Blackpool 2’s travelled to Formby knowing that a win would guarantee them 2nd place in the league but anything less would not be a enough as Formby 3’s were level on points with a better goal difference.
A full squad of 14 had been assembled, although missing regular defender Stan Morrison after his injury last week had meant an operation to repair a muscle in his mouth during the week (but he’s recovering fine and will be back next season), but he was in the team’s thoughts and #winforstan was trending on social media.
There was a brief worry when two players were late setting off from Blackpool, due to the 1st team game ending later than expected and David Wright was umpiring, but with Rob Pasqualino driving they managed to reach Formby at the designated start time, only for Formby’s own 1st team only just finishing their Northern Premier match, so none of the other players had been able to access the pitch, with its restricted zones for benches and gantry complete with video technology.
When the match eventually started Blackpool started by far the brightest with Paul Atherton and David Wright linking well on the right wing, and driving the ball into the D. However the experienced Formby defenders were stopping most balls before they became dangerous. Blackpool’s defence were sucked into man marking the Formby strikers, and with the home team resorting to long balls to their skilful striker, it meant several one on ones against Andy Mortimer. Whilst the experienced defender often intercepted the ball, on one occasion the striker was allowed to show off his skills, and offload the ball to a fellow attacker who scored. The goal was against the run of play, although Graeme Kilshaw had minutes earlier also saved at close range, Blackpool’s defence returned to their usual man marking complete with a sweeper, which whilst reduced the attacking options, did give more security, and Formby’s further attacks were snuffed out.
Blackpool continued to apply pressure on Formby, and also used the left wing with Ollie Tomlinson and then James Smith, linking up with the rotating strikers Chris Hocking, Mike Sharp, Steve White and Alex Diver. Formby tried to protect their one goal lead and defended deeper. However on the strike of half time, Rob Pasqualino was able to find Niall Bancroft in the D from a free hit, and he found goal by deflecting the ball at pace straight inside the post.
The second half continued in the same way with numerous attacks from Blackpool, with both full backs Adam George and Paul Atherton helping on the wings. The skills of Wright, Hocking, Pasqualino and Bancroft also caused problems for Formby, but somehow shots on goal were few and far between. Formby again tried long balls to their stickers, and one nutmegged Pete Latimer, the ball didn’t quite reach Graeme Kilshaw advancing from his goal, whilst the attacker was trying to gain control, Latimer made a heroic dive to get his stick in the way of the initial shot to an open goal. However the ball span back to the Formby striker, and Kilshaw was unable to dive to stop the second attempt on goal. Blackpool felt disheartened by a goal against the run of play, and knowing that they needed a win from the game, there was now only fifteen minutes to score two goals. However it wasn’t long before David Wright attacked on the right, dribbled into the D and made a firm pass to the back post, but no defenders got a touch and it evaded the Formby keeper and snuck into the goal itself for an unlikely score.
Spirits restored, the attacks continued, but time was rapidly running out. Short corners won but shots wide of the goal, other attacks with goal line saves. The two minute warning was shown by the umpire and Alex Diver, freshly returned from his self-imposed exile, won another short corner for Blackpool. Was this the final chance? Alas it was squandered, and Formby counter-attacked with a long ball up to their veteran ex-first team striker. A combination of Pete Latimer and Paul Atherton managed to snuff out the chance, although Latimer injured himself and subbed himself for an extra striker. Meanwhile Blackpool were going back up the pitch for a final push, Chris Hocking controlled the ball and found Niall Bancroft in the D who was able to place the ball into the corner of the goal. Several of his team mates jumped on him in celebration for the unlikely last minute winner, and seconds later after the restart the final whistle was blown. Unsurprisingly Niall Bancroft was awarded the Man of the Match award.
Blackpool had done what they needed the hard way, and in scenes that were similar to a year before on the very same pitch when the 1st team had won the Lancashire Trophy in extra time following an injury time equaliser. Blackpool 2’s are now guaranteed 2nd place in Division 5NN and can look forward to promotion to Division 4N providing there’s not some unusual goings on in the Premiership and Northern leagues.
Credit must be given to Formby who was magnanimous in defeat and jugs of beer were swapped between teams afterwards in the bar. Next week sees champions Kirkby Lonsdale come to Blackpool for what should be a competitive yet relaxed game, and there are sure to be some celebratory drinks in the club afterwards.