Thank God that’s over.
A season that started with hope and a genuine belief that we would grab an automatic promotion place, finished with the the team limping over the line and only securing their safety with one game to go. It’s fair to say that nobody will be sad to see the back of that season.
On the last day, Blackpool managed to come away with a point in a somewhat poetic 90 minutes that mirrored the entire season. The Seasiders dominated the first half, with some nice football in spells, before a total capitulation just before half time. This was followed by a bit of nothingness before the players had to dig in, steady the ship and show some resilience to see the game out.
As well as providing some great entertainment (a rare treat under Paul Ince so far) the match also served as a demonstration to prove some idiots wrong. By idiots, I of course mean anyone with a slightly different opinion to me…
Anybody who said that we should be getting rid of Matt Phillips was surely shown to be wrong. Again he proved more effective than Ince, and the fans who suggested we sell him for pennies in January must have felt a little foolish as he lashed the ball into the net.
The fact that we haven’t seen both Ince and Phillips on form at the same time is a crying shame. And with the possibility of losing one, if not both of them in the summer, we can only sit and imagine how unplayable they’d have been. Oh well.
Anyone who said that Sylvestre isn’t good enough for the first team was shown up too. Away to Bolton was another game that he stood out as our most creative player. His vision and composure on the ball are second to none. He is the only player we have capable of spotting and executing a defence-splitting pass. And after almost single-handedly keeping us up with some stunning goals that won us 8 points in the last 6 games, he will now be much-sought after in the summer as we try and tie him down to another contract. If Paul Ince has any sense, he should build the team around him – just as Holloway promised in the summer, but failed to commit to. Having Sylvestre and somebody like Martinez alongside him in the middle of the pitch is something that will excite fans and worry the opposition.
Finally, anyone who ever said that Broadfoot is our best defender should have been questioning their commitment to the brave Scot. The joy of a final game where you’re not on the edge of your seat, biting your nails, is that you can watch players with a calm, non-biased outlook, and when you do that you realise how poor he is. He’s dire on the ball and never seems to be in control of his feet. I applaud him for coming in and creating a solid partnership with MacKenzie, something that was a massive part of keeping us up, but we need better next year. In fact, we have better on the bench. No matter how much people don’t like Eardley, there’s no doubting that he is a better right-back than Broadfoot. And, for me, Cathcart is a better central defender than him too – he just can’t defend corners quite as well…
So that was the end of a long, long season. Thinking back to when Holloway was here seems like ages ago. Was that really this season? And Appleton too? It is strange to think that we have had four different men in charge this term. Expectations have been up and down so many times, and although a football season normally flies by, it’s almost a relief to get this season of turmoil out of the way.
Behind the scenes, work has already started on putting this season behind us. A lot of people said that we needed a clear-out, and that’s just what we got as Blackpool announced their retained list. And I can’t say I’m heartbroken at the appearance of any names on that list.
Of the 13 players who haven’t been offered a new deal, or had their option exercised, I’d suggest that around half a dozen could walk into my living room without being recognised – the legacy of Ian Holloway’s crazy transfer strategy.
The big surprise came as Ian Evatt was allowed to leave, but then again, after spending a large part of the season on the sidelines, it isn’t a decision which will have a huge impact on the first team.
Not a surprise as such, but saying goodbye Tiago Gomes, Gerado Bruna and Elliot Grandin is a decision that shows the kind of player that Ince wants. Or doesn’t want. Gomes in particular was a major part of the side which started the season so well. Even after that, he continued to show his class when the team was struggling. His drive and desire to run was admirable and his quality on the ball was missed when he wasn’t included. He suffered an unfortunate injury, and didn’t feature in the run-in, but he was a decent player who possesses more quality than the likes of Basham who have been kept on.
Elsewhere, work has already begun on replacing the pitch. Enough has been said about the pitch over the last few months, so it’s just good to get rid of it and hope that next season we will have a surface able to hold up right through the winter, and allow us to play some football. On the other hand, I do wonder whether there will be any football played on it. Paul Ince did a fantastic job of keeping us in this division, but I can’t say I enjoyed any of it. Not just because it’s unnerving watching every team below you pick up points, but because the football we played for the last 2 months was very rarely desirable.
Ince has come out and said that his favourite scoreline is 1-0. Of the many variations of a winning scoreline, that is probably my least favourite. Similarly, finishing a game 0-0 is my least favourite way to draw a match. As I’ve said, Ince did brilliantly to keep us up, and if his chosen style of football was part of the plan, then well done. There was a lack of confidence, we were leaking goals, and we had an unplayable pitch, so it can be forgiven. If that’s how he plans to play next season, however, then there will be some disgruntled fans in the stands.
So, as we head into a long (probably wet) summer of no sport, with a couple of months of shopping and DIY to look forward to, all we can do is get ready for another season of ups and downs. Fixtures are released on Wednesday 19 June. Just over a month to go…