Mark Cullen hits hat-trick against old club as Blackpool take lead over Luton
Ex-Luton striker Mark Cullen scored a hat-trick against his former team as Blackpool took a 3-2 lead in their League Two play-off semi-final tie.
Blackpool only confirmed their play-off place on the final day of the regular season, but Cullen gave the Seasiders the lead before Dan Potts and Isaac Vassell hit back for Luton.
Cullen struck twice after the break, however, sealing his hat-trick, and the win, from the penalty spot.
Tangerines fans stayed away from Bloomfield Road in vast numbers in their continued protest against the owners, the Oyston family, and the subdued atmosphere from the home end initially matched the cautious start to the game.
Punctuated by a long early delay as Potts received treatment for a cut above his eyebrow, neither side had really exerted themselves until Blackpool scored with the game's first meaningful chance on 19 minutes.
Kyle Vassell released Cullen and, though he slipped when striking the ball, his effort had enough power to roll into the bottom corner despite Stuart Moore getting a hand to it.
Neil Danns nearly doubled the lead on 25 minutes, but his powerful long-range effort was beaten clear by Moore.
Just a minute later, Luton were level - James Justin's low cross was behind Danny Hylton but Potts followed in to fire powerfully in off the underside of the bar.
Almost immediately from the restart, Blackpool looked to restore their lead and Vassell curled a long-range effort off the top of the bar.
But the visitors were in front on 28 minutes when, after Hylton's low strike was brilliantly saved by Sam Slocombe and Tom Aldred blocked Pelly Ruddock's follow-up, Isaac Vassell turned Justin's low cross in.
The hosts nearly levelled on the stroke of half-time, when Moore parried Clark Robertson's low strike into Kelvin Mellor's path, but Ruddock blocked superbly.
Cullen did equalise within 90 seconds of the restart, however, and in some style - pouncing on a loose ball 20 yards out and curling an unstoppable strike into the top corner.
Blackpool then laid siege to the Luton goal, and Scott Cuthbert slid in to deny Vassell a certain goal on 52 minutes before Moore parried Danns' long-range effort clear moments later.
Cullen was then given a golden chance to seal his hat-trick on 66 minutes when, having already been warned by referee Nigel Miller, Cuthbert was penalised for wrestling Aldred to the ground in the area.
And the striker made no mistake from the spot, coolly firing his penalty straight down the middle as Moore dived to his right.
Alan Sheehan went close to a late equaliser on 89 minutes, from Ollie Lee's corner, but his volley flashed wide across goal as Blackpool held on to take a lead into the second leg at Kenilworth Road on Thursday.