Neil Critchley’s Blackpool secured a major advantage in the race for promotion via the play-offs in League One as they sealed a 3-0 win over Oxford United at the Kassam Stadium.
A brace from Everton loanee Ellis Simms and one from defender Ollie Turton secured a key victory for the Tangerines who were organised, disciplined and ruthless throughout.
Thus, the result firmly puts them in the driving seat for a spot at Wembley on May 30th, ahead of the semi-final second leg at Bloomfield Road on Friday.
Oxford would have perhaps been inspired by past stats that, in the third tier, show the fourth-ranked team have won promotion on nine occasions in the 34-year history of the League One play-offs, however their chances of promotion now look incredibly slim.
Backed by just under 4000 fans, the Oxford United fans wasted no time in cranking up the atmosphere inside the Kassam but despite some bursting runs from the lively Brandon Barker in the early advances, the first half was won by the away side.
Just before the 20th minute mark, Neil Critchley’s side had a big chance to open the scoring as Keshi Anderso found some room in the box bit his effort was parried away by Jack Stevens, Sunderland loanee Elliot Embleton was there to follow-up, but his shot on goal was cleared off the line. An early warning sign for the home side.
And, just minutes later, the Tangerines found the back of the net.
Embleton whipped a dangerous free kick into the area from the left and Ollie Turton pounced on a loose ball to score his first goal of the season and fire the visitors into the lead
The Tangerines continued to look the dominant force and just four minutes later, Blackpool made it 2-0.
The ball was looped into the path of Ellis Simms on the right-flank and the 20-year-old managed to edge the ball past Rob Atkinson, and then dink the ball back over his head, to then fire emphatically past Stevens.
Blackpool, whom possess the strongest defence in League One, continued to showcase their prowess at the back with the likes of James Husband and Dan Ballard hardly giving U’s forward Matty Taylor a sniff.
As the second half kicked-off, Oxford looked to carve out some opportunities but it was still Blackpool who looked the more threatening in the final third.
Five minutes into the second half, Embleton cut inside from the left, and fired a shot from 20 yards just past Stevens’ left-hand post, another warning sign from the Tangerines.
Soon after that Embleton effort, Oxford had a major chance to reduce the deficit, as James Henry picked up the ball in the middle of the park and set Mark Sykes free one on one with Maxwell, but the Tangerines goalkeeper came out on top to deny the U’s man.
The U’s continued to try and find a way back into the game and once again they had another big opportunity to score, as Brandon Barker found space down the left, he checked inside and found James Henry free in the box but he couldn’t direct his shot on target and skied it over Maxwell’s crossbar.
Just as you felt the tide was turning and Oxford could make their way back into them, Blackpool showed their clinical nature in front of goal and made it 3-0 in the 72nd minute.
Blackpool broke down an Oxford attack that was being led by Dan Agyei and quickly sprung forward in a counter attack as Jerry Yates drove forward with the ball, he found the on-running Simms who slotted past Stevens to notch his second, and Blackpool’s third.
Critchley’s side play host to Oxford in the second leg on Friday evening knowing they’re firmly in pole position for a spot at the showpiece League One final on May 30th.