Four games unbeaten isn’t a bad start. Well it certainly sounds better than four games without a win. In truth, it is probably a fair reflection of what the performances have been like.
Some glimpses of the old Blackpool, sometimes mind-numbingly dull, but for the most part, just really average football.
After two games without a win or loss, I expected consecutive home games to shape the Blackpool fans’ opinion of the new manager. A win or loss would have made it a definitive good or bad start for Appleton. But here we are, two games later talking about four games without a result and unfortunately some minds are already being made up.
It is always difficult to give a manager time. In Appleton we had an unknown quantity, which was good. No Blackpool fan had any prejudice against him. Which made him the ideal candidate to be given time to shape the squad. Unfortunately though, the way the team has played for the last two matches has left some supporters a little disillusioned.
After an uneventful end to the loan window where Blackpool brought only Wes Thomas in, Watford came to town on Saturday in pretty decent form. And you could see why. They were a team with a plan and they executed their counter-attacking style perfectly against a home side that got booed off the pitch at half time following one of the worst 45 minutes of football I could remember at Bloomfied road. Lacking in every area, poor performances all round and, perhaps most frustratingly, no sign of a plan.
When a new manager comes in, you can always expect a transitional period. Things will change and they will take some getting used to. Not just for the players but for the fans too. But where Watford came with a gameplan, Blackpool seemed to lack any kind of direction. Despite a second half which saw Watford penned into their own half, it was still hard to see what the defined ‘style’ was. It wasn’t blustery, attacking football, it wasn’t long ball, nor was it formulaic, disciplined football. It was just a great comeback that maybe masked the flaws.
But it was a comeback, and kept a bit of belief around the place coming up to the Birmingham game. Assuming we could carry our second half display into the game, against a side really struggling for form, then surely we would be seeing the first positive result for Appleton.
Disappointingly, it didn’t materialise and whilst the Watford game contained the worst 45 minutes I could remember, the Birmingham match was the worst 90 minutes in recent times. I will point out that I don’t just mean a Blackpool performance, but just the worst game of ‘football’ I can remember. Both teams deserved to lose. No points should have been awarded and the game erased from the footballing chronicles. It should have been aborted after the ball didn’t see the turf for almost a full 10 minutes after kick-off and all players given a one-match ban for unsporting conduct.
The state of the pitch has to be taken into account, because it was instantly used as an excuse by the players. The pitch is a shambles, there’s no doubt about it. If this was in February, after a tough winter period then ok, but in November, for the pitch to be cutting up as it was is a disgrace. But no more a disgrace than 22 professional footballers not being able to string two passes together. You can blame the pitch for isolated moments and individual errors, but you can’t blame a bad surface for 90 minutes of what we used to call football.
Blackpool eventually got off to a good start by getting the much sought-after first goal. So surely then, after weeks of harping on about the importance of the first goal, Blackpool would power forward and win the game with ease. In reality, it was hard to see what difference the first goal made. The pattern of the game didn’t change, Birmingham didn’t come out, Blackpool didn’t press on and then just after the break Birmingham scored from, you guessed it, a poorly defended corner. No change whatsoever.
The problem with the manager going on and on about the importance of the first goal is that when we do concede first the players lose belief. It was evident against Watford when they scored after just 5 minutes and the Blackpool players looked frightened. The have had it drilled into them that if they score first they will win, so then when they went behind they lost the faith. And I wonder what they think now after they got the elusive first goal and still went on to draw.
On Tuesday night, not even a handful of players came out with any positives. Basham performed manfully in the midfield, our one-man defence of Cathcart did ok and Delfouneso had one of his best games, giving the Birmingham right-back trouble all night. Aside from that the team were woeful. Ince put in another anonymous display after getting on the scoresheet early on. Thankfully, he does have this knack of getting a goal, even when playing poorly, but there can be no doubting that he is indeed playing poorly. The best description I heard likened him to a sycamore leaf. Going round and round and round until he inevitably hits the floor.
Too many Blackpool players are not playing well, right the way from front to back. The strikers have lost their confidence, midfielders don’t get to play back-to-back games so never get any sort of form going and the defence is, well, as bad as always. The goal conceded was like a terrible deja vu that just keeps happening. Curtis Davies must mark Blackpool games in his diary as he knows he will have a fruitful night. Heading long balls away all night long until he has the chance to trot up for a corner and convert his obligatory goal. If every man and his dog knew that he would score against us, why didn’t somebody on the pitch do something about it?
Which leads nicely onto the main question. What exactly is Appleton’s plan?
If that game had finished 1-0 you could have walked away, after rousing from your slumber, thinking that although it wasn’t entertaining, the defence has been tightened and we are hard to beat. But it didn’t finish 1-0 and all you can see are the same old problems, but without the old attacking flair that kept everybody on the edge of their seat. Kept everybody entertained. Kept everybody awake for starters.
It is always difficult to give a manager time, especially when you can’t see where he wants to go, but with 4 draws under his belt it would seem unfair to make a judgement just yet, however hard it may be to resist.
Saturday’s trip to rock-bottom Peterborough is now a huge game. Fail to get a win there and Appleton will leave himself with a lot of work to do to impress the fans. Just as it was last week, the first win or loss under the new manager is so crucial. Five games unbeaten is a credible start. Five without a win would be a big fat black mark against his name. No pressure then…