Pool take first leg advantage
A Mark Cullen hat-trick fired Blackpool into a 3-2 lead over Luton Town in the League Two play-off semi-final.
The Seasiders now travel to Kenilworth Road with a goal advantage as an inspired second-half performance from Cullen brought Pool into the lead after being 2-1 down.
Goals from Dan Potts and Isaac Vassell cancelled out Cullen’s early strike, but a 25-yard wonder goal from the striker levelled just after the interval.
He then gave Pool the win from the penalty spot after Tom Aldred was brought down in the box, as Blackpool ended victorious in a feisty first leg.
The game’s lively start had its first meaningful attack through Luton’s in-form striker Vassell, who had scored in his previous two outings. Slipped in by strike partner Hylton, Vassell found his way into the Blackpool box at speed, though Pool’s defence stood firm to cancel out any effort from the forward.
Despite early Luton pressure, it was Pool who took the lead on 19 minutes. Cullen, after a lay-off from Kyle Vassell, capitalised off a slip from Alan Sheehan. Pool’s number nine kept his composure and squeezed his right-footed effort into the bottom corner.
Neil Danns let fly from all of 30 yards soon after, stinging the hands of Stuart Moore from a ferocious half-volley.
Just as Blackpool started to control the play, Luton levelled the scoring through wing-back Potts. A counter-attack from the Hatters lead to 19 year-old James Justin getting in-behind the Pool defence. Eventually the ball found its way into the box where Potts smashed home via the crossbar.
The game refused to slow down, and two minutes later Luton were in front. Blackpool’s Vassell struck the crossbar from range at one end, then, in the blink of an eye, Luton’s namesake scored at the other after initial efforts from Hylton and Ruddock-Mpanzu were blocked.
In an attempt to level the score, Brad Potts and Vassell, once more, forced further saves from Moore with strikes from distance.
Kelvin Mellor was next to go close as he looked to pounce on Moore’s parry from a left-footed Robertson shot. Blackpool’s Players’ Player of the Season looked for all the world that he’d score but fine defending by both Scott Cuthbert and goalkeeper Moore did just enough to prevent a goal.
Half-Time: Blackpool 1 Luton Town 2
The Seasiders started the second 45 brightly and, just a minute into the game, equalized in spectacular fashion through Cullen once again. The ball spilled out to the Geordie striker some 25 yards out, and without a break in stride, Cullen curled the ball out of the goalkeeper's reach and into the top corner to mark his 11th of the season.
Vassell was then sent through by Jack Payne over the top, but the chance was squandered after Luton captain Cuthbert backtracked just in time to block the shot. Robertson fired over from inside the box moments later as Pool piled on the pressure.
Shirt-pulling was theme throughout from Blackpool set-pieces and on 65 minutes and the referee finally blew for a Pool penalty after a whole host of players fell down from an Andy Taylor free-kick. It was down to Cullen to complete his hat-trick from the spot, and he did just that, sending the goalkeeper the wrong way from 12 yards.
Jordan Flores and Nathan Delfouneso were introduced in place of Danns and Vassell as Pool looked to hold on for the victory. The former made an immediate impact as he set up Potts on the edge of the box. The effort unfortunately sailed over the bar for Blackpool.
With only minutes to go, Luton began to dominate in search of an equaliser and went close through Sheehan. The defender unleashed a wicked volley across the face of Sam Slocombe’s goal and only just missed the target by a matter of inches.
There was a late scare for Blackpool as goalmouth scramble somehow evaded the goal but Pool’s defence remained resolute and they now take an advantage into the second leg.
Full-Time: Blackpool 3 Luton Town 2