There was a time not too long ago that whenever Blackpool were on TV, they won. Under Simon Grayson it basically a given. But in three televised matches so far this season, the Tangerines have shown the nation arguably their worst football. Scoring only once and conceding five, it’s fair to say that there has been a bit of stage fright in the dressing room this term.
Unfortunately, because the team hit the ground running this summer and started the campaign so well, Sky Sports took the hint and started rearranging games all over the place to fit in some fun with the Seasiders.
Before the Leicester game, there was an unbeaten record and a leading league position to protect. Before the Burnley game though, it seemed like there was just some bruised egos and a little bit of local pride that were in need of protecting. Alas, neither of these were spared as Blackpool fans went home frustrated and angry (again) and the players went home with their tail between the legs, looking a little bit like a team of infants who don’t like losing.
Prior to the game the majority of the players had two weeks on the training ground to figure out what exactly has gone wrong over the last month. The messageboards were full of ideas, as they usually are during a proper-football embargo. The defence needed fixing, the goalkeeper needed changing, the formation, the tactics, the personnel, the subs and even the manager all needed changing according to some. Obviously, something was wrong. To go from “the best football we’ve seen” to “the worst performance under Holloway” takes some doing but everyone was hoping that two weeks would help work things out.
It turned out that’s all it was. Hope.
Holloway named a side that seemed like a very strong 11 until the incredibly brittle Cathcart limped out of the warm-up, meaning Evatt went into the starting line-up and only 6 subs sat on the bench. Cathcart has been in great form when he has played this season and was part of the side that was in compelling form a month or so ago, so his absence was another blow. Due to this, it was now the same back five that has started the last few games.
In the middle, Holloway mixed it up again choosing Osbourne and Angel as pretty much a two-piece in the middle and Taylor-Fletcher as an invisible midfielder. The problem with putting a forward in a midfield is that, well, he is a forward. Not a midfielder. So there was essentially four strikers on the pitch and only two midfielders who struggled to create a tempo, win the ball back, keep the ball or feed the forwards.
Up top there was a front three of Ince, Matt Phillips and Delfouneso. Unfortunately for them, they touched the ball only a handful of times between them and had no chance to show how potent they could be. Ince looked dangerous whenever he got the ball, but would be left with no options as both Phillips and Delfouneso were marked, and Taylor-Feltcher lounged around in a kind of no-mans-land between attack and midfield. Phillips looked reasonably sharp, escaping his marker once or twice but unleashing shots with little accuracy. Delfouneso was probably involved less than anybody and despite running around and attempting to win long balls, he only lasted 60 minutes.
What I will say for Holloway this week, was that although the balance of the side seemed upset from the off, due to the lack of midfield, he did address this with his first substitution. Something which has become a rarity recently. Holloway noticed that we were struggling in the middle, and therefore bypassing the midfield, so he brought on Sylvestre. For 10 or 20 minutes, it felt like we had our Blackpool team back. Ball retention, looking for an incisive pass and even creating some chances. Ince and Phillips then both came off, who had both been away on international duty, but their replacements in Bruna and Dicko couldn’t settle into a game which eventually fizzled out, finishing 1-0 to a Burnley side who barely broke into a sweat.
The goal came courtesy of some more (yes more!) haphazard defending from Blackpool. After defending a cross into the box, Crainey and Matt Phillips were both very slow to get out to a very dangerous crosser of the ball in Wallace. Then, as if you couldn’t guess, Wallace whipped the ball into an unmarked striker (yes, again) for Charlie Austin to carry on his recent goalscoring exploits. Although Blackpool finally seemed more comfortable when defending corners – though I’m not sure the fans were – it was another soft goal from a ball into the box. But then again, Austin hasn’t scored all the goals he has without having a knack of becoming unmarked, so maybe it was just ‘one of those things’.
What’s more worrying for Blackpool fans after such an abject performance, is that Ian Holloway came out after the game and said “It’s at times like this that you have to be convinced that the way you’re playing is right, and I guarantee that if you look at the stats we just need to create some more chances”.
He also said that Taylor-Fletcher was fantastic and that aside from the goal it was a fairly even game. Well, I couldn’t agree more when he talks about believing in the way we play. But recently, the ball hasn’t touched the floor for minutes at a time. The players or the manager seem to have abandoned their much loved footballing philosophy recently, yet Holloway seems to think that they are still playing football. The game was pretty one-sided and Taylor-Fletcher had as bad a game as I can remember in a Blackpool shirt. Is Holloway deluded, or is he just trying to protect his players? You can only hope it is the latter, otherwise we could be in for more of the same.
On the plus side… No who are we trying to kid? This was another awful display and hopefully, with it being a derby and therefore a little bit harder to take, the last in a long line. It has to end at some point. Doesn’t it…