A fantastic start, brilliant performances, good results, great goal difference, rave reviews and talk of automatic promotion. That was the opening to Blackpool’s season, so it seemed about the right time to have a bit of a meltdown.
Two gruesome performances against Huddersfield and Cardiff have really put a dampener on things at Bloomfield Road and with an away trip to Hull on Tuesday night, things could go sour very quickly unless certain issues are addressed.
Holloway said after Monday’s awful display to Huddersfield that he wouldn’t be making any knee-jerk reactions in his next team selection. So he made seven changes, including two debuts. I would hate to see what he considers knee-jerk. As I have said before, I am all for squad rotation because of the strength we have in the squad, but you can’t make such wholesale changes every game. Holloway has now made an incredible 19 changes in the last three league games.
This time two changes were forced by injuries to Taylor-Fletcher and Ince, but the debutants were not in those positions. Broadfoot came in for Neal Eardley and Robertson came in for Osbourne. Despite being a scapegoat for many fans, Eardley hasn’t actually been at fault for anything this season. Although he still needs to improve there is no direct blame to attribute to him. Unlike Evatt, who put in a horrific performance against Huddersfield, yet kept his place. Robertson has maybe been unlucky to be ignored so far, but how he manages to jump in front of Osbourne, Gomes and Ferguson is baffling. Both debutants were average but a little rusty – no surprise considering neither has played any football this season.
All the talk from Holloway over the summer was about how much he admired the Spanish way, and how he wanted to make Blackpool adopt that style even more. True to his word, he then signed a load of young, technically gifted players from the continent. In fact, with the majority of the signings being midfielders, many wondered whether Holloway was planning to play the strikerless system that Spain played during the Euros.
So, it is with much bemusement that, not for the first time, here I am writing about the bizarre decision to end the game with more strikers than midfielders on the pitch, when our game centres around creative passing in the middle. Perhaps in the last 5 or 10 minutes you can understand a bit of gung-ho attacking, but Holloway went for just two midfielders from the 58th minute against Cardiff. Away at Leicester and at home to Huddersfield, we ended the game with six strikers and just one midfielder.
Blackpool pride themselves on quick passing and clever interplay creating space, allowing a quick frontline to take advantage of that. A freedom in the middle of the park allows any two of the midfield three to join in with attacks and a freely rotating frontline means that we normally have four or five players in an attack, all of whom are very difficult to mark.
However, when we take a midfielder off and add a striker, the balance is upset. Only one midfielder can join in from deeper and a forward is left in a sort of no-man’s land. Then if we add another striker into the mix, we simply have nobody to keep the ball and give it to the forwards. This was evident in the last two games as Blackpool were out-possessed and, against Cardiff, outplayed. This is surely something that will irk Holloway and the team.
It is difficult to pick positives out of the last couple of matches, but it would be much easier if we could defend crosses. Corners and freekicks have been our achilles heel for a few years so you do wonder what the players do in training. But when you consider that without conceding from set-pieces we would have drawn the last two. Which tells you that this spell isn’t as bad as it seems, but it also highlights how detrimental this defensive problem is.
We can say this is just a blip but it does make you wonder when Holloway comes out after the Cardiff game and says “In the last two games we have passed and moved…but goals change games and that’s what Cardiff did.” Well, actually Ian, the problem has been the lack of passing. For all our of defensive frailties, it is the lack of quality on the ball in the last two games that has been the frustration. I can only hope this was a manager trying to protect his players and in reality he knows how poor the last two displays were. Hopefully, the manager does recognise that we are not playing to our strengths, and at the moment Holloway seems to have forgotten, or lost belief in the system he was so successfully implementing.
This all sounds like a big moan, which it is really, but there aren’t actually many problems. We have only conceded twice from proper open play this season. Not as a result of a corner, freekick or penalty. So we have improved defensively in most areas. Except the main problem area. Some hardcore set-piece training should sort that out, then we can start concentrating on bringing back our slick passing.
On Monday night we had the chance to go top of the league following some decent results for us. Following two poor results, we are still only three points from the top of the league, so assuming things get back on track soon, we could come out of this spell relatively unharmed.