Blackpool cruised into the fifth round of the FA Cup, on a bitterly cold Tuesday evening, after a comfortable 3-0 victory against a woefully ineffective Sheffield Wednesday side.
Before tonight the Owls, chasing promotion from League 1, could boast that they had reached the final of the competition, since Blackpool last advanced beyond the fourth round. It was, however, to be Ian Holloway’s men that deservedly progressed to face Everton at Goodison Park.
In one sense it was cruel on Wednesday as the original tie, between these teams, was drawn after a penalty with virtually the last kick of the game, taken by their long-time nemesis Kevin Phillips. On the night of the replay itself, for which both teams fielded very different sides from their respective weekend fixtures, the South Yorkshire team can have no complaints.
Things could have been so different for the Owls when, after just two minutes, Ryan Lowe was put clean through on the Blackpool goal. The Liverpudlian striker, so prolific in his early season form for Bury, looked short on confidence as he shot tamely in to the arms of a grateful Gilks.
The Tangerines wasted no time in responding to this early scare and showed more ruthlessness in front of goal, when their chance came in the sixth minute. Wednesday’s defence stood off too long, as highly rated midfielder Matt Phillips, who was on loan at Sheffield United, earlier in the season picked up the ball on the edge of the 18-yard-box and coolly slid the ball into the bottom corner of Bywater’s goal, with outstanding precision.
From this point on Blackpool started to assert their dominance, displaying a superiority that had not been evident in the first tie. Their movement and work-rate was unquestionable. Neat, tight triangles were formed all over the pitch, as the players ran for each other, leaving the player on the ball with two options of a pass at all times, as they easily played around their League 1 opposition.
The game was over as a contest just inside the quarter of an hour mark. Lomano LuaLua, who confirmed in a post match interview that he “nearly signed” for Wednesday earlier in the season, produced a sublime finish. His shot curled through the Wednesday defenders and into the top corner leaving Bywater, in the Owls goal, a spectator. It is an over-used cliché to say that there was nothing that the keeper could have done, but there is no other fitting description of this effort.
Against the run of play, the Owls might have pulled one pack as Gilks pulled off a smart save from Wednesday captain Rob Jones, following a corner from Chris Sedgwick. At the other end Blackpool might have gone further ahead but for the assistant referee’s flag, as Ince broke through.
During the half-time break, Wednesday’s mascots, Ozzy and Barney Owl provided possibly the best entertainment on offer for their fan’s by double teaming ESPN’s FA Cup mascot to leave him flat on his back.
The pattern of the first half was resumed in the second half. Blackpool playing neat, unspectacular possession football and Wednesday gamely chased the ball. When Wednesday did find themselves in possession, they struggled to hold on to it, and in the 53rd minute paid the price as Blackpool further extended their lead. Ludovic Sylvestre applied the finish, as the Owls defence again backed off and backed off, Danny Batth despairingly lunging at the ball too late, with Stephen Bywater’s starting position also to be called into question.
By this point the game was beyond rescue for Gary Megson’s men and the Tangerines could have inflicted a greater margin of defeat. First Ince failed to connect with a Fleck cross, following a sumptuous lofted pass by LuaLua, then man of the match Matt Phillips spurned a glorious opportunity, bending the ball agonisingly wide.
Wednesday did have the ball in the net late on, but in truth Ryan Lowe was lucky not have been booked for kicking the ball away, after a clearly audible whistle from the referee in response to the linesman’s correct flag.
At full time the boos from the home crowd were almost as half-hearted as the Wednesday performance, as Blackpool advanced deservedly into the last 16.