The opening 20-30 minutes against Barnsley were dominated by the real Blackpool. Up-and-at-em, gun-ho football, played with quality and desire. Chance after chance was created and spurned, and it looked as though we might see back to back wins to end our recent slump. But then it stopped, and when Barnsley scored from us having a corner, the alarm bells started to ring again.
For the first time in a long time, you could really tell the other team wanted it more. Our recent success has been built on a dogged, never-say-die attitude and a sheer will to win. Yes, Barnsley are scrapping at the bottom of the table, whilst Blackpool are more than likely to see out an uneventful mid-table finish, but if we lose touch with what made us so successful, it will take a long time to get it back.
In the stands, you could see there was a real difference. The Barnsley fans were loud and proud, supporting their team in the hope that their presence would inspire those on the pitch. Tangerine fans we much more subdued than this – there merely as loyal supporters more than anything else. When Barnsley scored there was a roar of belief and delight, compared to a passing moment of relief for the home fans when Ince scored.
But on the pitch was where the real disappointment lay. Although you could see the Barnsley players working hard, it was the nonchalance of some of the Blackpool players that was noticeable. Baptiste in particular looked especially lethargic. He hasn’t had the best season but as well as being poor, in the last few weeks he hasn’t seemed bothered. And for him to be captain of the team is farcical. Just when we need a leader, a player who can lift the team and lift the fans, we have Baptiste trudging down the line with his mouth open and his hands on his hips. Aside from the occasional dash, when he does his best to run as fast as he can and kick it as hard as he can, regardless of the situation, he is doing nothing to prove his worth.
The only defence for Baptiste is that he isn’t the only one. A lot of the players are feeling sorry for themselves and are trying their best to hide away. They seem to have lost the togetherness that made everyone so strong. They don’t look like a team at all. In fact, except from having matching footwear (surely thanks to some bizarre fire sale on yellow boots), it looks as though they don’t know each other. Very few of them are fighting for their comrades. Very few of them are even fighting for themselves.
Barnsley’s first goal was symptomatic of a lack of desire. From our own corner, the Reds broke with pace and not one Blackpool player followed a runner, leaving two tykes free, just waiting to receive the ball and slot it past Gilks. Despite being on top until that moment, the players simply lost all belief and lost their grip on the game. It was desperate for someone to grab hold of the game and drag everyone through. But nobody seemed capable. Or willing.
However, the hope lies in the fact that for every couple of players who look unfazed by our recent slump, there is one who is working hard to put it right. The likes of Gomes, Martinez, Broadfoot and perhaps most importantly, Tom Ince. Far from looking like a want-away star, he was running all over the pitch trying to create something. Anything.
Something eventually did happen when he connected with a Stephen Crainey cross to level the game, but there seemed little chance of ‘Pool going on to win the game, especially after Gilks saw red for handling outside the box.
A reasonably fair 1-1 draw looked on the cards until the match was decided either by a bit of luck, or further lack of fight, depending on how you view it. Jason Scotland rode 3 challenges on the edge of the Blackpool box before seeing his shot blocked by Halstead, in for the dismissed Gilks, but the ball fell kindly for Scotland who slotted into an open net.
In the end, the points went to the team that craved them, and you can’t argue with that. Had Blackpool shown just half as much effort as Barnsley, they’d have run out comfortable winners. But they didn’t, so they didn’t, and we go another week without getting back on the proverbial track or turning the elusive corner.
Off the pitch, a similar lack of fight was again displayed this week as Billy Davies decided against taking over as manager. Now I appreciate that the board want to take their time in picking the right guy, and I am happy for them to do that quietly. It’s perfectly understandable. But to hear that both O’Driscoll and Billy Davies have turned down the job is disappointing. Not because I desperately wanted either of them to take over, but because I just wonder if we are doing enough to sell ourselves. When Holloway left for Palace, he said he was blown away by the enthusiasm of the chairman. I can’t imagine that happening here. Ever.
I feel that once we have identified the manager we want, we should do everything we can to get him. I don’t think it is a matter of money because from what I’ve heard, we don’t pay our managers too badly, but I bet every other chairman in the country tries to sell a potential manager the world. Aim for the sky and see how far you go. Although Karl Oyston might just be dealing in reality, I think as a manager, you want to hear how ambitious a club is.
Just as I think some of the players need to be brave and start fighting for the cause, the same goes for the chairman, who needs to start showing some passion, and giving people something to shout about. Hiring a manager some time before summer would be a good place to start.
This time will pass, I don’t doubt it, but if everyone connected to the club starts to show a little bit of passion, then it might just be over sooner rather than later. And it might be a lot less painful.