Life’s A Pitch At Blackpool

The wettest summer for many a year, nationwide flooding, frosty nights and a very wet and windy December.

All these things don’t help if you are a groundsman, but at Blackpool they are catastrophic. On a pitch that even in perfect weather conditions struggles to hold up for an entire season, the recent weather on the Fylde Coast has left the pitch looking more like a quagmire more suited to mud wrestling than a pitch fit to grace Championship football.

It’s only about 10 or so years ago that Bloomfield Road had one of the best pitches in the country. This was when the stadium still consisted of four tin sheds at each side of the ground and the sunlight would pour onto the pitch. It was a tough and hardy pitch too, holding up in winter and with it being a sand-based surface, it would drain reasonably well.

Then, along came the new stands, making Bloomfield Road a much nicer place, but the pitch was relaid and when the South Stand was eventually built, it meant that a lot of the pitch didn’t see direct sunlight.

So, we had a problem. Unfortunately, nobody saw fit to make any changes to combat the problems and now, a few years down the line, the pitch has surrendered and decided to take its own life, one root at a time. We are only just in January and we are already looking at a cabbage patch. It started with a few big divots coming up during tackles, then it started cutting up in general play and now the players can’t trust any area of the pitch.

Sat in the stands you can see the ball bobbling its way towards a player. You can see turf slipping away under a player’s feet. But the one thing you can’t see any more is football.

Against Hull, it was an incredibly boring game of football. It wasn’t horrible or ugly or disgusting, it was just boring. Neither team got hold of the game. Neither team had a spell of possession or pressure and other than a few shots in the final 10 minutes, the goalkeepers had nothing better to do than count blades of grass – which could only have taken them till half time!

After a disappointing result and performance at Middlesborough, Appleton promised changes. In came Eardley, Sylvestre and Osbourne and out went Cathcart, Gomes and Delfouneso. Having seen his man score from a corner at Huddersfield and at Middlesborough, Cathcart couldn’t have too many complaints about his omission. He is the best defender at the club, reading the game brilliantly, having composure on the ball and acting as a one-man defence in many games, but he has one mistake a game, and it usually leads to a goal. If he can cut that out, he would be a really fantastic player. Eardley finally got his chance under Appleton, but judging by his body language after he played a slightly over-hit pass down the wing, you get the impression he knows he needs the perfect match if he is to keep his place. And he needs something more than a perfect display if he is to win some of the fans over.

The game kicked off and 45 minutes later it was half time. I did tell you it was a boring match!

The second half started in much the same manner. It looked as though both sets of players were feeling a little ropey after New Year and the fans weren’t much better either. Nothing excited the fans enough to make any noise, meaning the players weren’t feeding off an atmosphere. Everyone wanted the final whistle really.

The few bits of quality in the match came through Ludovic Sylvestre who, despite the pitch, showed some nice footwork to create some space and set up a chance for Ince to have a shot, only for it to be smartly saved by Jakupovic.

At the other end, Hull really should have had a penalty as Crainey made a stupid challenge, barging into the back of the Hull forward who had gone past him into the box. The referee seemed reluctant to blow his whistle throughout the game though and wasn’t about to budge here either. Perhaps he wanted to avoid loud noises after a few too many shandies the night before.

The one true highlight of the game was the removal of Gary Taylor-Flecther, who’s only contribution to the game had been to lose the ball and make a crazy challenge to receive a booking. Yet again he was asked to play in about 4 different positions before being subbed, but he is just providing absolutely nothing at the moment. Dicko, Kevin Phillips and Delfouneso must be wondering how this guy starts before them up front. Whilst Martinez, Sylvestre and Gomes must be perplexed as to how he starts before them in midfield. On his day, Taylor-Fletcher can be a great player and he was a huge miss at Wembley last year. But at the moment, rather than shoehorning him into the side in a variety of positions, just accept that there are better midfielders, better wingers and better strikers than him in this squad.

Delfouneso ended the match with a nice curing effort on goal, but again Jakupovic tipped it round the post and the game ended at 0-0. A true stalemate if ever there was one. In fairness, both teams were happy with a point and just glad to get off that swamp of a pitch.

Both managers and a few played ‘slammed’ the pitch in their post-match interviews and on Twitter. As annoying as it is, I think it will be with us until at least the end of the season, and even then I’m not sure anything will be done about it. Although we do have the money, I can’t see the pitch being relaid this season. If it isn’t relaid in the summer there will be outrage, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This game also saw us enter the transfer window and with both Ince and Baptiste starting, it would indicate that a move away is still not sorted for these lads. I am fully prepared for the rumour mill this month. I’m simply going to read the local paper and club website for official news, otherwise I will assume everything I hear is a load of old wotsits.

Nobody really knows Appleton’s plan in this window. We don’t know what kind of player he likes and we don’t know what connections he has. Hopefully a central defender will come in and if he is a leader figure then even better. With the potential departure of Baptiste, people wondered who would be captain and to be honest, I would rather an outsider was brought in for that role because nobody in our side seems suitable.

A striker and a goalkeeper would also be nice additions. The goalkeeper would have to be better than Gilks though as I don’t see the merit in bringing in someone else to warm the bench. As for the striker, I would still be happy to take a punt on a young, hungry forward instead of looking for a big name. Wes Thomas isn’t the answer, but his 3 goals in 7 games isn’t a bad return.

Don’t be surprised to see a whole host of players leave, either permanently or on loan either. The manager has been charged with chopping the squad down to size and with nearly 50 names on the books, it will take some chopping.

Appleton stated that his main wish for this transfer window was a new pitch. I hope he had a few more back-up targets on his list…