All things come to an end. Fortunately this includes bad spells.
Although Ian Holloway jumped ship before he saw his players really turn a corner, it was always likely to happen. In fact, the loss of manager seems to have been just the catalyst they needed. A convincing win at Sheffield Wednesday came just three days after the shell-shocked display at Derby.
Now though, assuming Blackpool keep improving, we can all attribute the turnaround to the new man in charge and give the club a little boost that it really needed.
After all the usual guff from the new manager about being ‘excited to take over’, ‘looking forward to the opportunity’ and being ‘desperate to crack on with the job’, it was then a relief to hear Appleton talking about how he has a similar philosophy to Holloway although admitting they are totally different characters.
The initial interviews following his appointment could have been for any manager at any club, full of the same cliched, stock answers that are not very interesting, but are required to get people on side. The following day however, Appleton spoke about how he was brought up with a passing style and that he thought he shared similar football ideals with Holloway. He mentioned that he would obviously have his own ideas and there would be tweaks to be made, but that we should expect the style to continue. This was music to Blackpool fans’ ears.
Some fans wrote him off before he was even mentioned for the job, whilst some were saying it would be a fantastic appointment. In all honesty not many people actually know what to expect. Myself included. I know what he has done with Portsmouth is impressive and he has a reasonable background, playing for United and then coaching at clubs such as West Brom. But that’s about it really. What will he do without the crippling restrictions he had at Portsmouth? How will he manage a huge squad of quality players? He can obviously manage when things aren’t going well, but can he cope when the pressure is on at the other end? Only time will tell but thus far he has done and said all the right things.
And if we are honest, he could be exactly what we need. Someone to come in and have a fresh look. Keeping the same style that the team has been built around, but making a few tweaks. Because that is what is required. Not wholesale changes. Just a few tweaks. Tighten up the defence, work on the fitness levels and concentration and trim the squad a little. Nothing major.
His time as manager began fairly well though it’s hard to say what, if anything, he has done so far other than give everyone a feeling of a fresh start. For the visit of Bolton it was the same starting line up as Tuesday and Steve Thompson had taken training all week. Appleton was pretty much a spectator, but he must have been pleased with what he saw.
After a bright start by the visitors Blackpool took command of the game, with the effortless Sylvestre pulling the strings. The frenchman put in a display that will have impressed the new boss, but he will be a player who needs to work on his fitness if he is to retain his place. When he has hold of the game Blackpool are dominant and look menacing, but when he goes missing we look toothless.
Appleton didn’t have to wait very long to witness the defensive frailties which will be causing him a headache as Baptiste slipped and allowed Mark Davies to run away and open the scoring after 16 minutes. It was a poor individual mistake, but there are only so many times you can call it unlucky. Baptiste looked indecisive and unpredictable alongside the unwavering composure of Cathcart, who put in another fine display proving why so many Blackpool fans would have him in their first choice 11.
Within 60 seconds of the restart, Tom Ince wriggled through the Bolton defence and curled a delicious shot around the keeper and into the side-netting. Working with Ince must be something Appleton is looking forwards to and we can only hope that he gets to work with him beyond January. Matt Phillips on the other wing is another who must be getting “Appy’s” juices flowing as he showed what a player he can be. Whilst Ince was absent for large parts of the game, Phillips was constantly involved, tracking back and then breaking away to cause problems for an experience Bolton backline.
After a whirlwind first half that had both sets of fans on their feet, the second half started very slowly with Bolton doing their best to capitalise on a groggy-looking Blackpool side. It would be harsh to assume that it was down to Appleton’s first half-time team talk, but you never know…
Neither side could get a hold of the game, despite changes being made on both sides. However, with Blackpool struggling to keep possession as easily as they had before the break, Crainey gifted the ball to the visitors and was then out of position as Eagles ran into open space and cut the ball back for the substitute Lee to tap home.
Appleton looked wary of making a change as he didn’t know what talent he had at his disposal, but the qualities of veteran striker Kevin Phillips are no secret. On he trotted with 10 minutes left and with his first touch, his blocked shot fell at the feet of Delfouneso who slotted home an equaliser.
The introduction of Phillips also saw the first sign of a change by the new manager. The striker went up front alongside Delfouneso and Blackpool switched to 4-4-2, something which has become a rarity over the last 3 years. It has to be said though that under this system Blackpool created nothing and but for a long range chip from Phillips after a scuffed clearance by Bogdan, the home side posed little threat as there seemed to be no cohesion when going forward.
Despite both teams trying to press forward in search of a winning goal, the last 10 minutes passed with few chances and the final whistle ended the game at 2-2. A fair result all round really, and both sides can be reasonably happy with their performance.
Appleton was happy to come away with a point but thought we had opportunities to win the game. A really telling comment he had after the game was that he thought the players didn’t look fit enough. Something which he is right about, but is symptomatic of the players working a 3-day week for the last three months under Holloway who gave them countless days off. It’s a good sign that he pointed it out as he clearly recognises a problem when he sees one.
He now has a full week on the training ground with the players to cast his fresh, untainted eyes over nearly 50 players. Then he can decided who he thinks will fit his team best and it will be interesting to see who is in his side in seven days time. Will some of the more senior players like Evatt, Taylor-Fletcher and Crainey be left out in favour of some of the newer boys, or will they prove that Holloway was right to keep playing them? Again, only time will tell, but it is certainly an exciting time again at Bloomfield Road.