Blackpool were almost back to a full compliment, with only Kieran Harris with a season-long injury and Ian Swaine missing. Veteran striker Dave Morgan was keen to return to 1st team action against the side he left 13 years ago following his recent hamstring niggle, and Richard Blacow was looking to add another notch to his bulging belt buckle of short corner goals.
South Lakes made it difficult from the start, and the first half was a battle at either end with neither side gaining a clear advantage and three goals a piece.
Mitch Blakemore scored the first for Blackpool with a speculative shot from the top of the D, which everyone imagined would be safely saved, but Steve Whitley caused confusion in front of the keeper, by almost touching the ball, and so the keeper misjudged the shot and his save.
South Lakes replied with a well taken lofted shot which keeper Nick Rainbow ducked under, despite being the one with all the pads. They then took the lead from a breakaway and some bad marking in the Blackpool defence.
It was then Blackpool’s turn to equalise from an attack down the right, with Morgan coming off the bench full of intent, and a strike felled the Cumbrian goalkeeper, despite all his padding, leaving the ball for Blakemore to cross to the unmarked Simon Thomas who coolly slotted home.
It was around this time that Blackpool lost two of their most experienced defenders. Dan Woodman succumbed to the calf injury that is blighting his season, and then 41 year old veteran Pete Latimer fell to the ground whilst in possession of the ball with a pulled hamstring, much to his annoyance. Luckily Blackpool had a squad of 13 for this match, but often only have one sub, and there is versatility in the team, with vice-captain Steve Whitley filling in at centre-back, the game after filling in as a striker the previous week, although it did lead to him being voted Man of the Match.
Seconds after Latimer went off injured, South Lakes had a disputed free hit on the edge of the D and were able to score from an unmarked striker. This lead Blackpool to increase their intensity, winning their first short corner, and Richard Blacow had his first shot parried by the keeper but pounced on the loose ball with enough force that the defenders on the goal-line were not able to stop it.
The second half started in the same battling way, but Blackpool were determined not to let the win slip away, and reduced the speculative passing and instead concentrated on the quick pass and move play that can make them unplayable at times. The whole midfield of Thomas, Blakemore, Jay Currey and James Slater were linking well, feeding the twin strikers of Morgan and Chris Hocking, and creating numerous opportunities.
Morgan in particular was close on many occasion, and some were even wondering whether he was fully fit following his injury, or whether age (41) was catching up with him. We should never have doubted the club’s all-time top scorer. He came good at a short corner, where the selected move was ignored as Blacow went for goal himself, Thomas’ reverse-strike with the rebound was also saved, and as the ball ended back up at the top of the D, Morgan made no mistake with a strike that passed underneath the goalkeeper. It was Morgan’s first goal for two months but more momentous was the fact that it was his 175th in the league which now moves him up into 4th place of the all-time scorers in the North West Hockey League.
Blackpool were now on the ascendancy and more pressure led to their third short corner, and Blacow pulled out his legendary (no, not belt buckle) drag flick which was unstoppable even though the keeper managed to get his stick on it. So a 100% record from short corners in the match, and with 8 goals Blacow is now the team’s top scorer. If this doesn’t inspire Morgan and the missing Swaine I don’t know what will.
All players misunderstand the umpiring decisions whilst in the heat of playing competitive hockey, but one of the strangest decisions was made at Stanley Park during this match. A South Lakes player was tackled forcefully by Steve Whitley on the edge of the D, with both players ending up on the floor inside the D. With the spectators on the sideline wondering whether Whitley would be carded, green or yellow, a short corner was awarded by one umpire but the other umpire gave the South Lakes player a yellow card much to his confusion. The umpires then conferred for some time, but ended up with the same decision. The yellow card was apparently given for “persistent diving” but yet the short corner had been given, presumably for the foul, so the two decisions seemed incompatible. This decision was then discussed at great length after the game, and the Blackpool players had sympathy for South Lakes, but were powerless to do anything about it.
James Slater had been causing the opposition problems all match, after coming off the bench early in the first half. His speed and crosses from the right wing were deadly, and if Morgan was firing on all cylinders then he’d have had several assists. It’s rare he has a shot on goal from a decent angle, but there was a gift wrapped opportunity when the ball came to him unmarked in the D. He had time to set up the shot, but it went horribly wide, to the dismay of the watching supporters and his team-mates. But with 4 goals to his name already this season, he’s no mug, despite not being a natural striker. But crossing’s his forte, so when he miss-hit a cross later in the match, even the goalkeeper was confused and the ball managed to sneak past his near side into the goal, for one of the flukiest goals of the season, but they all count.
Blackpool ended the match will a great flowing move, with Steve Whitley defending successfully earning a free hit, which he took quickly. He passed on to Slater who ran down the right wing, and passed back inside to Whitley who then offloaded to Morgan. He deflected the ball onto Blakemore inside the D but with defenders around him he offloaded to the speeding Simon Thomas flying in from the left wing and provided the final touch to the ball for the 7th goal.
Final score 7-3 to Blackpool, but it was a real battle for 50 minutes, and it will undoubtedly be a tough rematch back at Ulverston in March.
© Peter Latimer 2/12/12