Blackpool 2 Pompey 3: Will Rooney’s match report

Brett Pitman scores the winner for Pompey. Picture: Joe Pepler
Brett Pitman scores the winner for Pompey. Picture: Joe Pepler
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The gate to one of the town’s main attractions was padlocked shut.

Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach theme park slept silently in the winter sun, with it’s premium attraction – the Big One – a daunting silhouette in the background.

Yet, 5,032 thrillseekers got their adrenaline buzz inside Bloomfield Lane on Saturday afternoon.

The clash between Blackpool and Pompey proved to be a rollercoaster of a ride.

The second half was a pulsating affair – one that did now allow anyone in the stadium to sit up and take stock for a moment as five goals were scored in the space of 34 minutes.

The rollercoaster was out of service for the first 45 minutes of the game, however.

Luckily for everyone, Kenny Jackett and Gary Bowyer fixed the problem at half-time.

Spanners in hand, their team talks engineered a thrilling second period that was well worth the wait.

It matched the build-up to the game that got much more attention than initially expected.

The Football League originally had Ben Toner down to referee the League One clash.

However, they soon realised their mistake of such an unfortunately-named official given the controversy surrounding the Tangerines’ owners, the Oyston family.

They replaced him with Premier League referee Jon Moss.

The Oystons’ tenancy of the club has led to many of Blackpool’s faithful boycotting the games – the empty seats around Bloomfield Road laid bare the feud between fans and owners. Just a day before the game, the Oystons put the club up on the market.

And Pompey fans attempted to catalyse the Seasiders owners’ sale with first-half cries of ‘Oystons out.’

Meanwhile, the pressure was on Jackett to produce a victory at Bloomfield Road.

Heading into the contest, the Blues had lost their past three League One matches.

The Pompey manager’s task was made more difficult with suspensions to Nathan Thompson and Stuart O’Keefe.

That prompted the return of Kal Naismith, Danny Rose and Gareth Evans to the starting line-up.

Despite being key members of the League Two title-winning side, the trio have all struggled for minutes since Jackett’s appointment.

Between them, they had managed just eight league starts all campaign before Saturday.

The trio all played in Tuesday’s Checkatrade Trophy win at Charlton and kept their places.

And, in truth, it added the much-needed experience and balance Pompey have been crying out for on the road.

The Blues’ away form has been nowhere near the standard required.

Heading into the game, they had won just twice on their travels in the league this term.

But they returned from Blackpool with all three points – becoming only the second side in League One to defeat Bowyer’s troops on their own patch this season.

The harmony of the team was near perfect.

There was a maturity across the field while it didn’t dull any of Pompey’s attacking threat.

Jackett also made a bold decision to start Matt Clarke at left-back and move Oli Hawkins to central defence to partner Christian Burgess.

It was a high-risk switch from the boss.

Clarke and Burgess have formed a superb partnership in central defence and the former has recently been linked with a Premier League move.

Nevertheless, Jackett got it spot on as Hawkins more than stepped up in the rearguard.

In fact, it was probably his finest game for the club since his switch from Dagenham & Redbridge.

The header he diverted into his own net took the gloss off an otherwise peerless effort.

The first half was a fairly low-key affair. Viv Solomon-Otabor missed a gilt-edged chance for the hosts on nine minutes while Ben Close dragged an effort just wide of the post after 24 minutes.

It looked like a single goal could sway the fixture either way – until the second period burst into life.

Blackpool attempted to sign Brett Pitman in 2010 when they gained promotion into the Premier League.

But the former Bournemouth man haunted the Seasiders with another crucial double.

The opener came on 52 minutes when Close’s deflected effort was saved by former Pompey loanee Ryan Allsop.

Pitman was the first to react and guided home a left-footed finish from close range.

Burgess should have doubled Pompey’s lead when he headed over Naismith’s corner – and soon Jackett’s outfit found themselves pegged back.

Dolly Menga replaced Callum Cooke for his Blackpool debut and got off to a dream start.

His inch-perfect cross from the right picked out Solomon-Otabor, who was there for an easy finish on 73 minutes.

The goalscorer – a 21-year-old Birmingham City loanee – tormented the Blues all afternoon. He was a constant menace.

Meanwhile, Close continues to look more at home with every Pompey game.

His forward play has improved no end and he netted his maiden goal in the 80th minute.

After Evans superbly kept the ball in to deliver a cross from the byline, Pitman’s header was well kept out by Allsop. Blackpool only half-cleared their lines and Close was there to crash home a right-foot effort.

The Pompey Academy product may well have thought he’d won it – yet the rollercoaster took another unexpected turn that raised heartbeats further.

Pompey gave away a needless free-kick inside their own half in the 83rd minute – and were made to pay the price.

Jimmy Ryan whipped the ball into a dangerous area and Hawkins could only head into his own net.

The visitors refused to return to the south coast without a win, however, and got the reward they fully deserved.

With four minutes remaining, Rose’s free-kick was not just met by Burgess but the centre-back managed to steer his header intelligently into the path of Pitman.

Six yards from goal, the Blues skipper rarely misses – and he duly nodded home the winner.

It was a much-needed and well-deserved win for Jackett’s side.

And those who have been on the periphery have given their manager some serious food for thought.