Two goals from Nathan Delfouneso and one each from Thomas Ince and Elliot Grandin helped Blackpool to a 4-1 victory over Middlesbrough, as The Seasiders confirmed their best start to a season in 57 years.
Delfouneso, on loan from Aston Villa, netted twice in the first half of his home debut, before Andre Bikey gave the visitors a route back into the game just before half-time. Ince re-established the two-goal cushion early in the second half, before substitute Grandin completed the scoring with a late penalty.
The home side started the game brightly, with two shots in the opening five minutes. Gary Taylor-Fletcher cut in from the left and fired a shot wide, before Ince went even closer, stinging the palms of Luke Steele with a right-footed drive.
That early impetus was turned into a deserved lead moments later, when Tiago Gomes slipped in Delfouneso beyond the Middlesbrough back-line. The forward took the ball in his stride before dinking the ball past the on-rushing Steele.
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Tony Mowbray’s side looked to recover from that early set-back and nearly levelled through Grant Leadbitter. The former Sunderland man caught Ishmael Miller’s knock-down on the half-volley, producing a fine save from Matt Gilks low down to his right.
The pace of The Seasiders’ front-line continued to cause problems for Middlesbrough though and Steele was soon called into further action. A lovely flick from Gomes gave Ince the space to cross for Taylor-Fletcher, who saw his header denied by the feet of the Boro ‘keeper.
Having already marked his home debut with a goal, Delfouneso was hungry for more. A bursting run down the right gave then the loanee a sight of goal and his right footed effort forced Steele to react quickly to parry. The loose ball looked to be heading into the path of Ince, but the Championship’s Player of the Month was closed down before he could add to his goals for the campaign.
England Under-21 International Steele was continuing to be the busiest man on the pitch and it was Stephen Crainey’s turn to be thwarted by the ‘keeper in the 28th minute. The Scottish full-back fired a swerving left-footed drive from 25 yards which looked to have deceived Steele, but the 22-year-old did well to push it away for a corner.
Middlesbrough were looking to force Gilks into similar heroics, and Miller was again involved in their next effort on the Blackpool ‘keepers’ goal. Josh McEachran fed the powerful front-man down the left, but his shot could only find the side-netting.
That piece of play was followed almost immediately by Blackpool’s second on 36 minutes. The ever-dangerous Ince caught George Friend in possession and played a perfectly weighted ball into the path of Delfouneso. The 21-year-old striker only needed one touch to double his tally for the evening, and his side’s lead, as he curled a side footed shot into the bottom corner.
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Delfouneso arguably should’ve completed his hat-trick before half-time. Taylor-Fletcher headed a long ball down in the path of the former Burnley and Leicester City front-man, but this time his accuracy deserted him as he blazed over.
Middlesbrough then found a way back into the game on the brink of half-time. A surging run from Mustapha Carayol forced a corner from which Friend headed on to the bar, but the escape was to be short lived for the Tangerines as the ball was crossed back in for Bikey to head home.
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HALF-TIME: BLACKPOOL 2 MIDDLESBROUGH 1
Middlesbrough started the second half with the wind in their sails, but once again the pace of the home side proved decisive. A quick break down the left-hand side led to Delfouneso playing the ball into Ince who took the ball beyond Steele, before steadying himself and rolling the ball into the empty net.
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After adding his sixth goal in six games, Ince looked to turn provider. He showed terrific skill to beat Friend down the right, before coming inside and playing the ball across to Taylor-Fletcher. The 31-year-old picked out Gomes at the far post, but the Portuguese playmaker failed to make a proper connection with his attempt at a volley.
Ian Holloway then made a triple substitution with Ince, Taylor-Fletcher and Gomes being replaced by Matt Phillips, Grandin and Nouha Dicko.
Dicko previously scored coming off the bench in both home games so far this season and almost made another positive impact after coming on. His shot was deflected into the path of Delfouneso, who thought he’d sealed his first senior hat-trick as he headed into the net. However after deliberation between the officials, the goal was eventually ruled out for off-side.
Another of the substitutes, Grandin, then looked as though he was going to add his first goal of the season as he broke clear down the left. However the French midfielder was barged over before he could get his shot away by Andre Bikey. Grandin wasn’t to be denied for long however, as he picked himself up to convert the resulting penalty, firing low into the left corner.
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FULL TIME: BLACKPOOL 4 MIDDLESBROUGH 1