LUTON TOWN 3
Mellor (OG) 36
Hylton (pen) 57
Moore (OG) 90+5
Att: 10,032 (461 away)
The Hatters’ promotion dreams ended in the cruellest fashion at Kenilworth Road tonight as Blackpool progressed to the Sky Bet League Two play-off final at Wembley with a 95th-minute goal that earned them a 6-5 aggregate win.
The Hatters fought back from a goal down on the night, and 4-2 overall, to lead 5-4 with a quarter-of-an-hour to play – Alan Sheehan’s 36th-minute shot being turned into his own net by Kelvin Mellor, captain Scott Cuthbert’s header and a Danny Hylton penalty giving the Town the upper hand in front of a capacity crowd of over 10,000.
But the Seasiders levelled matters at 5-5 on aggregate with a 76th-minute header from substitute Armand Gnanduillet.
Then Mellor’s header found its way into the Town net via an attempted clearance ricocheting off goalkeeper Stuart Moore’s back and over the line in an agonising, heart-breaking moment for the Hatters.
Jones named an unchanged team from Sunday’s first leg, but did tweak the formation, returning to the midfield diamond with Glen Rea moving up from centre-half to the holding role.
In front of keeper Moore was a back four of James Justin, Cuthbert, Alan Sheehan and Dan Potts, with Olly Lee and Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu to the sides of Rea and Lawson D’Ath at the tip of the diamond. Danny Hylton and Isaac Vassell, with 40 goals between them, were up front.
With a thunderous atmosphere rocking Kenilworth Road, the opening quarter-of-an-hour proved a cagey affair, Blackpool managing the game well and the Town trying to prise an opening to no avail.
The Hatters’ first chance came in the 19th minute when D’Ath was fouled from behind by Neil Danns, and Sheehan stepped up to bend a free-kick around the wall, but it came off a Blackpool head and drifted wide.
Potts got his head on Sheehan’s corner that followed, then delivered a dangerous left-wing cross himself moments later, but Blackpool’s defence stood firm and by the 22nd minute they had increased their single-goal advantage when Cullen broke away down the right and crossed for Nathan Delfouneso to volley home.
Hylton looked to find a way back into things on the half-hour when he burst down the left and cut back a ball that skidded right across the penalty area, evading a host of Hatters players, before Sheehan fed Vassell, whose shot on the turn from 20 yards was easy for Sam Slocombe to gather in the Pool goal.
The Town were level on the night by the 36th minute when Mellor, who had just been booked for a foul on Potts, got in the way of a shot from Sheehan that was heading wide, but the deflection turned it into the bottom corner through a thicket of legs.
Cuthbert spurned a great chance to bring the tie level on aggregate three minutes before the break when the skipper’s glancing header from Lee’s deep free-kick came back off the foot of the post.
But with 45 minutes up, he did get the equaliser, this time meeting Sheehan’s inswinging free-kick from the right – after Blackpool skipper Andy Taylor had brought Justin down to earn a booking – and glancing a header past Slocombe.
The Town had ended the half completely on top, the crowd buzzing at what they were witnessing, and they came out of the blocks quickly after the break too, Hylton stabbing wide at the near post after good work on the left by Mpanzu, who was the next to go close after a lightning quick break by Hylton and D’Ath in the 52nd minute.
Blackpool were struggling to cope with a rampant Town, but during a rare breather for their back four, Danns shot well wide from 20 yards. It was to be only a brief respite, however.
Ian Black, who had come on at half-time for Jack Payne in the visitors’ midfield, was penalised for a trip on Hylton just inside the area and the Town’s leading marksman didn’t need a second invitation from 12 yards, his penalty bouncing down off the underside of the bar and over line to give
Moore had to be on his guard in the 64th minute when Cullen looked to get on the end of a right wing corner from Black, but the Hatters goalkeeper and his back four were defending admirably and the threat remained mostly at the other end.
Lee was the next to tee up Hylton with a lovely cut-back from the left, but the striker’s 12-yard effort flew wide of the far post, then – in the 69th minute – he took a delightful chipped pass from Mpanzu and shot on the turn, but it lacked the power to trouble Slocombe.
Blackpool drew level on aggregate on 76 minutes when Cullen crossed and substitute Armand Gnanduillet beat Moore to the ball to head into an empty net, then the striker’s fellow sub, Bright Osayi-Samuel, blazed over a couple of minutes later when presented with an opening to the left of the six-yard box.
The Town were coming under the cosh, but Mpanzu and Hylton linked well in the 82nd minute to create a chance for Lee, but the midfielder couldn’t keep his header down and he was immediately replaced by Jordan Cook.
Blackpool had the next chance with three minutes to go, but Cullen’s header from Osayi-Samuel’s centre was well off target. Then Moore had to get down low to push Brad Potts’ angled shot, Sheehan mopping up the danger by turning it behind for a corner.
A dangerous cross from the right by D’Ath found its way through to Mpanzu at the far post, and Tom Aldred did well to turn the ex-West Ham man’s cross-shot over his own cross bar with 90 minutes up.
Then Gnanduillet smashed a shot over the Hatters’ bar as both sides went for it, Moore then saving a weak shot from Osayi-Samuel as the visitors finished the 90 minutes in the ascendancy.
Their moment came five minutes into time added on, when Mellor met Black’s right-wing corner with a downward header that Cook tried to clear off the line, but his clearance hit the grounded Moore on the back and trickled over the line.
TOWN: Moore, Justin, Rea, Cuthbert (c), Sheehan, Potts, Lee (Cook 82), Mpanzu, D'Ath, Hylton, Vassell. Subs: O'Donnell, Smith, Marriott, Gambin, Palmer, King (GK)
Yellows: D’Ath, Lee
BLACKPOOL: Slocombe, Mellor, Aimson, Aldred, Robertson, Taylor (c), Payne (Black 46), Danns, Potts, Cullen, Delfouneso (Gnanduillet 57). Subs: Flores, Nolan, Philliskirk, Lyness.
Yellows: Mellor, Taylor, Gnanduillet