Blackpool have been promoted to the Championship after beating Lincoln City 2-1 in Sunday’s League One Play-Off Final at Wembley.
A Kenny Dougall brace saw the Tangerines come from behind to seal a long-awaited return to the Championship, six years after they were relegated to the third tier.
With nerves jangling at Wembley before kick-off, Lincoln made an incredible start to the afternoon.
Brennan Johnson received the ball on the right wing, before taking on Luke Garbutt and drilling the ball across goal. Tom Hopper managed to flick it on, and there was the unfortunate Ollie Turton to divert the ball into his own net with only 47 seconds on the clock. A perfect start for the Imps.
Johnson was running Blackpool ragged in the opening stages. The on-loan Nottingham Forest winger saw another low cross put out for a corner, before winning a free-kick in a dangerous area, leading to an early yellow card for Garbutt. That resulting set-piece was delivered expertly well by Jorge Grant, with an unmarked Conor McGrandles heading over the bar from six yards.
A flying start from Michael Appleton’s side, and not the start Neil Critchley would have expected from his team, after scoring twice in the first 15 minutes of their semi-final second leg clash with Oxford.
The Tangerines did begin to grow into the game, though, with Garbutt firing a free-kick over the Lincoln wall, but into the gloves of Alex Palmer.
On 25 minutes, it was Lincoln’s turn to come close. Jorge Grant received the ball from Morgan Rogers 25 yards out, before turning his marker and curling a teasing effort off the bar and out for a goal kick.
The contest was livening up, however, and the Tangerines were to carve out their best opportunity of the half moments later. A low cross was cut back for Demitri Mitchell to fire goalwards, with the winger’s powerful first-time effort stinging the palms of Palmer who parried his effort away.
But on 34 minutes, the Tangerines found a leveller after improving as the half went on.
It was Grant who gave the ball away far too easily in midfield, with the lively Jerry Yates hustling and winning possession before driving forward with speed.
Yates played in Elliot Embleton to his right, with the midfielder trying to dance his way into the area before eventually finding Kenny Dougall to his left, and the Australian midfielder made no mistake, firing a left-footed effort into the bottom corner from the edge of the area.
The Tangerines were now playing with confidence. In the 41st minute, a neat bit of play down the left-hand side saw Garbutt’s cross meet the head of Mitchell, with Palmer getting down low to deny his effort.
Critchley’s men ending the half on top, then, as the whistle blew for half-time, with Appleton undoubtedly urging his side to rediscover the tempo they played with in the opening 15 minutes.
But Blackpool continued to improve, and within eight minutes of the second half, they turned the game on its head.
Mitchell delivered a dangerous in-swinging cross in from the right which found Yates, with the striker shielding the ball and teeing up Dougall, who fired another powerful effort into the bottom corner. 2-1 to Blackpool, and an excellent turnaround from the Tangerines.
Before Sunday, the 28-year-old had only scored two goals in English football, but his brace had Blackpool in front and in control of their own destiny.
Michael Appleton began to ring changes on the hour mark as he looked to help his side get back into the contest, with Callum Morton replacing Tom Hopper up top. Critchley also made his first change soon after, replacing the tricky Mitchell with Gary Madine.
The Tangerines could well have wrapped things up on 72 minutes, too. Cute, patient build-up play in and around the area resulted in the ball being poked through to Yates, who looked to round Palmer with the goal at his mercy. TJ Eyoma recovered well, though, to clear the danger and keep the contest alive.
Madine was then presented with a chance to seal the win, rising highest to meet Garbutt’s floated delivery from the byline and head over the bar.
Further changes were introduced in the final 10 minutes of the match, with CJ Hamilton and Grant Ward replacing Embleton and Keshi Anderson for the leaders. Anthony Scully looking to add to his 17 goals for the campaign, replacing Grant for the Imps.
Scully went about making an immediate impact for City, gliding towards the byline before teeing a cross up to the back post, which was just over the head of Morton. Johnson tried his luck moments later, but his goalbound effort blocked.
Appleton made one final throw off the dice, introducing nine-goal centre-half Lewis Montsma for the final seven minutes of the contest, with four minutes of time added on.
The final chance of the game fell to Regan Poole, though, with the ball falling kindly at the defender’s feet, before he curled an effort high and wide from inside the area.
The full-time whistle blew shortly after, met by raptures of cheers and applause from a jubilant section of Blackpool supporters at Wembley.