A fine performance and a victory that very much takes the pressure off after consecutive league defeats. Rearranged from Boxing Day, it was the first of three home games in hand against top teams, although Liverpool’s current state falls somewhat short of the other two, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. Nevertheless, any side featuring so many internationals, including one of the world’s top strikers in Fernando Torres, are no mugs. Throw in the added Dalglish factor and it looked a tough game, one that looked tougher still after Torres struck early with a sublime finish. Blackpool came from behind however, for the first time this season, to claim a memorable double.
Two of the standout performers, as so often is the case, were Charlie Adam and David Vaughan. Adam dictated much of the play and made some notable driving runs, while Vaughan’s composure on the ball was yet again to be admired. Alongside those two in midfield was Elliot Grandin, who returned to the starting line up in place of Matt Phillips, the only change from last week’s league game against Birmingham City. I wrote last week about Blackpool’s surrendering of the midfield, so a fit-again Grandin in the side was a big boost.
As you can see from the above chalkboard, it is Grandin’s usage of the ball that helps keep Blackpool’s attacks ticking over, and was a major factor in an all-round improved performance. In his 62 minutes on the pitch, Grandin failed to misplace any of his 18 passes, an incredible 100% completion rate for anybody struggling with the maths. What the chalkboard does not show, however, are the occasions where Grandin lost the ball by at times overplaying. His tricks and flicks can entertain, and in the 55th minute allowed him to confuse his marker before setting up a shot for Adam which was well parried by Pepe Reina. That said, Ian Holloway will be looking for more consistency, as when things don’t quite come off, the ceding of possession can be dangerous.
As fatigue set in, only natural given his two week lay-off through injury, he was correctly withdrawn from the pitch by Holloway, but the manager will no doubt be encouraged by the return of the young Frenchman. There can be no doubt that when fit a midfield three of Adam, Vaughan and Grandin is the preferred option. Should Grandin fail to recover his fitness in time for the match at West Brom on Saturday, it will be interesting to see if Holloway opts for a flatter midfield three to include Ludovic Sylvestre (or Keith Southern), or once again use Gary Taylor Fletcher in the hole with Matt Phillips on the right.
Picking out one other player for chalkboard analysis, I’d like to take another look at Neal Eardley. In a season where so many players have shone, Eardley has been largely overlooked, but has been a revelation at right-back. That Alex Baptiste has failed to win back his place is testament to the performances from the Wales international. I last analysed Eardley’s contribution in the away draw at Bolton, when I made particular mention of Eardley’s use of the long diagonal, which you can see used to great effect once again on the below chalkboard.
In the next week, I’ll have a special piece on Blackpool’s use of the long diagonal, a feature that was spoken about at length in the post-match analysis by certain broadcasters, as well as by Holloway himself. That piece will highlight Eardley’s preference for the long diagonal, with the Liverpool game last night a prime example. Eardley hit this ball time after time to great success. In addition, his deep cross (a form of long diagonal) in the build-up to DJ Campbell’s winning goal picked out Ian Evatt brilliantly.
Eardley made good use of the ball all night, with an excellent 89% pass completion rate. This stat is even better when you consider that five of Eardley’s six misplaced passes were attempted clearances from ‘Pool’s own corner flag area, a region from which defenders cannot be expected to make pinpoint passes when clearing the danger is the priority. If Eardley continues to perform at such a high level, Baptiste may find he has to wait quite some time for his chance to come again.
As stated at the top of this piece, this was a massive win that relieves the pressure ahead of the journey to the Hawthorns at the weekend. A third league defeat in succession would have caused some angst among ‘Pool fans, with the game against the Baggies crucial. However, the bonus three points against Liverpool mean it isn’t quite the crunch game it could have been. Ian Holloway’s side now have a great chance of getting over the 30 point mark before the end of January, which would be a huge pyschological boost. If this could be achieved next time out, survival will almost be tangible.