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Blackpool edge into the play-off positions with a win at home

A few comments and some nostalgia

· football,prose,Blackpool FC,7 minute read

The following is a few comments on Blackpool’s excellent performance in last night’s 3-1 home win against Peterborough, the team in 2nd position in League 1. It also contains some comparison from the away win against Peterborough earlier in the season, comparing the teams and commenting on the different offerings within the squad. If you already know about Blackpool FC, skip the next (brief) section.

Normal followers of my blog may wonder what the hell's going on. The reality is that, though I rarely mention it here, football is and always has been an important part of my life, affecting my mood as Blackpool Football Club go up in down in favour and fortune. There has been an extremely difficult political situation at the club for most of the last ten years. I won't go into detail here, but it revolves around the people who I'm pleased to say are now the EX-owners of the football club, culminating in the mass boycotting of matches from 2015 to 2019 when, due to a mixture of fan pressure and court rulings, the unsavoury Oyston family were finally removed, and the words on the lips of every Blackpool fan were "we've got our club back".

Video from that day, 9th March 2019. The atmosphere was quite simply incredible, electric. It sent shivers down your spine. For years we hadn't attended a football match because of the selfish stupidity of a few individuals. Now we were back and it meant so much. Let's hope we can return to Bloomfield Road sometime soon.

Picture from the march through the town that preceded the match. The sun shining at the seaside once more.

Blurry picture (sorry!) of the proud sign at the back of the Sir Stanley Matthews West Stand: "Blackpool are back".

For a town like Blackpool in the northwest of England, the wavering success of the football club has the capacity to dramatically affect the quality of life. Blackpool has long been plagued by its decline as a seaside resort and now boasts some of the worst health and poverty statistics in the country, providing a case in point for what some doctors have termed "Shit Life Syndrome" or SLS. You don't need to hear me wingeing about the dire plight of Blackpool, you want to read about football! So instead, please read Sarah O'Connor's excellent Orwell Prize-winning piece in the FT from 2017, entitled "Left behind: can anyone save the towns the economy forgot?", its subtitle reading "soaring antidepressant usage, falling life expectancy: Blackpool embodies much of what is going wrong on the fringes of Britain".

This post features some general comments on team performances and, in essence, is a way to share my views with the family and friends I talk about Blackpool with, in a slightly more extended and, I hope, enthusiastic form.

Now, to the football.

Confidence and press was excellent from all players. The team had ambition and drive, always looking to make penetrative passes—on the ground or in the air—looking for gaps in their defence and running at them. Off the ball they were excellent, harrying and pushing the opposition back into their own half. Pool made a serious amount of interceptions and tackles, so often winning the ball cleanly, turning and attacking again straight away. We’re an extremely difficult side to play against. Jerry Yates's goal was fantastic, taking it early and not giving them a chance to set up and see the situation.

Their first chance didn't come until nearly 25 minutes in, which is real testament to how well we were playing. We just lacked a second goal. One of their first-half chances went wide from the 6 yard box and was a let-off for pool really. Another was excellently blocked by Ollie Turton. For their goal, however, we switched off and left a man completely unmarked in space on the far side of the box. Critchley has been so good at getting everyone back in such situations, dangerous play in the corner with the threat of crosses, but in this instance we showed them some flesh and they struck home.

They had a couple of penalty shouts in the second half, and the referee could have been excused if he gave them, given that he'd already awarded one to Pool. We also didn't convert all of our chances, and the result indicates that things are really falling for us at the minute. You make your own luck though and with persistence, determination and enthusiasm, results will come, as they are at the minute!

I just watched the highlights from when we beat Peterborough earlier in the season and it was also an excellent game. I was struck by several things: firstly, the ambition and running with the ball, as well as shooting often and from range. This is something Blackpool have had I would say in the last 2 maybe 3 games only, and before then, it was an issue and a reason why we often only scored 1 goal in a game. But we clearly had it earlier in the season. Gary Madine gives us an outlet in this regard, and it’s testament to Critchley’s organisation and the squad at how well we’ve done without him. Another thing was how penetrative and fast CJ Hamilton was in that game; his form and confidence has deteriorated since then I would say and obviously he’s out injured now. Kaikai was also on penetrative form but I think he needs to get some serious shot practice in. Making the runs and the passes, he’s excellent—a real threat, but his final ball is often lacklustre to say the least; he never really puts his foot through the ball. He has scored three goals this season though, but he’s also played 26 matches. When he’s in form, it’s the only improvement I would say he needs.

The other thing to note is how different the personnel was. Last night’s game against Posh was the 9th different centre back pairing we’ve had this season. The few goals we’ve conceded is testament again to Critchley’s organisation and his whole team and squad mentality. Jordan Gabriel went in early and was done on the wing at one point last night (and really it was the only thing he did wrong the entire match) and Grant Ward busted a gut and made the tackle and prevented a cross. Excellent covering. Ollie Turton is the only defender to play in both games, and Ekpiteta, Daníel Grétarsson and James Husband are all out injured. Dan Ballard is another solid player in the squad, scoring in two recent games as well as being secure at the back, but is currently out on international duty. Jordan Thorniley has been doing really well in there, and Luke Garbutt has been an excellent full back, proving a dangerous attacking threat as well with his sweet left foot, also scoring twice in recent games in addition to his lethal crosses and corners. Ellis Simms clearly played well in his early matches for the club but I feel like the press works far better with Embleton in there, bolstering the midfield and playing in balls to Jerry Yates, whose work ethic and dogged determination gives him the raw material with which to run and turn on the ball, his excellent control keeping the ball out from under his feet and allowing him to shoot from anywhere in the box, or even outside it as he did in the first few minutes of last night’s match.

It’s easy to see how we’re depleted on the squad front and yet the results keep getting better and better. To Critchley, it’s not an excuse, merely a challenge to overcome. And it’s a challenge he and the team are addressing extremely well every Tuesday and Saturday.

All in all, we are beginning to look like a fantastic side. Our defensive record is simply excellent and our wins and goals are starting to increase. A few other things to note on the defensive front is firstly, the trust all the players have for the captain and keeper Maxwell. He’s an extremely safe pair of hands, anywhere in the box, often coming confidently to get the ball and always succeeding. His distribution is also excellent and he contributes a lot to the team going forward. Secondly, the extremely high line. I always get nervous with such a tactic as offsides are so often hard to judge (especially in this division without the benefit of technology) but it works week in week out for Blackpool. They're excellent at maintaining it and it resulted in Peterborough having a second-half goal disallowed, quite rightly.

The way the team (and squad) links together and presses makes it extremely difficult for opposition teams. Darren Ferguson, manager of 2nd in the division Peterborough, said Pool were one of the best they’d played against this season and it's a tough division. We’re the on-form side in the league and can beat any team. I feel that. As players start to come back from injury, our options and consistency will only improve.

A lot can change quickly, however, and a more pessimistic manager would call our current situation an injury crisis. That said, we’re in the playoff places for the first time this season and we’ve still got games in hand.

E I E I O

UP THE FOOTBALL LEAGUE WE GO.

UTP.

Image of the league table on 23/3/21 taken from blackpoolfc.co.uk.

Copyright © Jack Threlfall Hartley 2021

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