Blackpool never make things easy – this we know – and so despite what for large parts of the game seemed a straight-forward victory, another late goal caused a panicky end to a match once more. It may not have been the most eye-pleasing of wins, but it was a vital three points over a side against whom ‘Pool are directly competing with this season. This result puts the Seasiders nine points ahead of both West Ham and Wolves, a sizeable cushion at this stage of the season. What about the performance though? Where did Ian Holloway’s side gets things right, and which areas need to be looked at for improvement?
With all the excitement we’ve had at Bloomfield Road so far this season, the first 45 minutes on Saturday was something of a letdown. It could easily be forgotten, given ‘Pool were 2-0 up and seemingly in command of the game, but of the two teams it was the visitors who saw more of the ball in the opening half. Luke Varney’s wonder strike should have given Blackpool the impetus to push on and stamp their authority on the game, but for most of the half it was one way traffic in favour of Wolves. The following chalkboard shows just how busy ‘Pool’s defence was.
Over the course of the 90 minutes, the Seasiders made an astonishing 42 successful clearances – the highest they’ve achieved all season. The game at Newcastle was a classic example of a rearguard action, but on Saturday the ‘Pool defence was tested more frequently than at St James’ Park. Ian Evatt and Craig Cathcart put in great performances once again, and were able to restrict Wolves to few clear-cut chances, despite their pressure. Of course while it’s easy to cite good defending, it’s also important to mention how Wolves clearly lacked the cutting edge to break down Blackpool. Richard Kingson had little to do, if anything, in the first half, but did make two good saves as Wolves looked slightly more dangerous after the break. Conceding the consolation goal was disappointing, and will frustrate the ‘Pool defence who had worked so hard to keep their opponents out – Kevin Doyle’s goal actually coming when Ian Evatt was sent from the pitch after receiving treatment, a rule that surely has to be looked at.
Why did ‘Pool struggle to get to grips with Wolves then? Mick McCarthy’s side are in an awful run of results, yet despite taking an early lead the Seasiders were outplayed for long spells. Looking at the team picked by Holloway, my instinct is to look at the inclusion of DJ Campbell in the hole ahead of Charlie Adam and David Vaughan and just behind the front three. Elliot Grandin and Gary Taylor-Fletcher have played this role this season with varying degrees of success, but how does DJ compare?
The above chalkboard compares Campbell’s performance on Saturday against Grandin’s versus West Ham. I’ve opted to show only the first 59 minutes, as Grandin was then replaced by Matt Phillips at Upton Park. Campbell had little influence at Bloomfield Road, completing only nine successful passes in the first hour of the game, with no impact at all being made in the final third of the pitch. By contrast Grandin looked to have a far bigger role last week, yet this didn’t appear to be enough to satisfy Holloway, who took him off and replaced him with Phillips. This reinforces the view that Campbell is a favourite of Holloway and perhaps ‘undroppable’ – ignoring the unusual selection at Villa Park. Campbell’s presence in the side allowed Wolves to take control of the midfield, and this will perhaps persuade Holloway to bring back Grandin, or tweak his formation slightly to include Ludo Sylvestre or Keith Southern.
Regardless of the performance though, the three points are worth their weight in gold. ‘Pool go into a tricky run of fixtures from now until the end of the calendar year, where points could be at a premium. Holloway will be hoping his defence can continue to perform at their current high level, but has plenty to think about with his more attacking options.