Blackpool 1-2 Middlesbrough: Last-gasp heartbreak sees Neil Critchley’s side end 2021 with defeat

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Duncan Watmore’s last-ditch goal condemned gutsy Blackpool to a heartbreaking defeat to Middlesbrough in their final game of 2021.

 

Shayne Lavery appeared to have rescued the depleted Seasiders a point when he came off the bench to equalize in the first minute of stoppage time.

But Boro, who had earlier taken the lead through Andraz Sporar, still had time to win it through Watmore’s close-range finish.

The depleted Seasiders will certainly feel hard done by, having more than played their part in what was a see-saw encounter, coming close on a number of other occasions.

Neil Critchley’s side continuously peppered the Boro goal, even hitting the woodwork twice.

But they were once again unable to find that bit of quality in front of goal when their opponents were.

While Pool’s performance have remained relatively good in recent weeks, there will certainly be some concern over their recent run which has seen them win just one of their last 10 games.

The Seasiders initially fell behind to Andraz Sporar's clever flick

The Seasiders initially fell behind to Andraz Sporar’s clever flick

Despite Blackpool’s camp being decimated by Covid, injuries and suspension, the Seasiders were still able to name a competitive squad.

Neil Critchley was without 10 players in total, Jordan Gabriel and Sonny Carey the latest two to join the absentee list.

Gabriel missed the first of two games through suspension after being sent off during the 3-2 defeat at Huddersfield Town on Boxing Day.

Despite being dismissed for two yellows, Gabriel misses two games having been sent off for Nottingham Forest earlier in the season.

Carey, meanwhile, is facing an extended period on the sidelines after suffering a suspected metatarsal injury at the John Smith’s Stadium.

Dujon Sterling came in for Gabriel in a like-for-like replacement, while Richard Keogh and Callum Connolly both came back into the side for Carey and Josh Bowler, who dropped to the bench.

The changes saw Blackpool match up their opponents and go with five at the back, as Daniel Gretarsson kept his place in the side alongside Keogh and Marvin Ekpiteta. James Husband and Sterling were the two wing-backs.

Connolly came into the side to patch up a depleted central midfield alongside Kenny Dougall and Keshi Anderson, while Jerry Yates and Gary Madine continued in attack.

Despite the growing list of absentees, Critchley was still able to name a strong bench which included Bowler, Demetri Mitchell, CJ Hamilton and Shayne Lavery.

Luke Mariette, a star performer for the club’s Under-19 side this season, was also included in the 18.

Elsewhere, Chris Maxwell, Luke Garbutt, Reece James, Kevin Stewart, Matty Virtue, Ryan Wintle, Grant Ward and Owen Dale all remain sidelined through a mixture of injuries and Covid.

Middlesbrough, meanwhile, made two changes from their Boxing Day win against Nottingham Forest, which extended their run to four victories from five under new boss Chris Wilder.

With around 3,200 Boro fans making the trip to the Fylde coast from Teesside, it made for a raucous and lively atmosphere under lights at Bloomfield Road.

After a scrappy start, the visitors ought to have broken the deadlock with the game’s first chance in the 11th minute.

Paddy McNair put the ball on a plate for Lee Peltier at the back post but, despite only being a few yards out, the wing-back somehow failed to find the target.

Pool switched their system to match up Boro and it showed, because the two sides continued to cancel each other out in what was a dull opening.

Blackpool had to wait almost half an hour for their first opening of the game but when it did arrive, it was a good one.

The chance fell to Jerry Yates inside the six-yard box, where the striker couldn’t quite bundle home after James Husband had stooped low at the back post to keep the ball alive.

Ten minutes before the interval, skipper Marvin Ekpiteta made a trademark block to keep the scores level as he threw his body on the line to denty Andraz Sporar a certain goal.

Three minutes later, it was Dan Grimshaw’s turn to save the Seasiders.

The keeper made a big stop with his legs to deny Onel Hernandez, who had been gifted the ball after Richard Keogh’s attempted pass forward had ricocheted straight to his feet.

Pool emerged strong at the start of the second-half and came within inches of making the breakthrough.

Keshi Anderson was the creator, teeing up Callum Connolly whose low shot deflected off the heel of a Boro player, wrongfooting Joe Lumley and almost nestling in the bottom corner – only to bobbled agonisingly wide instead.

The Seasiders maintained their pressure, with Gary Madine at the heart of their good start to the second period with his guile, experience and general hold-up play.

An exquisite moment of skill, meanwhile, almost saw the hosts edge their noses in front as Madine saw a stunning effort rebound off the post.

He somehow managed to keep James Husband’s deep cross alive at the back post to send a looping effort over Lumley, only to see the ball rebound off the foot of the post.

At this point, the game finally began to open up, with both sides exchanging good opportunities in what soon became a see-saw encounter.

Hernandez came close for the visitors, curling just wide from the edge of the box with an effort that had Grimshaw scrambling across his goal.

A minute later, Grimshaw was left rooted to the spot as Chris Wilder’s side took the lead with a moment of individual quality.

Jones provided a low cross towards the near post, where Sporar got across his man before cleverly flicking the ball into the Blackpool goal.

One almost became two a moment later when substitute Duncan Watmore fired just over the bar from the edge of the box.

But Pool, as they so often do, responded well and came close to levelling through another Connolly shot from the edge of the box which the midfielder slashed just wide.

Nevertheless, the momentum was with Boro who hunted down a second, Jones skewing just over with a first-time volley on the edge of the box.

Watmore’s pace then caused all sorts of problems on the break as he took the ball past the onrushing Grimshaw, pulling the ball back towards Matt Crooks only for Richard Keogh to get across and make a vital interception.

Pool had to try something to stem the tide and, with 13 minutes left, that’s exactly what they did as Critchley turned to the bench to make a double change.

Josh Bowler and Shayne Lavery were introduced into the action, with Daniel Gretarsson and Yates making way.

Former Pool striker Uche Ikpeazu, meanwhile, replaced Boro’s goalscorer Sporar.

The Seasiders threw everything they had at the away side in the dying stages, coming close through Marvin Ekpiteta who met Bowler’s corner only to head straight at Lumley.

Connolly came as close as anyone had up to that point, hitting the post with a glancing header from a near post corner.

Blackpool finally looked to have rescued themselves a point in the first minute of stoppage time when Lavery stabbed home in-off the post, sending Bloomfield Road into raptures.

But those celebrations were cut short just two minutes later when Watmore prodded the ball over the line to send the away fans delirious.

It was a cruel and frustrating end to the game for Blackpool, who deserved a point for their efforts.

TEAMS

Blackpool: Grimshaw, Sterling, Ekpiteta, Keogh (Mitchell), Gretarsson (Bowler), Husband, Connolly, Dougall, Anderson, Yates (Lavery), Madine

Subs not used: Moore, Casey, Mariette, Hamilton

Middlesbrough: Lumley, Dijksteel, Bamba, Fry, Tavernier, Peltier, McNair, Crooks, Jones, Hernandez (Watmore), Sporar (Ikpeazu)

Subs not used: Daniels, Taylor, Hall, Lea Siliki, Payero

Referee: Stephen Martin

Attendance: 13,428