Blackpool seafront reminds me of Barbara Cartland; a facade past its prime desperate to appeal to visitors by caking itself with gaudy make-up. But beneath the layers of amusements and rock shops Blackpool is an optimistic town. It has to be. If you don’t believe me just take a look at the names of the many cafe and hotel names. The Parisienne, the Astoria and Café Rendezvous complete with mobility scooter parked outside, each named with continental flair and all as cosmopolitan as, well, as Doncaster.
The optimism has been channelled more effectively into the town’s football team, led by Ian Holloway The Seasiders have become the unlikeliest of play-off contenders. Fancied for relegation again at the start of the season they have been in or amongst the top teams in the division since the opening weeks. Holloway has galvanised a team of players which has, particularly at home, stood up to the challenge of the second tier and is still looking hopefully upwards. If Burnley can do it, why not Blackpool?
Up until today of course we were asking and why not Doncaster? However, back to back Easter defeats for a squad getting increasingly threadbare have thankfully put paid to the play-off hope and talk. As with Saturday Rovers created the better of the game’s chances. As with Saturday they failed to take them, and as with Saturday they were beaten by a team who were ultimately more determined to take the points. In his programme notes Holloway praised Sean O’Driscoll and Rovers playing style, the subject of that praise was on show again here today, but without Billy Sharp it’s clearly far from as clinical as it can be.
Rovers recalled Paul Heffernan from his loan spell at Bristol Rovers for this match. So late was his recall that Heffernan reportedly only arrived at Bloomfield Road an hour before kick-off and still dressed in his Bristol Rovers tracksuit. Despite preparations far from ideal the forward went straight into the starting line-up and was at the heart of the game’s first chance. Breaking forward Heffernan fed John Oster and with a neat back heel the midfielder put Heffernan through on goal. The forward cut inside Steve Crainey just inside the area and went down under the left-back’s despairing challenge. From the away end it looked a certain penalty, so the referees decision to award Blackpool a free-kick and caution Heffernan for simulation was more than a little unexpected.
Doncaster were looking assured in possession and indeed the biggest threat to their play fro much of the opening half an hour came from the conditions, the bobbles from the Bloomfield Road sandpit coupled with the wind whipping in over the temporary Eastside taking some getting used to. Blackpool were struggling to create chances hampered by both the linesman’s flag and a determined Rovers back-line. In the opening half an hour all they mustered were long range efforts for Charlie Adam and Hameur Bouazza which both sailed wide of Neil Sullivan’s goal.
At the other end Rovers seemed to be just a crucial touch or a block away from taking the lead. From a corner Jamie Coppinger had a shot blocked, whilst Jay Emmanuel-Thomas had a header saved and then later an overhead kick blocked as Rovers forced a number of corners but could not deliver the killer blow. Instead that came from the home side. James O’Connor stretched to intercept Crainey’s cross only to turn the ball goalwards, it looked to be heading wide, but an odd bounce took it onto the post and DJ Campbell was first to react turning in the rebound to put ‘Pool 1-0 ahead.
Rovers continued to create chances, Emmanuel-Thomas again seeing a header saved, but Blackpool were more alive to the game now and posed more of a threat. Keith Southern fired wide from distance and then the impressive Seamus Coleman on loan from Everton at right back weaved his way forward through a succession of Rovers challenges only to be held up on the edge of the box, at the third attempt.
Doncaster’s fortunes could have improved had the referee spotted a clumsy off the ball challenge by Charlie Adam on Coppinger, but as it was the Blackpool player, already booked, got away with his indiscretion. Late in the half came a great chance of a Rovers equaliser as a neat lifted pas from Coppinger found Heffernan in the area, the forward controlled only to see his shot well saved by Matt Gilks, and the keeper also got up to block Heffernan’s follow-up strike.
Though they trailed 1-0 Rovers made the brighter start to the second half and almost drew level inside the opening minute. Oster’s chipped pass saw Heffernan outmuscle Alex Baptiste to get to the byline where he neatly prodded the ball past Gilks, only for it roll along the line and be cleared from under his own crossbar by Crainey. Five minutes in and Southern threatened at the other end, his long range drive held smartly by Sullivan, diving full length to his left.
It was Rovers turn to threaten next from outside the area, as James Hayter found space on the right to whip in a cross, his delivery evaded Oster and Heffernan, but did run free for Gareth Roberts advancing from the left. The full-back checked his run and hit it first time with the outside of his left boot, but Gilks diving to his right turned it away. Not to be outdone Sullivan then produced an even better save at the other end as DJ Campbell played the advancing Gary Taylor-Fletcher in on goal, but Sullivan stood up well when one-on-one to turn his strike over the bar.
Around the hour mark Rovers looked destined to find an equaliser as they created chance after chance, firstly as Heffernan got onto another through pass to lob the ball over Gilks, but it dropped just wide of the Blackpool goal. Soon after Rovers won a free-kick on the edge of the area but Emmanuel-Thomas’ effort flew just over, and then came arguably Doncaster’s best chance. Roberts in space on the left was picked out by Oster and the full-back delivered a driven low cross to the near post where it was met by Hayter, but he could only direct it up onto the cross bar. A tough chance, coming behind him at pace, but one which had to be taken.
Ultimately as Rovers began to push forward for more urgency they were likely to be found out at the back and that proved the case. James Chambers, trying to advance through the middle of the field was caught out in possession and Blackpool spread the ball to Steve Dobbie in the resulting space on the left. The substitute was allowed to advance down the left channel with Shelton Martis guilty of standing off him and from the corner of the box he curled the ball into the far side of Sullivan’s goal. A well taken goal and a cruel blow for Rovers.
From there the game was effectively won, Blackpool shut up shop in defence and Rovers struggled to break them down from that point onwards, indeed the only opportunity came in the final minutes as Jordan Mutch, on for John Oster, found space to shoot from distance and his low strike was turned away well by Gilks down to his right. Blackpool could have even had a third, but DJ Campbell dithered a little when clean through and O’Connor was able to get back and but in a crucial challenge.
Football wise, in terms of ball retention and movement and steady and deliberate creating of chances Doncaster were the better team on show in this game. But for all the neat, smooth football, the smart turns and impressive skills, they came up short against a ruthlessly professional Blackpool side. The Seasiders didn’t boss this game by any means, but frustratingly you felt it was always in their grasp and theirs to win if they so wished.
Man of the Match: John Oster was his usual impressive self in the point-guard role, but for us the nod goes to Shelton Martis. The centre half ensured that DJ Campbell had very little space in which to work during the first half and more often than not delivered a timely challenge followed by a composed ball out of defence to break up Blackpool’s flow. It was a shame he was partly at fault on Blackpool’s second goal as other than that he delivered an excellent defensive display.
Blackpool line-up (4-4-2); Matt Gilks; Seamus Coleman, Alex Baptiste, Ian Evatt, Steve Crainey; Keith Southern, Charlie Adam, David Vaughan Gareth Taylor-Fletcher; Hameur Bouazza (Steve Dobbie), DJ Campbell
subs not used: Paul Rachubka, Rob Edwards, Joe Martin, Billy Clarke, Ben Burgess, Jason Euell
booked: Charlie Adam (poor challenge), DJ Campbell (dissent, repeatedly kicking the ball away)
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-2-3-1); Neil Sullivan; James Chambers, James O’Connor, Shelton Martis, Gareth Roberts; Mark Wilson, John Oster (Dean Shiels); Jamie Coppinger (Jordan Mutch), Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, James Hayter; Paul Heffernan
subs not used: Ben Smith, Adam Lockwood, Sam Hird, Sean McDaid
booked: Paul Heffernan (diving… allegedly), James Hayter (foul)