Blackpool became the first team to be relegated from the Sky Bet Championship this season despite equalising twice in a thrilling 3-2 defeat to play-off-chasing Millwall.
Stephen Dobbie’s Seasiders are now unable to finish above both Huddersfield and Reading, who play one another on the final day of the season.
Tom Bradshaw scored either side of a Jerry Yates penalty to put Millwall in control with half an hour to play, but Lewis Fiorini pulled a stunner out of the bag to give the plucky hosts fresh hope.
But Fiorini went from zero to hero in a matter of minutes, as he lunged in on Duncan Watmore in the box, conceding a penalty, which Zian Flemming converted to win the game for the Lions.
While Blackpool’s fate is sealed, Millwall climb back into the play-off places and up to fifth ahead of the remainder of this weekend’s action.
How Millwall’s battling cost Blackpool dear
Blackpool forced a corner within seconds of kick-off, after Millwall were caught playing out from the back, but no sooner had the game restarted, Millwall were ahead when Ryan Leonard collected a ball from Jamie Shackleton, drove on and crossed for Bradshaw, who tucked home his 16th of the season in nonchalant fashion.
The Lions then had multiple chances to increase their lead. Bradshaw fired an instinctive shot on the turn just wide and then lifted a shot over under pressure from James Husband, before Duncan Watmore struck the post. Callum Styles’ effort cleared the crossbar after a spell of pressure, too.
It took 34 minutes for the hosts to muster their first shot, but moments after Morgan Rogers tested George Long, they equalised. CJ Hamilton was tripped by Shackleton in the box and Jerry Yates made no mistake from the penalty spot. A collective feeling of anxiety was immediately eased.
Blackpool started the second half on the front foot, as they had ended the first, but they were dealt another blow when Bradshaw latched onto a smart ball through from Watmore and poked past the onrushing Daniel Grimshaw.
They did not let their heads drop, though, and, eight minutes later, it was 2-2 when Fiorini’s daisy-cutter from 25 yards or more nestled into the bottom left corner.
But Fiorini went from hero to zero soon after when he naively brought down Watmore in the box, with referee Matthew Donohue pointing straight to the spot. And Zian Flemming didn’t need a second invitation to step up and fire in what proved to be the winner.
Player of the match – Tom Bradshaw
Millwall’s Gary Rowett:
“It was always going to be a difficult game. Blackpool had nothing to lose, they had to win the game. I thought their forwards were bright and their front four made the game have a bit of swing to it. We started really well, changed formation and took a bit of a gamble. I just felt I needed to change the team’s psychology; we’ve not been performing well and looked a bit edgy. I needed something to change their mentality.
“There were some moments of adversity in the game for us because I didn’t think it was a penalty; I thought it was two players coming together, not a clear penalty. In a game like this, I think you have to be certain. Then we looked a bit nervous for the rest of the half, but we managed to get it back together and score some very good goals. But it was never going to be an easy match.”
Blackpool’s Stephen Dobbie:
“It was probably a little bit of a disappointing first half. We didn’t get to grips with the long balls and then the second balls. In the second half, we came out all guns blazing and the lads stuck to our gameplan, but we lost a poor second goal and that turned the tide a little bit.
“When we scored the second, as soon as the game restarted, I thought they took a little bit of control again, so it was a little bit naive from us, but the boys gave everything and the fans gave everything, so that’s all you can really ask for.”
There is just one more round of fixtures left of the Championship season, with all fixtures kicking off at 3pm on Monday May 8. Blackpool travel to Carrow Road to take on Norwich, with Millwall hosting Blackburn at The Den.