It only takes a cursory glance of the message boards to see that Ian Holloway has drawn criticism for his team selection, dropping Elliot Grandin for Marlon Harewood. In typical online fashion, the reaction was over the top, but the performance was way below par. In his defence, Holloway wasn’t afraid to admit that he had to take responsibility for the way Blackpool were set up. Birmingham never let the Seasiders settle and choked the space that ‘Pool have become accustomed to having this season.
Even the heavy defeats at Arsenal and Chelsea were not a total loss in performance terms. At the Emirates Blackpool started strongly, and until the sending off / penalty, had matched Arsenal and were unlucky not to be level. At Stamford Bridge ‘Pool did not let their heads drop despite the 4-0 half-time scoreline and delivered a sterling second half performance to walk away from the champions’ backyard with some pride intact. It’s hard to take any positives at all from yesterday’s game at St. Andrews however, in what was arguably the worst performance in over six months.
The decision to employ Harewood on the right of the three-pronged attack is surely one Holloway will be rueing. One gets the feeling that like Ben Burgess last season, if Harewood is to play it should only be at the centre of the attack. Neither players are mobile enough to fulfil the demanding wide role and it is to be hoped it is a lesson learnt for the manager. I feel Harewood will have a lot to offer this season, but if he is misused, he will quickly develop as a target for the ‘boo boys’, for want of a better term. As it is, Harewood’s selection left ‘Pool’s right side exposed, particularly in the first half. The main benefactor was Birmingham’s left-back Liam Ridgewell, as shown by the chalkboard below.
Time and time again Ridgewell found himself in acres of space, and Blackpool made him look like Ashley Cole who terrorised Neal Eardley a few weeks ago. Perhaps the comparison to Cole is going slightly overboard, but Ridgewell was given licence to act almost as a left winger, not helped by Harewood’s inability to track back. ‘Pool’s ultimate downfall came from sloppy defending at set-pieces, but with a better final ball, Ridgewell could have put the Seasiders to the sword in the first half.
Changes are bound to made for the visit of West Brom to Bloomfield Road a week tomorrow, and Harewood is most likely to find himself dropped to the bench, having incredibly completed only four successful passes during his time on the pitch. Another potential casualty is Luke Varney. While appearing to be full of more vigour and energy than Harewood, the on-loan Derby man only managed five successful passes all game, and with plenty of attacking options to choose from, Holloway can afford to be ruthless with his selection against the Baggies. I’d be amazed if Matt Phillips didn’t get his first start in a tangerine shirt. Whatever the starting XI is next week, the performance will hopefully be a vast improvement over the one witnessed yesterday.