MIDDLESBROUGH boss Tony Mowbray admitted he was concerned his side would throw away the lead in a turbulent final period that ended with the hosts winning a pulsating clash 4-2.
Boro looked to be cruising after first-half goals from Ishmael Miller and birthday boy Richard Smallwood, but Blackpool hit back in a ding-dong second half, clawing one back through Wes Thomas before Scott McDonald restored Boro’s lead.
Blackpool forced a second through Chris Basham then in a pivotal moment won a disputed penalty only for Jason Steele to save superbly from Thomas Ince. Boro sealed it late on through Adam Reach’s fine finish.
“It was a bit nervous in the second half and when we gave away the penalty it looked as if we would throw it all away but Jason made a truly fantastic save to keep us in front,” said Mowbray.
The penalty came when Jonathan Woodgate tackled Gary Taylor-Fletcher and although the referee waved play on the linesman persuaded him to alter his opinion.
“The frustration is that an official 70 yards away can over-rule one 10 yards away without even having a discussion,” said Mowbray, whose men visit Derby County tomorrow.
“That was a little strange.
“But in end it wasn’t crucial because Jason made the save, we won the game, we got the three points and we move on.
“I was pleased because in the first half we played some fabulous football. It was as good as we have played all season.
“We knew they would come at us in the second half because we couldn’t keep that level of play up and they had to gamble a bit.”
Boro’s first home league victory over Blackpool for 39 years inched them closer to an automatic promotion place. They were seeking their fourth successive home win and started well with Grant Leadbitter’s early corners causing all sorts of problems for the visitors.
Leadbitter’s 14th-minute corner – Boro’s seventh – found Ishmael Miller with enough space to head into the bottom corner.
Miller and Marvin Emnes both went close from the edge of the box, but Boro were forced into a change with the injured Justin Hoyte replaced by Stuart Parnaby.
Blackpool’s first decent chance came in the 25th minute when Boro could only half-clear from Stephen Crainey’s corner as Ince volleyed wide, but the visitors were finding some pockets of pressure up front.
Blackpool boss Michael Appleton attempted a shake-up by replacing Nathan Delfouneso with Angel Martinez, but the visitors conceded their second 10 minutes before the break as Emnes’s cut-back found Smallwood, who coolly slotted in from the edge of the area.
Emnes and Miller proved almost unstoppable in the second half. Gilks tipped over from another Miller cross while Leadbitter kept Boro’s threats alive from the corner flag.
Gary Taylor-Fletcher headed tamely wide in a rare Blackpool move while Appleton brought on Ludovic Sylvestre for Tiago Gomes.
It provided the impetus as Blackpool strung several passes together before Taylor-Fletcher laid off for Thomas who found space to score at the near post.
Just three minutes later, though, Boro caught their opponents out in possession and Scott McDonald charged forward before a calm finish saw the two-goal advantage restored.
Blackpool attempted a swift response as Chris Basham shot wide but Boro were in cruise control, replacing Miller with Reach before McDonald went close.
Basham then made it a nervy end to the game as Basham got on the end of a cross from the tireless Crainey before Jonathan Woodgate felled Sylvestre to concede the spot-kick and earn a yellow card.
The Seasiders, however, failed to capitalise as Ince’s spot-kick was saved by Steele who guessed correctly, with Boro piling on the misery through Reach who struck on 87 minutes after good work by Lukas Jutkiewicz.
Middlesbrough: Steele, Hoyte (Parnaby 21), Woodgate, Rhys Williams, Halliday, Emnes (Jutkiewicz 82), Leadbitter, Bailey, Smallwood, Miller (Reach 65), McDonald. Subs Not Used: Leutwiler, Zemmama, Thomson, Luke Williams. Booked: Woodgate. Goals: Miller 14, Smallwood 36, McDonald 62, Reach 88.
Blackpool: Gilks, Crainey, Broadfoot, Cathcart, Baptiste, Basham, Gomes (Sylvestre 57), Taylor-Fletcher, Delfouneso (Martinez 37), Thomas, Ince. Subs Not Used: Halstead, Eardley, Kevin Phillips, Harris, Dicko. Goals: Thomas 59, Basham 76.
Ref: Stuart Attwell (Warwickshire).