Table toppers Southampton went into the clash with play-off chasing Blackpool unbeaten in their last twelve matches. That run would not be extended however, as the Saints turned in a lacklustre and uninspiring performance at Bloomfield Road.
The Saints turned in one of their worst performances of the season in Saturday’s late kick-off and failed to seize the initiative after West Ham’s 4-2 loss at the hands of Reading earlier in the day.
There were three changes for the visitors. Richard Chaplow replaced Steve de Ridder in a tactical change, while Rickie Lambert and Frazer Richardson missed out through injury with Guly Do Prado and Danny Butterfield covering respectively.
Southampton’s start was far from convincing, yet Guly Do Prado went close with a lifted a shot over the onrushing Matt Gilks that dropped just wide of the goal. Shortly after, a simple ball down the left channel from Blackpool caught Butterfield out of position. Matty Phillips got onto the end of the pass and cut back for Gary Taylor-Fletcher, who was only denied by an acrobatic save from Kelvin Davis. No sooner had Davis been congratulated on one save he was forced to make another, again from Taylor-Fletcher. Thomas Ince dashed down the right before putting the ball across the face of goal for Taylor-Fletcher, who was this time denied by the feet of the Saints keeper.
Soon after Ince exposed Danny Fox at left-back once more, twisting inside and out before seeing his near post shot saved by Davis, who was all that was preventing an embarrassing scoreline in the early stages.
The first controversial call came when Adam Lallana played in Do Prado, whose standing foot was taken away by Blackpool left-back Bob Harris. Do Prado fell, and the penalty was given. In the absence of Rickie Lambert, who has scored all of his 23 penalties for Southampton, Billy Sharp picked up the ball. However, Saints fans may have been wishing he hadn’t after an extremely poor penalty made for an easy save by Gilks.
Bloomfield Road was further stirred into life by the penalty miss, as the home fans created a good period of vociferous support. Just after the 20 minute mark, Morgan Schneiderlin was adjudged to have brought down Taylor-Fletcher, although Saints boss Nigel Adkins said that after seeing the replays “he (Taylor-Fletcher) fell into Morgan.” If Billy Sharp felt like he needed showing how to take a penalty, Dobbie was happy to oblige. His powerful penalty found the side netting and handed Blackpool the lead after a turbulent opening for the visiting league leaders.
A smart set-piece routine followed as Chaplow pulled away from the near post to flick on Fox’s corner, but Jos Hooiveld could not convert from inside the six-yard box.
Soon after Blackpool doubled their lead as Saints back four, and in particular Hooiveld, failed to deal with a long ball and Dobbie broke clear to find the goal with ease. A controversial offside call denied Saints the chance to pull one back just before half-time, with Sharp flagged offside before he could square the ball for Do Prado. Saints went in at the break having turned in what was quite frankly a depressing display.
Adkins opted to make one change as the second half began, with Belgian winger De Ridder replacing Chaplow. De Ridder contributed quickly, linking up with Do Prado to play in Sharp, who had the ball taken off his toes just before he could pull the trigger.
But Blackpool soon added a third through centre-back Ian Evatt, who was left completely unmarked in the penalty area from a corner. It was debated whether it should actually have a corner, but this does not excuse the awful defending that occurred.
The league leaders were on the ropes, in fact to use another boxing analogy, they were out for the count. Blackpool went in search of a fourth, but a combination of last-ditch defending and poor fortune cost them.
Saints threatened to work a way back in the game as Do Prado collected the ball wide left from a Fox corner, and rolled it back for Adam Lallana who blazed over, before looking accusingly at the pitch. The South Coast visitors’ best chance came in the 73rd minute, as a curled Fox free-kick was turned around the post by a stretching Gilks.
There were no further clear-cut chances for either side. The league leaders were outplayed, outfought, and were caught time and time again by the pace of the highly effective line-up set out by Ian Holloway, who deserves credit for getting it all right on the night.
Blackpool condemned the title-hopefuls to a sixth defeat away from home this season, whilst also inflicting Saints’ first defeat in 13 games. While the game is one that will live long in the memory of Blackpool fans for all the right reasons, Saints fans will be champing at the bit for next weekend’s South Coast derby against Portsmouth, the perfect chance for a powerful backlash.
Man of the Match – Well there certainly wasn’t a stand-out performance from anyone in a red and white shirt. One of the few positives, possibly the only positive, was the great support of the Saints fans. As Blackpool fans streamed out of Bloomfield Road, the travelling support were jubilant and sounded as if they were in the full flow of a promotion party. You could’ve been forgiven for thinking Southampton were winning 3-0 if you had tuned in for the second half. Beyond supporters, Thomas Ince of Blackpool looks a very bright prospect and was dazzling against the experienced Danny Fox at left-back, creating for others whilst also being more than capable of carving out his own chances.
Blackpool: Gilks; Eardley, Baptiste, Evatt, Harris; Southern, Dobbie, Angel; Ince, Taylor-Fletcher, M. Phillips.
Southampton: Davis; Butterfield, Fonte, Hooiveld, Fox; Chaplow, Schneiderlin, Cork, Lallana; Do Prado, Sharp.