Seaside Strategy – West Bromwich Albion Away

Blackpool went into this game hot on the heels of Wednesday night’s memorable victory over Liverpool, but could not overcome a West Brom side in a rut of five consecutive defeats. The two promoted sides produced a thoroughly entertaining game of football, which could easily have seen the number of goals run into double figures. It was by no means a masterclass in defending, but the neutrals will certainly have gone away happy. As for the Seasiders, this was a case of costly errors at both ends which ultimately resulted in leaving the Hawthorns empty-handed.

Arguably the main culprit was DJ Campbell, who going into this match had been in sparkling form with five goals in his last five league outings. Crucial chances were missed at the start of both halves, with Campbell also spurning an opportunity for a late equaliser, with the resulting melee in the box going agonisingly wide. The chalkboard below highlights Campbell’s shots during the game.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

It is extremely uncommon for Campbell to squander so many chances inside the 18 yard box. This excellent piece from Tangerine Dreaming showed how all of Campbell’s goals last season in the Championship were scored from inside the area. Until recently, Campbell had not been afforded the luxury of chances from such close range, his first two Premier League goals coming from outside the box – against Newcastle and Aston Villa.
However, Campbell’s rich vein of form had seen him presented with opportunities in his typical scoring areas, many of which he duly grabbed. His goals against Stoke, Sunderland, Birmingham and Liverpool had all been scored from close quarters, and he will be disappointed not to have added to his tally on Saturday.
Could it be, however, that too much pressure had been brought to bear on Campbell? Before the match against Liverpool, the Seasiders had gone four league games with only Campbell getting on the scoresheet. Gary Taylor-Fletcher finally chipped in with an important equaliser and then followed this up with another equaliser at West Brom. The goals appeared to have dried up from Luke Varney though, and his performances too have not quite lived up to the standard he had set. To compare, see the chalkboard below of his passes in the fixtures against the Baggies and their Black Country rivals, Wolves.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

Varney did admittedly only play 77 minutes at the Hawthorns, not the full 90 he did against Wolves, but even taking this into account the difference is significant. It is a pattern that is prevalent in many recent ‘Pool fixtures, and one not completely passing Holloway by as evidenced by his decision to substitute him in the last couple of games. Varney only made seven successful passes against West Brom, and only one in the second half before his eventual withdrawal.
When Varney is taken off, it is typically Brett Ormerod who assumes his role on the left of the front three, but it is widely accepted now that Ormerod’s impact is unfortunately not what it once was. If proof were needed that reinforcements are required in the transfer window, this is surely it. This is not to cast Varney aside, but merely highlights that when he is not performing, or needs a rest, there is nobody at the moment who can satisfactorily replace him. The potential arrival of Adam Hammill would provide much needed competition in this area.
I’ve chosen not to focus on the defensive performance, if only for the fact this blog post would be far too long. Needless to say, a few players had an off day, but when the back four have been performing so well all season, the odd poor performance can be excused. Craig Cathcart had barely put a foot wrong all season until Saturday, while Neal Eardley has been a revelation at right back. Knee-jerk reactions to these defensive lapses are unnecessary, and I don’t expect Ian Holloway will react with the same hysteria that some sections of the ‘Pool messageboards have. Blackpool now have a week until the next game, allowing Holloway to rest his players ahead of three consecutive home games. Four or more points from those will see ‘Pool bounce back in style.