Blackpool took a significant step to booking their place in the Sky Bet League One play-off final after a professional performance earned them a 3-0 win over Oxford in the semi-final first leg.
Neil Critchley’s men took the lead against last season’s beaten finalists when Ollie Turton slammed in his first goal of the season from close range (23), with Ellis Simms’ well-worked individual effort making it two shortly after (26).
Despite an encouraging start, chances were few and far between for the hosts after that and they were dealt another heavy blow late in the second half, when Simms initiated a counter-attack and then slotted home to conclude it (74).
In the history of the play-offs, no team in any league has ever overturned a three-goal first-leg deficit, but that’s what Oxford must do at Bloomfield Road on Friday evening in order to reach the final.
How Blackpool took control at the Kassam
Even though Oxford had struggled to stabilise after losing last season’s play-off final to Wycombe, the fact they had been sat in the relegation zone in early December suggested there was little pressure upon Karl Robinson’s side, who started with a flourish in front of their own fans at a sun-soaked Kassam Stadium.
Elliot Lee struck a free-kick into the wall after a rampaging Mark Sykes was brought down by James Husband just yards outside the area after three minutes, before Brandon Barker embarked on a mesmerising run from his own penalty area and squared for Lee, who was this time denied space for a shot.
But with 23 minutes on the clock, they fell behind. Sykes’ own foul on Husband earned Blackpool a free-kick on the left flank and after Josh Ruffels’ attempt to clear Elliot Embleton’s delivery went awry, Turton didn’t need a second invitation to slam home at the far post.
In the blink of an eye, Simms made it two with a real moment of quality. He cut in off the right flank, nonchalantly flicked the ball over Rob Atkinson and then arrowed a shot past goalkeeper Jack Stevens via a deflection.
Seven minutes after the break, Oxford had, arguably, their best opening of the game when James Henry threaded the ball through the eye of a needle for Sykes, who took a superb touch, only to be greeted by Blackpool stopper and Golden Glove winner Chris Maxwell.
The home crowd were left with their hearts in their mouths when Jerry Yates connected with a wicked Husband cross and blazed over from an angle and were then silenced when Simms led a breakway, moved the ball out to Yates on the right and then swept in his second of the night after receiving the return.
And to make matters worse for Oxford, they ended the night with 10 men after an injury to Cameron Brannagan.
Man of the match – Ellis Simms
Lee Hendrie on Sky Sports Football:
“He has been brilliant tonight. He held up the ball well, then scored two goals from nowhere and I loved how he was involved in the counter-attack for his second. A super evening.”
The second leg will take place at Bloomfield Road on Friday, May 21 at 7.45pm, live on Sky Sports Football.