Blackpool 0-1 Stoke City: Steven Fletcher goal spells the end of the Seasiders’ winning run

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Blackpool’s winning run came to an end with a slender home defeat to Stoke City.

 

Steven Fletcher’s 79th minute goal separated the two sides in an even and pulsating encounter played under the lights at Bloomfield Road.

The Seasiders will be frustrated that the goalscorer Fletcher probably ought to have been sent off in the first-half after kicking out at Jordan Gabriel.

Nevertheless, Neil Critchley’s men – who had won their last three heading into this encounter – squandered two priceless chances early on to take the lead.

Had Sonny Carey or Jerry Yates stuck their opportunities away, the game would have inevitably played out differently.

But Pool, who played well, especially in the first-half, remain well placed in the table, sitting in 10th after 16 games and just one point off the play-offs.

After naming an unchanged side on Saturday for just the fifth time in the league during his tenure, Critchley opted to switch things up on this occasion.

Pool have lost for just the second time in nine games

Pool have lost for just the second time in nine games

Out went Josh Bowler and Gary Madine, as Demetri Mitchell and Sonny Carey came into the side – the latter handed his first home league start for the Seasiders.

It saw a change in formation, as the Seasiders started the game in a 4-2-3-1, with Carey playing just off Jerry Yates, a role he played so well during the recent comeback win against Reading.

Elsewhere, Chris Maxwell (torn quad), Matty Virtue (ACL), Grant Ward (achilles) and Shayne Lavery (hamstring) all remain sidelined.

Reece James, who hasn’t made an appearance since the end of August, returned to the Blackpool bench having recovered from a foot injury.

He replaced Dujon Sterling, who appeared to suffer a knock during the warm down at Bramall Lane at the weekend.

Stoke, who began the day in ninth place and just two points adrift of the Seasiders in the league table, made one change from their weekend capitulation against Cardiff City.

The Potters, who were without a win in their last five prior to kick-off, squandered a three-goal lead to draw to the Welsh side.

Former Seasider Jordan Thompson started in the Stoke midfield, while Tom Ince was among the substitutes.

After a lively start, the first effort on goal came the way of the home side, as Demetri Mitchell blazed well over after cutting in from the right.

The first genuine chance fell to Stoke though, as Steven Fletcher had a shot blocked behind before Joe Allen skewed wide from the following corner.

With 11 minutes on the clock, the Seasiders squandered a great chance to take an early lead.

It was set up by Yates, who got to the byline before putting it on a plate for Sonny Carey, who miscued his first effort right in front of goal before firing wide at the second attempt.

A few minutes later, Pool were dealt a major blow when Richard Keogh was forced off with a knock. Left-back Luke Garbutt was the man to replace him, while James Husband moved into the centre.

Things almost went from bad to worse for Critchley’s men when, barely 60 seconds later, ex-Pool midfielder Jordan Thompson whistled a powerful low drive inches wide of the upright.

While Stoke were posing a threat, it was Blackpool who were creating the clearer chances, as evidenced on 17 minutes when Yates missed a golden opportunity.

The striker somehow fired wide after being sent through on goal, the ball ricocheting into the side-netting, leading some Pool fans to celebrate thinking the shot had gone in.

The hosts were by and large controlling possession of the ball, but the Seasiders were happy to sit back and defend their 18-yard box.

When opportunities arose to hit the visitors on the break, they were only too happy to oblige and caused Michael O’Neill’s side all sorts of problems.

Just after the half-hour mark, the in-form Keshi Anderson pounced on some hesitancy from former Fleetwood Town loanee Harry Souttar, forcing the defender into a mistake on the edge of his own box.

The winger took the ball past Souttar, who appeared to lean on him and nudge him over, but the referee allowed play to continue. Anderson was then absolutely wiped out by a recovering defender, who won the ball cleanly.

Such was the danger of Blackpool’s counter-attacks, Stoke resorted to hacking down their opponents in a desperate attempt to remain on level terms.

Remarkably, the away side ended the half with five players being booked, but it could easily have been far worse, with Fletcher avoiding a straight red after kicking out at Jordan Gabriel by the touchline.

It was no real surprise that O’Neill brought off one of the booked players at the break, withdrawing Ben Wilmot for Leo Ostigard.

Nevertheless, Pool carried on from where they left off, as Mitchell tested Joe Bursik with a deflected effort that momentarily looked as though it was going to loop over the Stoke keeper.

The hosts were given a warning when the lively Jacob Brown played a teasing ball across the face of Blackpool’s six-yard box, which required just the faintest of touches from a teammate to give Stoke what would have been an undeserved lead.

The Potters were slowly but surely beginning to take control of proceedings, with Brown almost getting on the end of a Fletcher flick-on, only for the recovering Marvin Ekpiteta to recover and mop up.

A few moments later, the same happened again but this time Brown was able to get a shot off at goal, but thankfully his low drive was straight at Dan Grimshaw.

Pool, who replaced Yates with Gary Madine with just over 20 minutes to go, were able to steady the ship a little bit and see off Stoke’s spell of pressure.

The game was still on a knife-edge though and it could have gone either way.

The Seasiders weren’t able to offer as much of an attacking threat in the second half as they were in the first, but they remained patient and kept plugging away.

Unfortunately, the game swung the way of the away side 11 minutes from time as Fletcher bundled the ball home in fairly fortuitous circumstances.

It came after a Mario Vrancic free-kick was met by Souttar, who rifled a first-time effort against the post. The ball ricocheted straight onto Fletcher’s knee and into the back of the Blackpool net.

The Seasiders responded immediately, introducing Josh Bowler who had already been stripped and ready to replace Mitchell before the goal was scored.

Bowler almost made an immediate impact, waltzing past three Stoke men before seeing his shot deflect behind for a corner when the ball could have gone anywhere, with the keeper caught in no man’s land.

Pool had some half-hearted penalty appeals waved away a minute from time when Madine went to ground after tangling with the legs of two Stoke men.

Pool were forced to play the five minutes of stoppage time with a man less after substitute Luke Garbutt was forced to hobble off injured.

It meant the Seasiders were unable to conjure up much pressure in the dying stages, the Potters holding on for their narrow win.

TEAMS

Blackpool: Grimshaw, Gabriel, Ekpiteta, Keogh (Garbutt), Husband, Dougall, Wintle, Mitchell (Bowler), Anderson, Carey, Yates (Madine)

Subs not used: Moore, Connolly, James, Dale

Stoke: Bursik, Souttar, Batth, Wilmot (Ostigard), Smith, Allen, Sawyers, Thompson (Vrancic), Tymon, Brown (Campbell), Fletcher

Subs not used: Davies, Duhaney, Ince, Surridge

Referee: John Busby

Attendance: 12,297