Two games, 38 shots, an average of 60% possession, total domination and chance after chance created.
It was an exciting Christmas of football, but all this led to just 2 goals and 1 point, leaving the Blackpool fans, manager and players feeling like they had all the presents robbed on Christmas eve.
If there was a phrase to sum up the last two matches it would be “numerous chances”. It has been said numerous times by numerous people to describe the numerous chances that have been squandered by a profligate Blackpool frontline. The midfield has taken complete control of games and created enough chances to win every game from now until the end of the season, yet the frontmen can’t seem to put anything away. The fact that we were a last minute equaliser away from taking nothing from Huddersfield is cause for concern, but you can’t fault the effort of the players.
In the last few weeks we have seen a progression under Appleton. The defence has started to look pretty tight, we look like we can defend crosses, and we have taken control of games without leaving ourselves exposed. But you have to wonder whether working on the shape of the team and the defensive side of the game has left the strikers feeling a little rusty.
Against Wolves it was ‘one of those days’ where it just wouldn’t go in. Everything was thrown at the Wolves goal with Gomes twice hitting the post, Thomas missing an open net, Ince choosing to pass when he should shoot and vice versa, and Ikeme having to make save after save to keep them in it. Unfortunately, the Wolves keeper was inspired and did make save after save, including a fantastic set of three saves in 90 seconds. Wolves barely left their own half in the match, yet got an easy opening goal after 2 minutes and then were awarded, what turned out to be, a match-winning joke of a decision. A tug on the shirt that has never been a penalty. The majority of the time such a thing wouldn’t even be punished if it were on the halfway line, but the referee on the night (who judging by his performance must have been a blood relative of one of the Wolves players) saw fit to gift the visitors the game without even realising that the incident happened outside the box. One of those days indeed.
The players dusted themselves down and headed to Huddersfield along with a hefty away following. Boxing day footy. You just can’t beat it. Aside from any exciting or nerve-shredding final games of the season, the Boxing day fixture has always been my favourite, and it looked as though we would have a lot to celebrate when the game started.
Within about 6 seconds Blackpool should have taken the lead after a fine pass by Gomes sent Taylor-Fletcher through, only for him to boot it high over the bar. A minute later and he had another chance after a great cross by Thomas gave him a free header at goal, but he hit the post. Now, it would be churlish to suggest that Taylor-Fletcher spent the Christmas period munching too much turkey, but had he put just one of his ‘numerous chances’ away during that match, we would be sitting pretty.
He wasn’t the only one to blame though, not by a long way. After all, we are only in the second minute here. Ince missed a sitter, Thomas missed a sitter, Taylor-Fletcher missed more sitters, and even Isaiah Osbourne managed to wriggle his way into the box and miss a sitter. And this is just the first 20 minutes.
Ince later took on the entire Terriers defence only to consider it too simple before turning back and doing it all again. By the time he had a shot, it was blocked on the line. How that game was 0-0 at halftime I will never understand. It wasn’t a case of it could have been 5 or 6, it SHOULD have been 5 or 6. Proper, genuine goalscoring chances. Throw into the mix a dozen half-chances too and the game should have been out of sight and players should have been cruising, saving their energy for the trip to Middlesborough.
This wasn’t quite as unlucky as against Wolves though. For all the dominance and opportunities, I can’t recall a save in the first half. Their keeper didn’t put in the performance of his life because, if anything, he was underworked.
After the break it was more of the same with Blackpool creating chances freely yet failing to take them, and when the home side got a corner on 66 minutes, the inevitable happened. Against the run of play seems like a gross understatement, but it was and out of nowhere Gerrard popped up to give Huddersfield the lead and leave Blackpool fans furious at the wastefulness of their team.
Following the goal the same pattern continued, but the chances were starting to dry up. Blackpool’s players were losing patience and running out of ideas. Gomes missed a chance, a horrendous touch by Delfouneso led to another missed opportunity, another poor header from Taylor-Fletcher added to the list and it looked as if, somehow, Blackpool would leave empty handed.
That was the case right up to the 93rd minute when, in a moment of sheer wonder, Tom Ince discovered the had a right foot hanging from the bottom of his right leg. Buoyed by his latest discovery, he swung the previously unknown object towards the ball which fired into the box and was tapped home by Delfouneso via a deflection of a lunging Huddersfield defender.
Not so much a cheer as a roar of frustration released from the Blackpool fans. What would normally be one of the great sporting moments, grabbing a last minute goal, was enjoyed only momentarily as the reality sunk in at the final whistle. This game should have been dead and buried, yet here we are celebrating a last minute equaliser. The joys of football hey!
Appleton’s interview after game was interesting listening. He sounded exactly how we felt. Stunned and annoyed. Laughing every few sentences as he struggled to come to terms with the game. And again, as is becoming the norm, he said all the right things. To paraphrase, he told us that after what he’d just said to the players in the dressing room, he will need to remind in training them how good the performance actually was. And that is exactly the right way round. The players needed a good rollocking for not winning that game, but we mustn’t forget some of the football which was scintillating at times.
So we head into the last game of the year in 11th place on 33 points. Only 4 points of the playoffs which, if we had finished properly, we would be sitting in right now. It’s easy to forget that we are only half way through the season and we don’t even require a string of results to get back into the mix. Just a little bit of consistency and some composure in front of goal, and we will be right up there.
It is hard to diagnose a problem really, because everything happened. Poor decision making, rushed finishing, taking too much time, snatching at shots, pretty much everything. In there somewhere, normally, would be about 10 goals. But there wasn’t and all we can do is look at the positives. We are back to dominating games and creating chances, whilst at the other end we look a lot more solid. Somebody is in for a right old tonking soon, so watch out Boro.