Saturday evening saw the regular League 2 season come to a close as all 12 matches were played at the unusual time of 5:30 pm. One of those dozen fixtures saw Leyton Orient make the long trip to Blackpool, placing two of the nation’s most disgruntled fan bases in the same town.
Months in advance, supporters groups, largely the Leyton Orient Fans’ Trust (LOFT) Blackpool Supporters’ Trust (BST) and Blackpool’s ‘Tangerine Knights‘ had recognised the opportunity for a joint protest, inviting fans from around the country to show solidarity in the face of what they believe has been gross negligence from the English Football League (EFL).
Unfortunately for Orient, London’s second oldest club, their fate of relegation to non-league had been sealed before the weekend, ending an 112-year spell in the Football League. Since Francesco Becchetti’s 2014 take over the team has been in freefall, players and staff had recently been left unpaid and, most worryingly, the club faces a winding-up petition in June.
Blackpool fans, meanwhile, have been protesting against their owners, the Oyston family, for years now, and many of the issues are represented here. However, calls for change or help from the football authorities fall only on deaf ears. The Football Association (FA) claim the issues are out of their jurisdiction, and that the EFL are accountable, but the EFL and its Chief Executive Shaun Harvey, simply don’t want to know.
On the penultimate weekend of the season, many Orient fans showed their anger by invading the pitch in their match with Colchester United, forcing it to be ‘abandoned’ after 85 minutes. Yet, it wasn’t abandoned at all. League officials lied to supporters so that they would leave this pitch, and stadium, before finishing the match and later stating that doing so was vital to the ‘integrity’ of the competition.
Of course, as signs around it clearly indicate, encroaching onto the pitch is a criminal offence and supporters were right to be removed. Yet at that late stage in the match, with Colchester leading 3-1, the game didn’t need to be finished, the result should have been called, and further anger prevented.
The decision to finish the match, and the following statement, are symbolic of the void in understanding between those who love and cherish the game, and those who are meant to be custodians of it. As stated in their own rules:
“Any League Match which from any cause whatever falls short of 90 (ninety) minutes’ duration may be ordered to count as a completed fixture.”
So why create further problems by completing the fixture? This itself is almost a non-issue, in comparison to the severe mismanagement which continues to destroy historic clubs across the country, but it is one that certainly raises further questions over the organisation’s competence.
In Blackpool on Saturday, supporters from Orient, Coventry City, Blackburn Rovers, Brighton and Hove Albion, Leeds United, Portsmouth, Northampton Town, Wigan Athletic, Liverpool, Everton and many others, were in attendance to show unity against a common enemy.
Not all of the fans involved came from clubs in crisis either. Many of them do or have had their own serious problems, but all are wary of the damage being done to others and the effects it has on English Football as a whole; it was clear that there were no rivalries here.
Estimates say that around 6000 attended the march, making Blackpool’s third so-called ‘Judgement Day’ the biggest yet, flying in the face of club Chairman Karl Oyston, who recently claimed protesters were a ‘busted flush‘.
For sake of comparison, Saturday’s official attendance was 3,602, with an impressive 951 Orient fans. A picture of the fans in the stadium can be seen below. It is fairly clear that there are less than that number present. The game should have been important too, a Blackpool win (which they secured) guaranteeing them a place in the play-offs, yet look how empty the stadium is.
Here are the teams. pic.twitter.com/i9tPiIhiza
— Matt Scrafton (@matt_scrafton) May 6, 2017
Another tweet, again from Blackpool Gazette journalist Matt Scrafton, shows the surreal ‘lap of honour’ to an almost empty stadium.
One of the strangest lap of honours I’ve ever seen pic.twitter.com/S370pO8EnR
— Matt Scrafton (@matt_scrafton) May 6, 2017
That is the reaction to what could, under normal circumstances, be considered as a successful season. The sad fact is that most Blackpool fans will never return to their club until its current owners have been removed. Whilst down in London, Leyton Orient are forced to wait, yet to know if the club will even survive to participate in England’s fifth tier for the first time in over a century.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Joe Hamer
What will Bright Osayi-Samuel bring to Queens Park Rangers?
Queens Park Rangers finally announced the arrival Bright Osayi-Samuel from Blackpool, almost 24-hours after the transfer window closed.
Hoops’ manager Ian Holloway had tracked the talented winger’s progress at his former club and was impressed enough to make a bid. However, as reported by West London Sport, it was believed that the move had failed.
On ‘deadline day’ both clubs were curiously quiet on the subject, whilst the player himself took to Snapchat to vent frustration at the proposed deal falling through.
Osayi-Samuel certainly has potential, but QPR fans should not expect him to make an instant impact in the Championship. Last campaign, in League Two, he made 31 appearances, scoring four, assisting three and picked up one ‘EFL young player of the month award’.
His most impressive moment was a goal in which he effectively assisted himself. The clip received national attention at the time and can be seen below.
Assist: Osayi-Samuel ??
Goal: Osayi-Samuel ?
— Football League Zone (@TheFLZone) March 22, 2017
The above video highlights the winger’s pace, undoubtedly his most impressive attribute, and something he regularly combines with skill and control to leave defenders on their knees. Of course, Championship defenders will show greater resistance, but Osayi-Samuel’s confidence in taking people on will see supporters rise to their feet at Loftus Road.
Only three years ago, the attacker had never played within a professional setup and was scouted whilst playing in a London park. His remarkable story has been covered by BBC Sport.
Understandably for a young player still new to the game, his talents remain raw. Blackpool fans have seen him frequently squander excellent scoring opportunities and suffer from questionable decision-making.
However, both of those aspects can be improved upon in training. In Ian Holloway, QPR arguably have the ideal attack-minded coach to get the best out of Bright. The Bristolian manager favors a famously gung-ho approach, which will suit a player who offers little in the way of defensive support.
Osayi-Samuel was yet to score on Blackpool’s return to League One, but only four games had been played. Of those, the Tangerines won both which the Winger started. Although his profligacy in front of goal appears to have continued, he has looked stronger on the ball with increased physicality.
QPR fans should be excited by Bright’s arrival, but patience will be key for all parties. The 19-year-old has plenty of time to fulfill his considerable potential and is likely to prove frustrating in the meantime.
His capture, ahead of interest from other big clubs, is a good sign of positive changes at Loftus Road. Those in charge have promised long-term planning and ambition without reckless spending, Osayi-Samuel fits the bill perfectly.
“Longstaff is too good for League One” – Three things learnt from Blackpool 1-0 Wimbledon
Whilst World Cup qualifiers have given English football’s top two tiers the week off, the lower leagues continued with almost full sets of fixtures.
One of League One’s ten matches over the weekend saw AFC Wimbledon lose to one of the division’s newly promoted sides Blackpool.
The Seasiders have made a good start to the season, having won three and lost one of their opening five games, exceeding expectations as one of the favourites for relegation. Interestingly, they have so far out performed all three of Doncaster Rovers, Plymouth Argyle and Portsmouth, who were promoted ahead of them from League Two.
Wimbledon have now lost three of their league games and are one of four clubs currently sat just a single point above relegation at this early stage.
Here are three things that The Boot Room learnt from the game:
Sean Longstaff is too good for League One
Signed on loan from Newcastle United, Sean Longstaff has hit the ground running in Tangerine. The 19-year-old netted the winner on Saturday and now has four goals from as many starts in the league, proving instrumental in all three of Blackpool’s home victories.
The scoring record, despite being over a short period, is remarkable for a midfielder, particularly one so young. Not only has he been finding the net, but he has done so in style and Saturday was no different.
Following a long-ball from goalkeeper Ryan Allsopp and a flick-on, Longstaff collected the ball and charged into Wimbledon’s penalty area, holding off three defenders and swivelling to find the bottom corner.
Seeing Longstaff on the score sheet was no surprise and the effort was a worthy follow-up to his successive League One goal of the week’s – both thunderous strikes from range.
Blackpool are solid at home
Blackpool have now played three times at home this season, securing a maximum nine points and conceding just once in the process. Although two of the wins, including Saturday’s, have been 1-0 score lines, they showed against Wimbledon an ability to dominate a game.
Aside from a brilliant Allsopp save to deny Cody McDonald at the end of the first-half, the Dons rarely threatened and found themselves restricted to few opportunities.
On the other hand, Blackpool were unfortunate not to score at least a second and were denied by the post a couple of times in the second-half. In failing to double their lead the Tangerines highlighted an inability to kill games off, which could prove detrimental in the future.
Wimbledon can execute a plan
Despite the home side’s wasteful dominance in the second half, the first 45 minutes offered little entertainment from either side, partly due to Wimbledon’s effective closing down.
It was clear that they had prepared to have less possession, but knew how to stifle a Blackpool midfield which struggles from a lack of creativity – something made worse by the departures of Brad Potts and Bright Osayi-Samuel.
The Tangerines were frequently forced into careless misplaced passes, confined into the middle third of the pitch and found themselves out numbered during efforts to advance on the wings.
In fact, the best chance of the half (by some distance) fell to Wimbledon, who could have led at the break from a well-disciplined performance.
It was only after conceding that the side imploded. Nadjim Abdou received a straight red-card for an unnecessary two-footed challenge just minutes after going behind. His departure marked the end of Wimbledon’s competitiveness in the match.
League Two play-off semi-finals: Controversy, goals, and more to come?
The League Two playoffs finally kicked off on Sunday evening, the last of the English league’s to get the season reignited after a dramatic ‘final-day’.
Undoubtedly, more neutrals will have tuned in for the Championship equivalent earlier in the day, only to see Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday fight out a tense 0-0 draw, amassing just two shots on target between them.
Those who showed an interest in the rarely televised League Two were rewarded with a goal fest regardless of the fixture they chose, with Blackpool beating Luton Town 3-2 and Carlisle United and Exeter City drawing 3-3.
Both matches were set up to be close affairs, Luton had twice got the better of Blackpool this season, claiming six points from the Seasiders with 1-0 and 2-0 victories. Meanwhile, Carlisle and Exeter has become a tie guaranteed to provide goals, with the Cumbrians having won 3-2 on both occasions prior to the playoffs. There have been 20 goals in their last four meetings.
Of the four sides, Luton finished closest to automatic promotion in 4th but could only secure a trip to Bloomfield Road and an opportunity to overcome an abysmal playoff record. Over the last 20 years, The Hatters have failed in all four of their playoff campaigns, a statistic made even bleaker The Seasiders’ positive record of being the only to side to have been promoted from each division through the system.
Some calamitous goalkeeping saw Blackpool take the lead on 19-minutes, amidst calls for a possible handball. However, just 9-minutes later the home side were 2-1 down, having been torn apart all too easily by Luton’s attack. Within that period, The Tangerines wasted a great opportunity to go 2-0 up and striker Kyle Vassell hit the crossbar at 1-1.
Despite those chances, Luton deserved their half-time lead and could easily have extended it before the break, the home side looked vulnerable for a long period.
Further north at Brunton Park, Carlisle once more found themselves behind to Exeter after Joel Grant headed his side in front. Fortunately for The Cumbrians, The Grecians’ defender Jordan Moore-Taylor turned a cross into his own net on 32 minutes, levelling the tie.
Exeter regained the lead just before half-time and were able to extend it shortly after the interval through David Wheeler, with Grant providing his second assist of the evening.
Carlisle had already won twice when being 2-1 down to Exeter this campaign, including in the regular season’s final day. Yet suddenly they were two behind when it mattered most. After making use of all three substitutions, the home side scored twice in two minutes to level the match which ended 3-3.
The Devon club had two goals disallowed for close off-side calls and rattled the woodwork at the game’s death. Despite those chances and earlier lead, Exeter are still yet to beat any of their playoff rivals this season, something they will need to overturn to progress on Thursday night.
Blackpool began their second half perfectly, with ex-Luton man Mark Cullen scoring his second of the night with an impressive strike from distance on 47-minutes. From then on, The Seasiders looked on top of proceedings, testing goalkeeper Stuart Moore throughout and looking to capitalise on his uncertain handling.
With just over twenty minutes to go the home side’s constant pressure earnt them a penalty. Luton captain Scott Cuthbert had been pulling the shirt of Tom Aldred during previous set-pieces, which this was brought to the attention of the officials by Blackpool’s players and coaches. Despite this opportunity to then stop, the centre-back hauled his counterpart to the ground in the area, giving Cullen the opportunity for a hat trick against his old side which he took from the spot.
Later in the match, the home side rode their luck as they played more defensively and looked certain to concede when four defenders were unable to clear from their own penalty area. Having survived that scare and what seemed like an eternity of injury-time, Blackpool go into Thursday’s second-leg with a slight advantage.
If those first matches are anything to go by, this season’s league 2 playoffs will go down as classics, and both ties will surely see more goals. Exeter and Carlisle appear to know no other way of playing each other than going all-out, whilst it remains to be seen whether The Grecians can defend a lead. The same can be said about Blackpool, who despite their single goal advantage, have just as hard a test in their second match.
Gary Bowyer’s men held the lead twice on Sunday evening, firstly they capitulated and were behind less than 10 minutes later, and although they held on at the end, it is clear that a defensive game plan will not work for them over 90 minutes.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by WCities
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