Well, where do you start with this one? The adverse weather conditions, not to mention the two red cards, made for an unusual game, and one that’s hard to read too much into in terms learning lessons for the rest of the season. Such bizarre circumstances are unlikely to be repeated for quite some time and so judging the Seasiders on this performance probably isn’t fair. However, I would like to take the opportunity to examine how ‘Pool made it hard for themselves, and how they nearly allowed a spirited West Brom side to claim an unlikely point.
After the first sending off, Blackpool seemed to respond well, and at this point there was no sign of the panic that would later ensue. Until the half hour mark ‘Pool did well to keep possession, neatly moving the ball around making West Brom chase the game. During this period, it looked as if the three points were safe and we were all in for a comfortable evening. At one point the Sky Sports statistics showed Blackpool having a 10 minute spell with a massive 81% of the possession. As you can see from the chalkboard below, ‘Pool misplaced only nine passes of the 157 attempted in the opening 30 minutes.
However, with the second red card of the match on the half hour mark following a reckless challenge from Gonzalo Jara, the Seasiders seemed to go to pieces. It was West Brom who finished the half stronger, carving out a couple of good chances on the break in spite of their reduced numbers. Rather than sticking to their usual game, the 11 in tangerine lacked the patience to unlock the Baggies’ defence, often rushing the final ball rather than working the space, tiring Albion out, until a better opportunity presented itself.
Although ‘Pool began the second half with a high tempo, the nerves continued with the failure to double the scoreline, prompting Holloway to make two curious substitutions. Neal Eardley and Craig Cathcart, the latter through a suspected injury, were taken off and replaced by Matt Phillips and David Carney. While obviously designed to go for the goals to kill of the game, this resulted in an unfamiliar back four. From what we’ve seen so far, Phillips is too attack-minded to be a natural full back, with Carney regularly having played midfield too. Stephen Crainey as a makeshift centre back was arguably the oddest change, especially with Dekel Keinan on the bench. Crainey has excelled going forward this season, so I was surprised that Holloway deemed it necessary to throw Carney on at that point rather than allow Crainey to drive forward on the left.
Nevertheless, these changes allowed West Brom to cause problems on the break, which was almost a gamble too far. As one of the only two out and out defenders on the pitch, you’d have expected Ian Evatt to sit and protect, but even in this all-out attack formation, Evatt continued to surge forward, as is his wont. Evatt’s Beckenbauer-esque runs have been a sign of the team’s bravery, but also portray a vulnerability. West Brom showed that even when down to nine men, counter-attacks can be launched in an instant, and with ‘Pool’s back four playing such advanced roles, it gave the Baggies to cause a number of heart-in-mouth moments for the nervous tangerine faithful.
As evidenced by the chalkboard below, Evatt could often be found on the left wing in the second half, which often left you wondering who exactly was doing the defending.
After getting the second goal, it should have been plain sailing through to the end, and the decision to bring on Dekel Keinan should have restored some normality to the Seasiders’ defence, but still the never-say-die attitude of West Brom continued to cause concern as they did pull one back with five minutes to go. A heart-stopping finale could have seen goals at both ends, but a combination of poor finishing from ‘Pool and some fortunate defending at the other end finally saw the points secured.
Far be it from me to criticise the attacking philosophy Holloway has set out, but this appeared to be one occasion which warranted a little more calm. Unsettled already by playing against nine men, some of the changes made caused more uncertainty in the shape of the side, when a more regular approach would surely have made the two man advantage more effective. For example, giving Phillips a purely attacking role would appeared to have been a better option, rather than compromising his ability with a need to track back.
Ultimately the home win was the important outcome regardless of how it came. ‘Pool have long been overdue an ugly win, and so the good fortune was perhaps deserved this time around. Let’s just hope that’s not the last bit of luck we have for a while, because we certainly used up a lot in one go.