in the box, with Evans flicking the ball to Madden and his volley was stopped by Mafoumbi.
But Blackpool had regrouped at half-time to try and stop Town on the left flank. They also showed more bite of their own in the final third.
Cairns had to punch away a dangerous Thompson centre but Kirby could not punish Town with the follow-up. The stage looked set for Chris Long to haunt former club.
But when Long poked the ball home in the 58th minute, he was in an offside position and his fairytale response to ex-boss Barton, who shipped the forward out in January just six months after signing him, was denied.
Madden volleyed over and then it was Blackpool’s turn to bring out the Dave Challinor- style long throw tactics.
Michael Nottingham threw the ball in and Town failed to clear, with Curtis Tilt failing in his acrobatic attempt and Gnanduillet thwarted in the box. Fleetwood had looked the better side for the majority of the game, especially in the final third. But the tide turned when Sheron saw red.
The midfielder went over the top of the ball as he challenged Matty Virtue, the referee brandishing a straight red card.
In real time it looked a red, and if our pictures are anything to go by it was a tackle that was lucky to not cause Virtue more harm than the gash he limped off with.
Not just a late tackle but needless too. And 18-yards inside Town’s half, there was no need for such an exuberance tackle. The youngster showed his youth and naivety but knowing the lad he will have meant no harm – just a young player trying his best in a blood and thunder derby environment.
A steep learning curve, though – Sheron’s dismissal did not just harm Town and Virtue, but will also add to Town’s midfield problems in the final games.
And it sent Coyle from looking comfortable in a central midfield role to appearing out of his depth.
The changes did not help either. Ashley Nadesan and Harrison Biggins did not have the impact Town needed.
Would Town have got something had Hunter and Madden not been sacrificed?
Hill came to the rescue as he cleared Blackpool sub Harry Pritchard’s cross at the near post. And at the other end he was a threat as his long throw fell to Evans, who saw his goal-bound effort just cleared.
The teenager nearly capped a fine first start with a goal as his header dropped on to the roof of the net.
Coyle tried his luck from range and, despite the one-man disadvantage, Town looked the more likely to score.
But it was Blackpool who would clinch the glory. Nadesan’s defending from the front was poor and Town’s defence napped as a long ball from Mafoumbifell to Gnanduillet. His effort cannoned into the post but Delfouneso was quickest to react.
Town were statuesque as he sprinted in to mop up the rebound.
Had Stoke City loan star Harry Souttar not been suspended would Blackpool have scored that late effort?
Hearts broken once again at Bloomfield in the final minutes but lessons of this season have still not been learned – simple errors and avoidable goals. Town should have been out of sight by the break.
But with the injuries Town have, this was a spirited and hearty display but this game again showed why they are not in the play-offs.
Blackpool need to learn lessons too. They did not learn from last month’s pitch invasion and the sight of Seasiders fans on the pitch again was needless.
At least Fleetwood have won something this year – the worst disciplinary record now looks to be theirs to keep!