Blackpool travelled to Bury safe in the knowledge that they had already secured promotion, and despite the unavailability of striker Martin Hayes, felt able to send vice-captain Sean Lester away for a well earned break in Sweden. They looked forward to a tough but fair game against opponents they’d played several times before, including friendlies two years ago when both teams were developing their squads prior to entering the league.
Blackpool started strongly and within minutes Ashley Blakemore scored direct from a short corner. There were further attacks from Sam Goudie and Blakemore in midfield, linking well with Nick and James Slater playing in partnership up front. Alex Rowe and Paul Atherton gave support out wide, but also tracked back when Bury counter-attacked. Midway through the half Blakemore went on one of his usual dribbles and unleashed a trademark reverse stick strike from the edge of the D with pinpoint accuracy to make it 2-0.
Bury were not going to roll over and accept defeat as they are made of sterner stuff than other teams. They continued to counter-attack and found holes behind Blackpool’s attacking midfielders. Usually this was dealt with by Nick Walker, patrolling in front of the defence, or by Matt Bancroft and Chris Crossland on the edges, however one attack delivered a ball into the D and with Nick Rainbow diving one way, a deflection changed the course of the ball so he was unable to stop it rolling into the goal.
The score remained 2-1 for the rest of the half, despite a claim for a penalty flick being denied after a shot on goal with the keeper stranded hit a Bury foot. Captain Dave Rayner made changes at half time, with Chris Hocking being put up front in search of a goal, and Josh Wright’s pace being used on the left wing. The defence was regularly adjusted, with only Pete Latimer left on the pitch the whole match with his sole task of man-marking the lone Bury striker sitting deep.
Bury started the second half more positively and there were a number of attacks which caused problems for the Blackpool defence. They were awarded a number of short corners and from one of these they scored from a fierce shot which whizzed past both Bancroft and Rainbow. With the score at 2-2 both sides pressed for the next vital goal. Umpiring decisions were being questioned and tempers were raised. Blackpool slowly regained dominance and Blakemore once again turned on his class with a series of dribbles, but the final passes to a Blackpool striker were lacking.
Towards the end of the game Blackpool were awarded a penalty corner after a Bury defender refused to retreat five yards from a free hit just outside the D. The Bury players still seemed to be complaining as Blakemore struck from the corner and a goal awarded. More complaints and the Bury umpire was consulted, who then adjudged the ball to have entered the goal above the back-board. Now both sides felt aggrieved but Blackpool pushed on for the win they felt they deserved. Blakemore dribbled into the D, was in the process of shooting when a defender brought him down, and a penalty flick was awarded. He then coolly converted, and before the game could restart the final whistle blew for a 3-2 victory.
This is when things turned really ugly. Bury players surrounded Blackpool’s umpire accusing him of cheating and bias. Some refused to shake hands, and generally there was a lack of respect for an official who gives up his time every week and gives decisions as he sees them without bias, with years of experience of both playing and umpiring in higher leagues. To be fair, some of the players from both sides tried to calm things down and apologise for their more outspoken team-mates, but it left a sour taste to what should have been a classic end of season encounter between two well matched teams. Despite this unsavoury ending, Blackpool wish Bury all the best next season and hope they finally earn the promotion they deserve as both are amongst the smallest clubs around the region and are constantly up against the bigger clubs and their rotating squad systems.
The whole of the Blackpool team rushed home to the Fylde coast to catch the end of the vital Lytham v Carlisle game, as a Lytham victory would crown Blackpool as champions instead of Carlisle. They arrived just at the start of the 2nd half to learn that Carlisle were leading 2-1. However buoyed by the new crowd on their side, Lytham soon grabbed an equalizer leading to a tense last half hour. Lytham’s seasoned veterans made some nice moves and quality passes and it genuinely felt that they could snatch another goal. Carlisle were quick on the counter attack but failed to convert in the opposition D. The umpire called 2 minutes to go, the Blackpool team supported and encouraged Lytham to attack (which is a first as the clubs are normally deadly rivals) and there was a last minute chance when the ball crossed the D but no Lytham striker could deflect it. The final whistle blew and Carlisle cheered with relief, and sportingly gave 3 cheers to both Lytham and Blackpool, who reciprocated graciously.
So the season ends with both Carlisle and Blackpool on 46 points, but as Carlisle had a better goal difference by almost 40 they become champions, although Blackpool have the honour of winning the most games. All in all, the two best sides have been promoted, and look forward to their rivalry in Division 9N next year.