EFL Trust League 3 National Finals
Blackpool C team became the first Seasiders side to qualify for the EFL Trust National finals at Birmingham Futsal Arena. They were drawn in Group A alongside Newport County, Southampton and Bristol City, with the top two qualifying to the quarter finals of the competition.
The Seasiders started very cautiously against Newport County in their opening fixture with the Ironsides having the majority of possession and a couple of early opportunities pushed out by Pool keeper Jakob Bennett. The Seasiders continued the frustrate County, with last ditch tackles from skipper George Smith and wasted chances in front of goal. Pool made a couple of changes and this took affect straight away as they took the lead on the break through sub Grant Copeland. He then added a 2nd on the counter attack again, rounding the keeper and finishing into the empty net. Copeland completed his hat-trick just before half time to put the seasiders into a comfortable 3-0 lead despite County having the majority of possession. County came back in the 2nd half scoring early on to spark off a comeback to take the game to 3-1. The Seasiders couldn’t seem to kill the game off as County began to push even further forward. Missed chances through Luke Harris and Luke Davison could prove costly later in the game. With 5 minutes remaining County scored again, but a nervy last few minutes saw them see the game out and earn all 3 points.
Next up for the Seasiders was Southampton. With their opposition losing in their first match against Bristol City. They had an aggressive approach in their play, with plenty of possession and a fly keeper to join in and create an overload. The Seasiders were quite happy with this approach as long as they were organised their plan was to look to hit the Saints on the break which had worked well in their previous fixture. They did exactly that and it was Grant Copeland again who finished well for the Seasiders. Pool had 2 more chances just before the break through Copeland but he was unable to find the back of the net. Pool again struggled in the 2nd half as the Saints pilled on the pressure knowing that they would need at least a draw to stay in the competition. They eventually hit back with 5 minutes remaining as Pool began to tire. Grant Copeland equalised for the Seasiders with an excellent finish into the roof of the net from an acute angle against the run of play. The saints took the lead moments later when a shot from distance saw itself wriggle into the bottom corner underneath Bennett in goals. The saints ran down the clock frustrating Pool putting everything in for an equaliser. With 7 seconds remaining, a pass was played back to goalkeeper Bennett, who looped a hopeful long ball forward. Harris challenged with an opposition defender and their goalkeeper, the ball flicked off the Saints defender and crossed the line on the buzzer to take the game to 3-3. Everybody looked to the referee, who gave the goal, as the ball was in motion when the whistle was blown. A dramatic end to an entertaining match with all to play for in the last group game for both teams.
The Seasiders took on group leaders Bristol City who were unbeaten in their two opening fixtures with two six points. The seasiders sat in 2nd spot and needed a point to confirm qualification to the quarter finals or hope that Newport County take at least a point from 3rd place Southampton who were on one point. Blackpool never got started and conceded softly early on when the ball slipped through Jacob Bennett’s hands. They were quickly 3 goals down as they looked nervous in their approach and disorganised at the back, unlike previous games. Pool conceded again to take the game to 4-0 with qualification now looking very unlikely as the Saints were winning 1-0 against County. Pool made two changes with Levon Bates coming on to assure things up at the back and Elliott Knight adding more of a physical approach to the game. Both players were determined, worked hard and made an initial impact upsetting the flow of City’s play. George Smith got one back for the Seasiders, just before the break to take the game to 4-1. After a lengthy half time team talk Blackpool had to show a lot more desire to save themselves from going out of the competition. Meanwhile County had equalised against Southampton and as it stood, this would see the Seasiders progress to the next round. The Seasiders were a different side in the 2nd half with Grant Copeland scoring twice to take the game to 4-3 giving the Seasiders the momentum going into the last 5 minutes. Bristol City nicked one, extending their lead as Pool switched off from a set piece which took the game to 5-3. Pool rolled their sleeves up and went again scoring through Luke Harris. Pool continued to press looking for that equaliser, but the final whistle was blown. Blackpool had to wait on the closing stages in the other game in the group stage to see if they had done enough to qualify.
Southampton beat Newport County 3-1 which meant Pool went out of the competition on goal difference with one goal as the deciding factor. A harsh lesson for the hardworking Seasiders who will hope to return next year and learn from their experiences.