Bristol City grateful for a point as they avoid an eighth defeat
LONG-SUFFERING City fans were not sure whether to laugh or cry at the conclusion of this tale of two penalties.
Badly in need of reasons to be cheerful, those streaming away from Ashton Gate after the final whistle no doubt felt relief that the embarrassment of an eighth successive league defeat had been averted.
But at the same time, that relief will have been tinged by regret at the manner in which City passed up the opportunity to claim three points for the first time since September 18.
A mere ten minutes remained, when substitute Steven Davies swept the Robins in front from the penalty spot with his first touch of the ball.
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Yet City's porous defence, without a single clean sheet all season, was unable to hold out and there was an air of inevitability about the equaliser Tom Ince scored, also from the spot, two minutes into time added on.
Although City manager Derek McInnes was critical of referee Gavin Ward, who ruled Matthew Bates had handled the ball, the fact remains Blackpool thoroughly deserved to return to Lancashire with a point.
The more cohesive team for the most part, the Seasiders created the better chances and were denied victory only by Tom Heaton's heroics between the sticks and their own profligacy in front of goal.
In Ince, the visitors possessed one of the most exciting young talents in the Championship and, on another day, his quick feet and speed of thought could quite easily have been the difference between the two sides.
Watched by his father, Paul, and England Under-21 manager Stuart Pearce, the youngster had a number of opportunities to put his side in front, but lacked the wherewithal to take them.
Yet it can be argued that City made their own luck and Heaton was in inspired mood in goal, while young Joe Bryan survived a shaky start to demonstrate his own undoubted talent and keep Ince reasonably quiet.
That said, there is no doubting the fortuitous nature of the penalty that led to the Robins going ahead for the first time in six matches.
Racing on to Neil Kilkenny's lofted pass, Albert Adomah over-ran the ball and had only one option open to him when taking a tumble as Seasiders keeper Matt Gilk raced from his line to engage him.
It could be argued that referee Ward, having made one dubious decision, was doing his best to even things up when he penalised Bates soon afterwards following brief consultation with his assistant.
What cannot be disputed, however, is the tenacity and determination displayed by a City side that were awful in defeat to Charlton six days earlier.
A first clean sheet of the season may have eluded them, as did the victory they so desperately wanted, but at least this result and performance will give McInnes and his players something to build upon.
Certainly, the introduction of new-boys Neil Danns and Bates and the return of Bryan helped lift both their team-mates and the crowd, and there was an encouraging energy about City's performance from start to finish. Although they remain vulnerable at the back, this performance represented a considerable improvement on what had gone before and ending a run of seven straight defeats in itself will help restore belief and confidence ahead of back-to-back away games against Middlesbrough and Brighton that are sure to test resolve to the full.
Criticised for lacking fight against Charlton, City's players answered their critics by being brave on the ball and refusing to lay down before opponents who presented such an obvious threat on the counter-attack.
City remain bottom of the table, three points from safety, and face an almighty battle to extricate themselves from trouble, but this result and performance is a start and McInnes and his charges deserve immense credit for summoning the kind of solidarity and spirit that bespeaks strength of character just when it was most needed.
Of course, further improvement will have to be found in the difficult weeks that lie ahead and a City side ravaged by injury and loss of confidence still faces an uphill task.
But this latest showing at least suggests McInnes and his players are prepared to meet the challenge head-on rather than succumb meekly when the pressure is on.
If nothing else, hard-pressed supporters certainly appreciated their team's integrity and, on this occasion, manager and players quite rightly left the pitch to warm applause.