Two games played and two games drawn is probably the best start for a new manager.
Nobody gets unreasonably high expectations and nobody gets on your back either. So after a last minute equaliser at Bristol City, Michael Appleton can get back on the training pitch again knowing that things are going just fine.
After a frantic start as Blackpool manager, coming in so soon after Holloway’s departure and just days before his first game, Appleton seems to have settled well and we saw his first tweaks to the side on Saturday.
Two changes were forced due to injuries to Taylor-Fletcher and Matty Phillips, but another change was not forced and was perhaps the most telling. Neal Eardley made way for Ian Evatt, with Baptiste moving to right back. For many, Eardley is a scapegoat at Blackpool so his absence wasn’t too surprising. But bringing Evatt back and moving Baptiste out wide was a shock. Baptiste has been considered Blackpool’s best centre half for the last few years, even picking up the North West Championship Player of The Year last week, but Appleton either likes what he has seen of Evatt, or has marked the right back slot as a problem area and trusts Baptiste to fill in there.
Either way, it seemed to work as Blackpool limited the home side’s chances to almost none and would have kept a clean sheet but for a much disputed penalty award. For what it’s worth, I thought that although it was a soft penalty to give, it is one you see given as the player goes down easily under an unneccesary challenge from the keeper.
Thankfully, things were evened up in the 90th minute as the referee then awarded Blackpool a soft penalty of their own as a Bristol City defender was adjudged to have handled a cross, and Tom Ince converted to bring a point back to the seaside.
With both penalties cancelling each other out, we could call this a 0-0 rather than a score draw. And I think that is exactly what Appleton was looking for. A clean sheet. A base to build on and give the defence some confidence. That was the first and most important thing that the new manager had to do.
In truth, although he has taken charge of a great bunch of talented players, aside from that Appleton has been left with a bit of a mess really. Ian Holloway obviously wasn’t committed to the job this year and has left behind a strange work ethic and a lot of players who are unhappy to be left in the shadows.
Ian Evatt has had a few things to say this week which shed some light on just what was going on at Blackpool recently. He has stated how the club had ‘become stale’ under Holloway and highlighted how little defensive work was done in training. In fact, how little actual training was done. He said “We hadn’t really done much training in the last couple of months. We had numerous days off, anything from two to five or six at a time. We are an honest bunch of lads who just want to work hard. At times we weren’t doing that. That’s probably why we had the bad spell.”
That’s a pretty revealing interview and goes some way to explaining why things went from fantastic to average so quickly under Holloway. As fans, we knew about the repeated days off, and during a bad spell it became a source of frustration, but nobody knew that the situation was as bad as it was. Six days off at a time is utterly ridiculous for a set of professional players. Initially, I thought Holloway was being a nice, understanding manager by allowing players to recharge, but as it went on and the holiday days multiplied, it became obvious that the manager was actually giving himself time off to visit his family or, as it appeared, other clubs.
But with a new manager comes a fresh start and the players seem to be enjoying having a new man around. A new training regime that consists of, well, training to start with, but also defending. This new way of work includes higher-intensity training to work on fitness and also keeping an eye on what the players eat afterwards. Although these things sound pretty standard, they were obviously lacking and hopefully the new manager can help bring a bit of discipline back to the camp and start an upturn in fortunes.
After just one full week in training his side managed to go a full game without conceding from open play, so it obviously had an effect. And he has a rare second full week in a row to work with the players some more and find the right balance between a solid defence and the attacking flair that this side is known for.
It’s not yet known what Appleton’s remit is yet. Would we be happy with a steady top half finish, or does he pick up where we started the campaign harbouring dreams of automatic promotion?
We will find out soon enough but the first win or loss will be crucial as it will shape the views of the fans. For example, a win on Saturday will mean we are unbeaten under Appleton, yet a loss would mean we are without a win. Two very different sounding options resting on the first non-draw of Appleton’s reign.
But that is all for the future. For now, Michael Appleton has started to turn things around at Blackpool and has made a good start on his first objective of fixing a leaky defence and bringing back some hard work to the training pitch.