Much like Steve Bruce commented on in his post-match interview, I too felt from quite an early stage of this match that it was going to be Blackpool’s day. When Richard Kingson fumbled a shot around the post mid-way through the first half, it appeared than even when making defensive mistakes, the ball just was not going to hit the back of the Seasiders’ net. Fortune certainly played its part in ‘Pool’s fifth win of the season, but once more a steely grit about the way the side put their bodies on the line resulted in consecutive clean sheets on the road, and Blackpool’s first back-to-back victories this season.
Looking at the game from a stats point of view, Sunderland’s own back room staff had told Steve Bruce just before his interviews with the assembled media how many chances they had spurned, with 30 shots failing to yield a single goal.
Blackpool’s defence repelled a staggering 29 crosses into their box during the 90 minutes at the Stadium of Light, and those crosses that did find a Sunderland player were well dealt with by Kingson or wasted through poor finishing. ‘Pool’s two centre-backs, Ian Evatt and Craig Cathcart, have often had a tough job to do this season due to the attacking nature of Ian Holloway’s tactics, but it’s proved to be a fruitful partnership, with both men performing beyond expectations.
Evatt is still disproving his lower league tag but is a player that typifies the attitude the Seasiders have. Cathcart meanwhile is a player that Sir Alex Ferguson may regret letting go, and looks a steal at £500,000. I actually thought Cathcart looked a little rusty and for the first time in a tangerine shirt made a couple errors that could have proved costly. In the end though, the rest of his performance more than made up for these and he and Evatt were rewarded with a clean sheet.
For all the praise from pundits about Blackpool being a ‘breath of fresh air’, many critics like to point out that the defence is somewhat leaky. It’s a theory I’ve never particularly bought into, and the stats largely back this up. ‘Pool have now kept five clean sheets (all away from home), a record which only seven teams can better. The heavy defeats against Arsenal and Chelsea can be viewed as anomalous results and when taken out of the equation paint a much brighter picture, with an average of 1.27 goals conceded per game. When you consider ‘Pool have played 11 of their 17 games away from home, it’s not such a bad record after all. Even if you take two clean sheets out of the average to balance things up, it produces an average goals conceded per game of 1.46, again not horrendous with such a skew of away fixtures.
Blackpool continue to surprise everyone but themselves, and with a trip to the City of Manchester Stadium up next, will hope their opponents in Sky Blue will underestimate them once more.