Are Blackpool Heading In The Right Direction?

Paul Ince

After five games, Paul Ince has finally managed to pick up three points. The win definitely came right on time too, with fans starting to lose faith and turn against the new manager.

With ‘Pool now sitting in 13th place – higher than when Ince took over – and with any fears of relegation slowly sliding away, it seems a good time to have a look at where Blackpool are heading under ‘The Guv’nor’.

After losing his first game in charge, away to Leeds, Ince set out to steady the ship. He saw what every man and his dog sees when they watch Blackpool – they concede too easily. So after a slightly lucky goalless draw at home to Leicester, he brought in a defender in the shape of Gary MacKenzie.

Signed on loan from MK Dons, the towering centre half looks like a real find at this stage, and although culpable for Watford’s goal on Saturday, he made up for it with a goal at the other end. He can take the ball down with a defter touch than most of the players in front of him, he’s shown good distribution, has been a colossus in the air – winning everything in both boxes – and he is as composed as Wes Hoolahan taking ‘that’ penalty. He looks a fine players and someone who will add some much needed steel to Blackpool’s back line.

A word to the wise to anyone getting too carried away though… Kirk Broadfoot produced some of the worst defensive performances you could wish to see on his debut (and subsequent games), before becoming a trusted player in the backline. MacKenzie’s start could yet turn out to be a misrepresentation of his skills. Maybe he is indeed the ‘useless lump’ some predicted him to be, but if his performances continue, then Blackpool will have bagged another bargain and can no doubt look forwards to having him snatched away by another club in the summer…

Ince has also brought in Marko Futacs who, unlike MacKenzie, came with rave reviews from the seemingly expert Blackpool fans. As yet, however, Ince hasn’t seen fit to give him a real run out, choosing to hand starts to Taylor-Fletcher and then Derbyshire, rather than throwing the new man straight in. He certainly meets the criteria that some fans have been calling for. A big, big lad, with a turn of pace (apparently), it’s easy to see why this signing got some people excited, and he will hopefully start bagging some much needed goals.

That’s all Ince has done in the loan market thus far, but it is fair to say he is putting his stamp on the team in other ways. He got rid of the expansive and exciting 4-3-3 formation quicker than you could say “Shoot!” – choosing instead to adopt a 4-4-1-1 set-up with his son playing just behind a striker.

After 4 games without a goal, or even a few shots, it’s fair to say that this change brought nothing if not structure. The players know their jobs, and the defensive unit looks a whole lot safer but, as is the problem with most sides that play the proverbial ‘two banks of four’, the players are too concerned about doing their jobs to make time for an attack. There is no fluidity to the team, no scope for movement, and every attack relies on individual brilliance, or an opposition mistake, to create something. It is a tried and tested way to win a title, but will it work with a team that has been built to pass and move as a fluid unit? Time will tell.

After making the Seasiders a solid, but ultimately boring team, Ince did nothing to endear himself to fans with comments about, what he called, a “stupid gung-ho mentality”. It is worth reminding Mr Ince that although he might feel it is ‘stupid’, this is a style of play that got Blackpool where they were, and won them admirers across the country. It is a style of play that excited everyone, including the players, and it is a style of play that everyone was hoping the club would build upon. So it is fine for you create your own style, bring in whoever you like and use whatever tactics you like, but don’t insult the football that gave everyone at the club their best memories.

Except for a few comments about ‘when I was at Inter Milan’ or some cliched post-match snippets along the lines of ‘good performance, unlucky not to get more’, there isn’t really anything else of significance to report. The players seem to be responding well to him and are starting to fight for each other in games. They all looked delighted with the winner on Saturday and Ince seems to have instilled a bit of team spirit into a side that were lacking in that department. And Ince Jnr. found the net again, something that can only be good news after a mini drought.

All in all, he is doing ok. A lot of Blackpool fans would like to see a more exciting style of football, but for many others this season just needs to end with Blackpool safe and ready to totally rebuild in the summer. It is possible that Ince has decided on a formation that will see the team stay up, before adopting a style more suited to these players next year. Although, it is equally possible that he is from the school of boring English football and, come the summer, will bring in players to fit into a rigid and stifling formation. Who knows?

In the shorter term, a win on Saturday against Peterborough could get people looking upwards rather than downwards, and would put a bit more breathing space between the Tangerines and the drop-zone. With belief slowly creeping back into the side, it would be the ideal time to get back to back wins and get some momentum for the first time since the start of the season.

It would be nice for Blackpool fans to have a relaxing end to a season actually, having been involved in some form of promotion or relegation battle for almost 7 years running. With a huge squad of players, and a new manager who doesn’t know them, it would be great to finally see some of the fringe or even youth players get a run out for a few games at the end of the campaign.

But they need to take it one step at a time and beat Peterborough first.