A great point, all told, but disappointing not to claim all three points having led 2-0 with just 15 minutes to go. Bolton have proven on many occasions this season that they are not a team to be taken lightly and following their last home outing resulting in a 5-1 demolition of Newcastle, you’d have been hard pressed to find a ‘Pool fan unhappy with a draw at the Reebok. However, DJ Campbell’s missed chances with the score at 2-0 ended up costing the Seasiders the victory when it looked all but assured.
Moving away from the disappointment of not holding onto the win, it was a performance as good as any so far this campaign. For long spells Blackpool were rampant and only their profligacy in front of goal stopped them putting five or six past the Wanderers. Ian Holloway was rightly delighted with how his side played, but which players in particular should be picked out for individual praise? The excellent Zonal Marking highlighted Elliot Grandin’s corner delivery in his weekly article for the Guardian and this was surprising given Bolton’s perceived aerial strength, but credit must go to the management team for their work on the training ground. Scoring goals from set-pieces has not been a hallmark of Blackpool sides down the years, but if this pattern can be continued it bodes well for maintaining the good goalscoring record the Seasiders possess.
Elsewhere, I’d like to draw attention to the two full-backs, Neal Eardley and Stephen Crainey. After a rocky start to the season, Crainey has emerged as one of ‘Pool’s more consistent performers and against Bolton he put in another solid shift.
The chalkboards above demonstrate how Crainey made key contributions throughout the game. The Scotland international won all of his tackles in ‘Pool’s defensive third with particularly crucial challenges in and around Blackpool’s six yard box. Crainey also made three blocks in the same areas including one goalline clearance as Bolton went in search of the equaliser. I have already highlighted Crainey’s strength in going forward, and when you consider his influence at the back you would anticipate that he has fended off competition from David Carney, for the foreseeable future at least.
Turning attention towards the Seasiders’ current right-back, Neal Eardley has largely gone unnoticed. Stepping in for Alex Baptiste since the former Mansfield defender picked up an injury, Eardley has been ever-present (Villa away excepted) and appears to look more comfortable and confident with each appearance. In spite of this, he rarely seems to merit a mention in most post-match discussions. I have been guilty of this just as much as next man, so I’d like to take the overdue opportunity to look at his last couple of performances against Wolves and Bolton.
Eardley can find himself a little exposed at times due to ‘Pool’s attacking formation, but by and large he has acquitted himself very well. Matt Phillips started against Wolves and he tends to track back less than others, but under the tough examination of playing against Matt Jarvis, Eardley put in a respectable performance under difficult circumstances. With Gary Taylor-Fletcher back in the starting line-up at Bolton offering more protection in a defensive sense, this enabled Eardley to have one of his best games in a tangerine shirt. Eardley supported Blackpool’s attacks on several occasions.
Another aspect of Eardley’s game I’d like to bring up is the long diagonal to the left wing. This looks to be a tactic Holloway likes having employed it both last season and this, and Eardley has at times hit some sensational long passes to Luke Varney and Stephen Crainey. While not always successful, this tactic allows ‘Pool to use the full width of the pitch and has helped make Luke Varney such a dangerous threat.
‘Pool seem to have garnered a reputation for conceding goals, but both Neal Eardley and Stephen Crainey can be pleased with their performances to date this season. The formation employed gives them a lot to do both in a defensive and attacking role, but the pair seem to be adapting well to life in the Premier League. Crainey should be commended for stepping up despite having been written off at this level with former clubs, while Eardley has to be applauded for working his way firmly into Holloway’s plans. Coleman kept the Welshman out of the side last season, Baptiste began this season in the right-back berth and there was also the potential signing of Angel Rangel that fell through. If Holloway had doubts about Eardley, and the aforementioned situations point to this, the former Oldham man must have persuaded the manager that he can be counted upon.