Oxford Utd 0-2 Blackpool: A first-half drubbing halts United's quest for promotion
(Photo by Andrew Keams- CameraSport/ Getty Images)

Following a dominant victory against Doncaster Rovers in midweek, fans of Oxford United flirted with the romanticism of a late promotion push. 

Early goals from Kenny Dougal and Daniel Ballard on Saturday quickly derailed desires for the U's. Sully Kaikai played as a beacon of attacking fervency at Grenoble Road, typifying Blackpool's balanced system.

An attacking masterclass in the first-half was crowned by Blackpool's defensive indestructibility that was showcased in the second, earning The Seasiders their 15th clean sheet in League One this season. 

The home side had their chances on countless occasions, but they weren't taken, resulting in a despairing afternoon for the U's. United fall to 11th in the table, while the visitors leap-frogged them into 10th. 

  • Story of the match

Oxford United made just the one change from their 3-0 triumph over Doncaster Rovers four days prior, with Mark Sykes replacing Olamide Shodipo, who earns a well-deserved rest.

The introduction to Sykes was perhaps a show of respect to Blackpool's strong defensive record. The Northern Irishman was employed for his temperament to find pockets of space in a compact defence, an alternative to Mide's instinct to carry the ball down the line.

Off-field matters had made the front pages for the U's heading into the weekend. However, on-field matters were dealt with at high intensity in the early exchanges of the game.

Both teams looked eager to stamp their authority on the game; the tempo was high, as either side exuberated their energy. 

Cameron Brannagan and Liam Kelly formed an unlikely strike partnership in the opening proceedings, and the high-press that was present against Doncaster was hawking The Seasiders to pass backwards. 

At the 15 minute mark, Blackpool started to grip control of the game, henning United into their defensive third. Rob Atkinson did well to clear lines twice, but third, struck luck for The Seasiders. 

A pinball in the box fell for Kenny Dougall, who made no mistake in tumbling the ball home, leaving Jack Stevens no chance from just a few yards out.

After such a promising start, Oxford had put the handbrake on after the opener, with the U's struggling to string more than a few passes forward at a time. 

The addition to the starting 11, Sykes, had the best shot for the U's in the first half-hour, letting fly from the edge of the box, but his shot rocketed wide. 

United were architects of their own downfalls for most of the first half, as Sully Kaikai ran the midfield for the visitors. The U's gave possession away, leaving the midfielder in acres of space before the livewire curled a shot just inches wide. 

The second goal finally came through United's poor set-up defending corners. It was the first time that they had conceded two goals before half-time since their game at Spotland at the tail end of January.

An inswinging cross from Kaikai met the head of Daniel Ballard, following a poor back pass from Liam Kelly that gave away a cheap corner. Given their defensive track-record, Blackpool were good value for the second proceedings.  

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  • The second half

Alex Gorrin and Liam Kelly were sacrificed at the midway point of the game, making way for the introduction of Mide Shodipo and Anthony Forde. 

It had been eight games since anyone had scored more than once against The Seasiders, giving United the almost impossible task in pursuit of a play-off plight. 

The U's still looked a wildly divergent outfit compared to the one that performed a dominant display at home to Donny, continuing to fail to find the telling touches to propel them into a comeback.

The home side started to turn the screw on the 55-minute mark; Brandon Barker advanced on the left flank, dancing through a swarm of players.

His efforts fell to Shodipo inside the box, but Blackpool crowded their area and thwarted the attack. Blackpool remained resolute in all areas of play, as Kaikai repeatedly pulled the strings of the United defence on the break. 

Chances continued to fall for Robinson's U's, with Blackpool being let off after Sykes' shot from the edge of the six-yard box was sliced wide with 25 minutes to go.  

United just couldn't penetrate the Blackpool defence, despite obtaining the lion's share of chances in the second half. Actions were taken to change the dynamic of the team for Robinson, but The Seasiders weathered the storm.

There are positives to take away from the second half, however, with the U's becoming more urgent, dominating the possession. It just wasn't enough to pitch a positive result.

The clock continued to tick, United's verve continued to dwindle, and Blackpool remained robust. The visitor's attacking tune was orchestrated by Kaikai, while the rest of the team cradled the defence to a comfortable victory. 

  • Takeaways

Oxford's lack of confidence in front of goal returns

Certainly, Blackpool's defensive aptitude must be praised, dealing with everything Oxford had to throw at them. However, United really should have capitalised on the onslaught they opted to chase in the second half.

United's sword lacked the sharpness to produce enough in the final third. Matty Taylor had a few chances to score, so did the rest of the attacking trident. A poor first-half condemned them to suffer for the rest of the game as Neil Critchley's game management was second to none. 

Sully Kaikai was instrumental in Blackpool's victory

Karl Robinson waxed lyrical of the Englishman before the game, and he was at the centre of everything Blackpool did in the first half. The midfielder played with his head up throughout, causing chaos amongst the United backline.

His equanimous performance gave his teammates the licence to play with fluidity, lifting The Seasiders back into play-off contention above the U's.