Blackpool take one-goal advantage into second leg
Cullen 19, 47, 67 (pen)
LUTON TOWN 2
Att: 3,882 (1,648 Hatters)
The Hatters’ seven-game unbeaten run came to an end at Bloomfield Road tonight as former Luton striker Mark Cullen bagged a hat-trick to give Blackpool a one-goal advantage at half-time of the Sky Bet League Two play-off semi-final.
minute.th of the season had given the Hatters a first-lead after Cullen had shot the Seasiders in front in the 19thDan Potts’ first goal in professional football and Isaac Vassell’s 14
But the man who left the Town in the summer of 2015 netted twice after the break, the second a fine strike into the top corner and the third a penalty controversially awarded for a foul by captain Scott Cuthbert, to give the hosts a slender advantage to take to Kenilworth Road on Thursday night.
Town boss Jones made three changes to the team that beat Morecambe 3-1 on the final day of the regular league season, Alan Sheehan and Lawson D’Ath returning after injury, and top scorer Danny Hylton back from his two-match suspension.
There was also a big boost for Town fans with James Justin pronounced fit to start after being carried off on a stretcher in the second half last Saturday, the teenager starting at right wing-back with Glen Rea, captain Scott Cuthbert and Sheehan as three centre-halves between him and Potts on the left.
Olly Lee, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu and D’Ath made up the midfield, with Hylton and Vassell – who had scored in both of the last two matches – up front.
It was Jones’ men who had the majority of the possession in an opening quarter-of-an-hour that lacked clear-cut chances, although Hylton created a couple of openings for Vassell with dancing runs through the centre of the Seasiders’ half, the Cornishman not quite able to fashion the space to get a shot away.
The hosts took the lead, however, and it was Cullen who was in the right place at the right time to profit from some nervy defending by the Hatters, the ex-Town striker firing past Stuart Moore, who got a hand on his shot, but could only palm it into the bottom corner.
minute Moore needed strong hands to push a Neil Danns blockbuster away, then Rea blocked Andy Taylor’s follow-up.thIn the 25
Seconds later the Town were on terms as D’Ath played Justin in on the right, cut back and Hylton missed his kick, but Potts certainly didn’t – firing in off the underside of the crossbar to the delight of the travelling fans who were making all the noise inside Bloomfield Road.
It was soon to get even better. Within two minutes – and immediately after Kyle Vassell had shaved the Town bar – the Hatters had their noses in front. Vassell found himself in oceans of space in the Pool area and cut-back for Hylton, whose right-footed effort was saved by Slocombe.
goal of the season from eight yards.thMpanzu was following up, however, but his volley was blocked and the ball found its way to Justin, who crossed low for Vassell to turn in his 14
It was the third successive game in which Vassell had scored, but it was the Town goalscorers’ namesakes – Kyle and Brad – who were soon making a nuisance of themselves at the other end, the Blackpool Vassell again calling Moore into action on 37 minutes, before the on-loan Reading stopper kept a 20-yard Potts effort out almost immediately.
As Blackpool sought a way back to parity, Moore had to get down low again to save Clark Robertson’s shot, then Mpanzu and Sheehan reacted brilliantly to keep out Kelvin Mellor’s follow-up before the Town finished the half strongly, Hylton and Mpanzu both having shots blocked in the same move, before referee Nigel Miller called time on a breathless opening 45 minutes.
Within two minutes of the restart Blackpool were level, and it was that man Cullen again, bending a superb effort into the top corner from 22 yards after Potts had slid in to deny Mellor a shooting opportunity.
minute when Cuthbert got back to make a goal-saving block on Vassell, who had taken a chipped ball from Jack Payne in his stride into the area.ndThe Seasiders were denied a great chance to take a 3-2 lead in the 52
Blackpool had come out like a train, and Moore pushed a shot from Danns away then – when the Town struggled to deal with a Taylor free-kick chipped into the six-yard box – Robertson lashed over the bar on the half-volley from close range.
-minute corner that Cuthbert met with a firm header, comfortably gathered by Slocombe, before Robertson got his head on a Payne set-piece at the other end, but couldn’t keep it down.thThere was brief respite as Mpanzu tricked his way to the byline and won a 58
The hosts were proving a real threat from high balls into the box and Aldred was the next to steer a header goalwards on 64 minutes, but Justin was in the right place to volley clear.
Two minutes later the teenager was harshly adjudged to have fouled Danns to the left of the penalty area, giving the hosts the free-kick that Taylor whipped into the six-yard box, where ref Miller then penalised Cuthbert for dragging Aldred to the ground.
Cullen, inevitably, did the rest, stroking home from 12 yards to complete his hat-trick and give the hosts a 3-2 lead.
Town tried to respond and after some neat interplay between Lee and D’Ath on the edge of the box, the ball found its way left to Potts again, but his piledriver was blocked by Mellor.
Jones took threw Jack Marriott – three goals in his last two sub appearances against Accrington and Morecambe – into the fray in place of Vassell, but it was Hylton at the centre of the next big talking point, the striker going down in the area when seemingly pushed by Aldred, but ref Miller waved appeals for a penalty away.
At the other end Potts fired high and wide before Cullen was substituted, and Jones brought on Ollie Palmer in place of D’Ath in a bid to get the goal that would see the tie head back to Kenilworth Road all-square.
-minute volley from Lee’s corner flying across the face of goal and just past the far post.thIt was Sheehan who came closest, his 89
Then, deep into injury-time, the home defence managed to block close range shots from Palmer and Lee, with Miller again waving away appeals for a penalty, this time for handball.
But a first defeat in eight games was the final outcome, although the Town – and the 1,648 travelling fans who made this seem like a home game at times – will more than fancy their chances of overturning that one-goal deficit in front of a packed-out Kenilworth Road on Thursday night.
TOWN: Moore, Justin, Rea, Cuthbert ©, Sheehan, Potts, Lee, Mpanzu, D'Ath (Palmer 86), Hylton, Vassell (Marriott 74). Subs: O'Donnell, Smith, Gray, Gambin, King (GK)
Yellows: Sheehan, D’Ath
BLACKPOOL: Slocombe, Mellor, Aimson, Aldred, Robertson, Taylor ©, Danns (Flores 80), Payne, Potts, Vassell (Delfouneso 68), Cullen (Black 86). Subs: Lyness (GK), Nolan, Osayi-Samuel, Gnanduillet