The sole change to the Seasiders starting XI was to give Keith Southern his first Premier League start. It was a change I anticipated for the West Brom game, as I blogged about following the defeat at Birmingham. Despite notching up the first home win of the season against the Baggies, Ian Holloway opted to change a winning team to play Southern from the start. It was perhaps unexpected, but nonetheless deserved for a player who down the years has epitomised the team spirit which has proved so successful for ‘Pool. So was it an effective change, or did it restrict Blackpool’s attacking impetus?
The common consensus appears to suggest the latter, and it’s hard to disagree with that. Although ‘Pool took the lead through Neal Eardley’s free-kick, the first half very much belonged to Everton, who arguably would have been disappointed to go into the break on level terms. The Toffees caused ‘Pool countless problems, with former loan man Seamus Coleman one of the main protagonists. On the opposite flank, Leighton Baines showed why he has flirted with the national team, spending most of the half occupying the left wing and looking assured on the ball.
The second half was a vast improvement from the Seasiders’ point of view however, and when Southern was replaced by Phillips, ‘Pool showed their attacking prowess in an end-to-end 45 minutes. With the man in the hole behind the front three – initially Gary Taylor-Fletcher, then Grandin when he entered the proceedings – there were stronger signs of link-up play between midfield and attack, which had perhaps been lacking with last season’s traditional three-man midfield on the pitch.
Analysing Southern’s contribution on a micro-level, I won’t bother with chalkboards of his tackles and interceptions, purely because there were so few of them. Amazingly, for someone who is often thought of as a combative midfielder, Southern failed to make a single tackle during his time on the pitch, and his sole interception came in the first minute of the match. It’s easy to see why Holloway opted to pick Southern as Everton often pack the midfield with bodies, so Southern would have been in there to try and break things up. For some reason though, that never materialised. That’s not to say Southern’s contribution was a complete loss however. Looking at the chalkboard below you can see that Southern did not misplace a single pass in his 62 minutes on the pitch, managing 100% pass accuracy.
22 passes seems on first glance like a rather low amount, but it compares favourably with Charlie Adam’s 28 successful passes and David Vaughan’s 26, given Southern spent the final third of the game sat watching from the bench. It’s hard to know quite where Southern lies in Holloway’s mind though, and whether he will stick with a 4-3-3 for the forthcoming matches, or whether he will return to the 4-2-1-3 which has been so effective for the Seasiders this campaign. Southern should not be cast aside based on this one performance however. He clearly deserves a run of games at some point, and with talk of resting certain players in the manager’s post-match interview, Southern could feature several more times in the next few weeks.
Away from Southern’s impact, what other conclusions can we draw from the cold numbers? One area highlighted by Zonal Marking and Tangerine Dreaming last week was the significant left-sided imbalance to ‘Pool’s play. Looking at all Blackpool’s passes yesterday, the pattern is one of symmetry rather than the lop-sided chalkboards of recent weeks.
One has to think that this must have been a deliberate plan from Holloway, as ‘Pool’s left-sided emphasis has surely not gone unnoticed by rival managers. The addition of Keith Southern to the starting line-up is likely one contributing factor in this. Both Adam and Vaughan favour their left foot and perhaps it is no surprise that more use is made of the left flank, but with Southern adding more balance to the midfield, there was more incentive to move the ball both ways.
However, even if Southern does not retain his place, I suspect that we will see more focus down the right in future games. With Taylor-Fletcher’s form wavering, and Matt Phillips’ contributions from the bench continuing to impress, it is surely only a matter of time before the former Wycombe man gets his chance. The direct nature of his game, and the raw pace he possesses make him an ideal outlet down the right to give opposing sides problems down both wings. I’ll be taking a closer look at potential team changes, including a first start for Phillips, in the next day or two.