Blackpool and Barnsley both celebrated their 125th birthday on Saturday and they couldn’t have asked for a better day. After the two week international break the sun was shining on what felt like the first game of the season again.
Football fans from Lancashire and Yorkshire, not ones to pass up the chance of a bargain ticket at just £12.50, made up a bumper crowd that certainly looked like more than the quoted 14,134. The atmosphere was brilliant and as the pre-match fun and games subsided the players came out to fireworks that in all honesty were about as impressive as ignited passing of wind. But it’s the thought that counts.
Blackpool went into this game on the back of a frustrating 1-0 defeat at Leicester, and Holloway’s selection showed that he wasn’t happy with what he saw that day. Seven changes were made but, such is the depth of the squad, it was still a very strong side on show.
The first half was a bizarre 45 minutes of football. Gilks made a fantastic save inside the first minute to prevent an early goal, after which it was all Blackpool with good passing and patient play carving out a few chances. But it was Barnsley who struck first after 14 minutes with the previous goal-saver Gilks feeling he should do better as Davies’ shot crept under his lethargic dive. Seemingly lifted by their goal, Barnsley piled on some pressure and had the best of the game until; against the run of play on the half hour mark; Martinez slipped a great ball through to Ince who slotted his finish under the Red’s keeper. The game finally settled into some sort of rhythm for the final 15 minutes of the half with both sides having some good opportunities but failing to convert.
After a really good first half, there was an expectation that the next 45 minutes would build on that. Neither side came out with much gusto though and the game needed something to help it burst into life.
That moment probably came when Barnsley’s dangerman Davies curled an effort which forced Gilks into another great save. That seemed to spark Blackpool into life and the rest of the game belonged to the Tangerines as they penned Barnsley in their own half for the last half hour.
Osbourne came on for the relatively quiet Martinez, which allowed Sylvestre to move forward and really begin pulling the strings. Despite having all of the possession and pressure, poor final decisions cost Blackpool as they searched for a winner. Ince was brilliant and frustrating all at the same time as he would waltz his way into the box and continually choose the wrong option. Gomes had a good shot saved, Baptise and Matty Phillips both had long range shots blocked and a series of corners passed without threat as Barnsley saw off a late surge.
Overall, a point each was probably fair, although Keith Hill said both teams deserved three points, which would always be nice. Blackpool fans left frustrated, which is a sign of the expectations at Bloomfield road this year.
The passing was not as slick as we would expect and despite a 2 week break, the players seemed oddly sluggish. Although the defence performed well, it was a simple goal to give away as players were sucked in. The midfield lacked something until Osbourne came on and when Gomes joined in later. Having Osbourne as an anchor allows the team to be more creative which Sylvestre did well, but he never looks fully fit, probably because he never gets the chance to play regularly. Taylor-Fletcher would be more valuable in the forward line which would allow another place in midfield for Gomes, who I thought was unlucky to be dropped. And as much as it pains me to say it, perhaps it is now time that Kevin Phillips was used as an impact player. His link up play is great and you normally can’t knock his finishing, but he strangely seems to be lacking confidence and a player more willing to rotate positions may be a better idea from the start. Hopefully Tuesday’s game with Middlesbrough will see a few tweaks rather than wholesale changes.
But you have to give credit to Barnsley. You wouldn’t have guessed they were struggling with injures as they put on a really cohesive display. The philosophy that Keith Hill tries to instil was evident too, as his players passed it around nicely and pressed quickly. Another indication of the style was that although their biggest threat was the mountainous Craig Davies, they didn’t simply play to his head, instead using clever movement to feed off him.
I respect Keith Hill and what he is trying to do at a club similar to ours. Restricted budget and fanbase, and unfashionable in many ways, but he wants to play the right way. In fact, if and when Holloway moves on, he is the kind of man I would like to take the reigns. This game, although neither team will be thrilled with a point, was a testament to two men with a shared passion. Football, played how it should be played.