Reading 3-2 Blackpool: Resurgent Royals end Seasiders' play-off dreams

Blackpool’s League One play-off hopes were left in tatters by Reading, who finished a miserable campaign off the field with a thumping on-field high.

The Seasiders needed results to go their way and to win themselves to make the top six, and made a perfect start when Karamoko Dembele scuffed a Kyle Joesph touch-off past goalkeeper Joel Pereira.

However, the storyline flipped as score-lines from Exeter and Barnsley went against the visitors, and with it the resurgent Royals wiped out the lead when Sam Smith leapt to steer a header beyond Dan Grimshaw from a fine Harvey Knibbs in-swinger.

Reading continued to improve through the second-half too, despite chances for Blackpool’s Hayden Coulson whose effort soared over, and the hosts got their reward.

First Knibbs guided a fine finish into the top corner after Sam Smith and Mamadi Camara teed up the opportunity, and two minutes later it was game over as Femi Azeez was picked out from a dangerous left-wing cross and had the freedom to slide past Grimshaw for the crucial third.

In added time, Jordan Gabriel steered a poor clearance by Pereira back past him for a freak fifth of the afternoon to give the travelling support a modicum of hope and reduce arrears.

There were away shouts of a penalty as Albie Morgan’s cross was blocked in the box, and might have hit a hand, but referee Ben Speedie waved play on.

Speedie’s whistle after seven minutes of added time brought the sizeable home crowd to its feet, and ended Tangerine dreams of a 10th play-off campaign in their history.

Given the negativity which has come in tandem with issues relating to owner Dai Yongge, and the on-field results which seemed to mirror those difficulties, Reading have done remarkably to finish in the relative comfort of midtable.

In November they were 10 points adrift and bottom of the table, but Ruben Selles and his players have turned things around, picking up priceless wins at home to Cambridge and away to Bristol Rovers and draws with play-off chasers Barnsley and Lincoln.

Signings like Smith, Knibbs and Wing have been key, while Azeez’s talent has thrived as the confidence within the squad has grown too.

Neil Critchley led Blackpool to success in the play-offs back in 2020-21 but he was unable to work his magic this campaign despite taking their hopes to the final day.

The future for the Tangerines depends on whether they can replace or re-recruit loanees such as Bakayoko, who picked up a number of individual honours at the club’s awards night, George Byers and Hayden Coulson, who helped the club to the cusp of a promotion push.

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