‘Blackpool’s luck will surely turn’: Matt Scrafton’s verdict on the gut-wrenching last-gasp defeat to Middlesbrough

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Football can be a cruel, cruel mistress sometimes.

 

Neil Critchley was without 10 players on Wednesday night due to a mixture of positive Covid cases, injuries and suspension. Certain players took to the field who had no right to be playing.

Take Callum Connolly, for instance. With Blackpool only having one fit central midfielder in Kenny Dougall available – and even he’s carrying a knock – he was drafted into the side through necessity more than anything.

The 24-year-old was missing at Huddersfield just three days earlier and it later transpired the defender-turned-midfielder hadn’t actually trained all week leading up to the game.

Yet he still managed to not only last the full 90 minutes, but also turn in a Man of the Match display with his best performance in a tangerine jersey to date. If that doesn’t sum up this Blackpool side, I don’t know what does.

Connolly wasn’t the only one though. There were other players

Unlike a lot of other clubs, Blackpool did whatever it took to get the game on. Players took to the field with knocks, youth-team players were handed shirt numbers and Cameron Antwi was recalled from his loan to boost the numbers.

Marvin Ekpiteta and James Husband can't hide their despair following Middlesbrough's last-gasp winner

Marvin Ekpiteta and James Husband can’t hide their despair following Middlesbrough’s last-gasp winner

You just hope Blackpool don’t suffer for their integrity and honesty, because there’s not much of that going around at this moment in time.

The Seasiders only had one day of training to learn a completely new system, as Critchley opted to match-up Boro’s wing-back formation with three in the middle.

Given the success his side enjoyed on the night, you’d have thought they’d have spent the last eight weeks perfecting and fine-tuning the new approach – which is the same amount of time Chris Wilder has been in charge at Middlesbrough.

At times, because of the similarity in systems, the two sides cancelled each other out for large periods, especially during the first-half.

But in the second-half, the Seasiders wrangled control. They were incessant, were constantly looking to get on the front foot and were knocking on Boro’s door at every opportunity possible.

On another day, the home side could easily have had four.

They say you make your own luck in this game and there might be an element of truth to that. But boy, when things don’t go your way they REALLY don’t go your way, do they?

The Seasiders hit the woodwork twice, saw a deflected shot whistle centimetres past the post and had countless other bits and pieces.

They were creating opportunities – and good ones, too – on a fairly regular basis against a Boro side that hadn’t conceded in their last four.

The Teesside outfit are flying under new boss Chris Wilder, have won five of their last six and now sit fifth in the division. But they’ll know they were involved in a right ding-dong battle in what was Blackpool’s final outing of 2021.

Blackpool went toe-to-toe with Wilder’s men and often came out on top, so to leave empty-handed for the second time in three days will be gut-wrenching for Critchley and his players. The nature of the defeat will only serve to make them feel worse.

When you finally manage to equalise in the 91st minute of the game, as Pool did thanks to Shayne Lavery’s instinctive first-time finish, you really should see out the remainder of stoppage-time. To concede again, just two minutes after earning what looked to be a richly deserved last-gasp point, is unforgivable.

We musn’t be too harsh though, because the players were magnificent. They probably won’t be able to feel like this right now with the defeat still so raw, but they should take a lot of heart from this display.

It was just one lapse in concentration that has cost them, which probably says more about the brutal nature of the Championship than it does about Blackpool’s own shortcomings.

Demetri Mitchell has predictably come in for some flack among supporters for his role in Middlesbrough’s 93rd minute winner and I’m sure he’ll still be kicking himself.

Could he have just played the ball down the line first time, rather than look to take it past the rapidly onrushing Boro player?

Given the criticism Mitchell’s had, I actually expected the replay to look a lot worse than it did when I eventually got round to watching the game’s highlights.

It’s not like he’s under no pressure whatsoever and has just gifted the ball straight to an opposition player. It’s a split-second decision which, because of how the move ended, means he got it wrong. But hindsight is a wonderful thing.

On another night, Mitchell takes it past Isaiah Jones and Blackpool would be able to embark on a late attack of their own. Perhaps Jones would make the tackle but the ball flies out of play for a throw-in instead.

I’m not totally absolving Mitchell of blame, by the way. But it’s only because the ball ended up in the back of the Blackpool net six seconds later that his error, if that’s what it was, is being highlighted to such an extent. There always has to be a scapegoat.

To suggest Mitchell should no longer play for the club, as some have, is just ridiculous. Let’s put it down to getting carried away with the emotion of the moment, because this is not what this Blackpool team is all about. The same applied to Jordan Gabriel at Huddersfield.

A run of just one win in 10 is obviously cause for concern, but if the Seasiders continue to perform like this they shouldn’t have too much to worry about.

Their luck will surely turn. Those chances that are hitting the post and bouncing out will soon rebound the other way.

Derby aside, it’s not like Blackpool are playing poorly. They’re more than competitive in every game, against good sides too.

It doesn’t feel like Blackpool have only won one in 10, if that makes any sense. If we were all scratching our heads wondering where the next three points were going to come from, we’d be a lot more concerned I’m sure. But that’s not the case.

So let’s keep the faith.