At Blackpool we have a weekly cycle that is very rarely broken. In the build up to the game everyone tries, without success, to predict the team. Many variations, very few even close. Then an hour before kick-off everyone finds out the team and groans.
Generally something in the region of two to seven changes. “He shouldn’t be there”, “What’s he done to be dropped”, “Those two CANNOT and SHOULD NOT play together”. The messageboads turn into a playground fight, with sensible footballing debate giving way to “well if you think that then you’re stupid”. And then three hours later, the majority of the time, everyone hails Ollie for being brave, making changes and quite simply knowing best. The team performs well, players link up nicely and there is a real cohesion to the team. A week later, the cycle begins again with team predictions. Every time. Lather, rinse, repeat.
This process isn’t unique to Blackpool at all, but the circumstances are certainly different. Most clubs have a general starting 11 that will be changed due to injuries, form or opponent. Some clubs have a rotation policy where one or two changes will me made for most games to keep fresh legs on the pitch. At Blackpool, under Holloway, you just never know.
We beat Leeds 2-1 at home with a fantastic performance, then we beat Ipswich 6-0 with the same team. So, strangely, we made two changes to that winning side for the trip to Leicester and lost. It is simply too unpredictable to even begin guessing. Which is possibly why it works so well. Opposition scouts needn’t bother watching us, because they have no idea who they’ll be facing. Of course, there is another reason it works. The main reason really, is that Holloway has now built what he was aiming for. A full squad of players, all of similar ability, where he can slot anyone into any position without them being a weak link.
We have a squad of around 46 professionals at Blackpool, which seems ludicrous, but the whole point is that they work together to win games. The wage bill must be huge now, in spite of our policy of paying players peanuts. But if we go up, it will certainly be worth it and we will be so much better prepared.
So, the point of all this team selection talk is that for the Middlesborough game we made six changes. The main thing that raised eyebrows was the inclusion of both Ferguson and Osbourne. “Those two shouldn’t play together” was the main thought. Choosing to play two defensive midfielders at home seemed a strange thing to do, but it worked wonders. ‘Ya Ya’ Osbourne sat in front of the defence and won everything, whilst Ferguson was pushed a little higher up into what he must consider nosebleed territory. But Ferguson was fantastic all night, keeping the ball with his usual steady passing, only further up the pitch. He helped maintain the pressure because every time they tried to escape, he would just get the ball in their half and pass it around.
The other notable change was including Delfouneso from the start. His two goals and one assist will tell you how he did. He was strong, ran the channels, won headers and, more importantly, scored goals. Exactly the kind of striker we need. Everybody has been excited about the prospect of DJ Campbell’s return, but if ‘The Fonz’ can play like this regularly, then we might not need DJ.
As for the match, it was again a pretty one-sided game. Without exaggerating, Blackpool should have been 5 or 6-0 up at half time. And I say nil because the goal they conceded right on half time, although a great header by Amougou, was straight from the ‘how not to defend corners’ textbook. Blackpool’s goals both came from Delfouneso. The first after a slick passing move sent him through on goal and his second after Ince’s brilliant work chasing down a defender, winning the ball and squaring for the new loan man to hammer into the bottom corner. Chance after chance was coming Blackpool’s way and Delfouneso had a chance to grab a first half hat-trick as he met a Taylor-fletcher knock down, but hoofed it into the stand. Ince could probably have had a brace of his own too but squandered chances. Somehow Middlesborough went into the changing rooms 2-1 down when it really should have been game over.
The second half started poorly, with both sides coming out slowly and looking like they would rather not be on the pitch in the sporadic torrential rain.
Boro finally began to click into gear, never creating anything but at last starting to chase the ball, press players and pass the ball when they got it. I am sure Boro fans will be disappointed with their teams display because, although they were outclassed, they were simply lacklustre, which is always hard to take when you have travelled all that way on a wet and windy Tuesday night.
Blackpool finally got moving in the second half, and when they did it again became one-sided. Less chances were created than in the first half, but still enough. Ince eventually got through, after a nice pass by Delfouneso, and kept his cool taking it past the sliding defender and diving keeper, to slot into an open goal. With the game wrapped up, Holloway made a triple sub, resting the legs of Ince, Gomes and Taylor-Fletcher and introducing, for the first time this season, a rejuvenated Elliot Grandin who looked eager to impress. He was getting on the ball, running at defenders and looked hungry. He then got his reward from the spot after earning himself a penalty. There was a little debate over whether he should give the ball to Delfouneso for his hat-trick, but the Fenchman declined instead opting to get his season up and running. A good decision for me, but not to some idiotic Blackpool fans who, as he was about to step up, chose to chant Delfouneso’s name. An act which surely won’t help Grandin’s confidence.
Aside from that final gripe, there was really nothing to complain about as we coasted to another home victory. It will be interesting to see what Brighton, Hull and Cardiff fans say about their start. All three sides are on the same point as us, but I wonder if any are as pleased as we are. It is obviously early days, but there is an atmosphere around Bloomfield Road that is quite special. A quiet confidence. It’s not just the points haul, or the goal difference. It’s the way in which we have gone about it. Matches have been, well, unmatched at times. The games we have won have been incredibly one-sided affairs. Against good opposition too. And even the draw at Barnsley turned into a case of attack against defence. On top of that, despite a relatively poor performance resulting in loss at Leicester, we created enough genuine chances to win and were only denied a point by some horrific refereeing.
Everyone from the fans, players, coaches and manager have one goal: to go up. Every other season, it has been a case of being happy to be here. Anything’s a bonus. Now though, there is a determination. Almost a realisation that this team is good enough. Knowing football though, we’ll probably get hammered by Huddersfield on Monday then…