FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) runs the rule over Thursday's League Two play-off semi-final second leg between Luton and Blackpool.
Luton v Blackpool | Thursday 19:45 | Sky Sports
Former Luton striker Mark Cullen’s superb hat-trick gave Blackpool a one-goal advantage going into Thursday night’s return clash at Kenilworth Road after Dan Potts and Isaac Vassell had put the Hatters 2-1 in front.
The Seasiders are now as short as 4/9 to clinch a Wembley berth but Gary Bowyer’s men will know this tie is far from over after their frantic, end-to-end first fixture which left many Luton players and fans disappointed and frustrated with the officials.
In a sparse home crowd due to the ongoing protests against the club owners, referee Nigel Miller awarded Blackpool a penalty after Scott Cuthbert hauled Tom Aldred down to the ground in the area despite repeated warnings.
It was a decision that incensed Hatters boss Nathan Jones. Jones stormed straight over to Miller as soon as the final whistle blew to remonstrate and although he said his side can't use the referee's performance as an excuse, the Luton supremo did aim a barrel at his own team’s “out of character” defending.
Luton’s lapse defending
Thursday’s hosts headed in the first fixture boasting the second-best defensive record in League Two but conceded three goals on their travels for the first time this season with Jones bemoaning individual errors and poor decision-making.
The Hatters came out firing in the first-half, spending the majority of the first 45 minutes on the front foot winning most first and second balls and creating numerous goalscoring opportunities. But Blackpool bounced back to dominate the second period, keeping Luton cat Stuart Moore busy between the sticks.
Jones has now urged the Bedfordshire outfit to have more of an edge about them on Thursday night but also pleased patience as his charges bid to turn around a first leg deficit in front of 10,000 raucous home fans.
Speaking to his local press, Luton’s manager wants to let his side off the leash gently, opting for a measured approach before the division’s youngest side throws the kitchen sink at Blackpool later in proceedings.
Therefore, this Kenilworth Road encounter could be a slow-burner, bringing the half-time draw into play at 63/50 (Marathon). It’s a selection that’s proven profitable in 44/92 (48%) of the duos collective regular season games, as well as 22/46 (48%) of their respective home/away matches this term.
Luton have only led at the break in nine of their 23 home outings in 2016/17 whilst Blackpool are well accustomed to keeping their hosts at arms length, only trailing at half-time in three of their away days all season.
A lead to protect
With Bowyer’s boys also determined to keep their advantage intact, Blackpool could be forgiven for taking a more cautious approach here to protect their lead. And the Tangerines will certainly fancy their chances on the break.
Key striker Kyle Vassell is expected to be fit having hobbled off midway through the second-half on Sunday whilst Jamille Matt also comes into contention, giving the Seasiders plenty of knockout ability in forward areas against a Luton team that kept only four home clean sheets .
Blackpool W3-D1-L2 at fellow top-seven sides and only twice leaked more than a solitary strike whilst their last trip to Kenilworth Road saw Bowyer’s men enjoy supremacy until an unfortunate error lead to a Luton winner.
So the visitors are bound to be confident in silencing the Hatters but whether they’ll be capable of doing so remains to be seen. I’d expect Luton to launch attack after attack during the second period and with the game opening up, goals could then start to flow.
With that in mind, I’ll be backing the 9/4 from Bet365 on Both Teams To Score banking in the second-half – 66/113 (58%) goals in Luton’s games came after half-time, as the Hatters scored 63% of their goals in the final 45 minutes.
Similarly, 67/115 (58%) goals in Blackpool’s games came after the half-time oranges were handed out, including 58% of the Seasiders’ tally.