Seaside Strategy – Everton Away

An all-action eight goal thriller. Blackpool continue to provide more bang than their buck in the entertainment stakes, but it’s hard not to yearn for a scrappy 1-0 win. ‘Pool slid to their fifth consecutive defeat at Goodison Park and while Ian Holloway’s men continue to rack up the goals, a defence leakier than the Welsh national emblem means survival is starting to look trickier by the week. The Seasiders bounced back from poor first half performance to take a stunning 3-2 lead, only to collapse under the weight of endless Everton pressure.

Blackpool endured a tough opening 45 minutes and were highly fortunate to go in at half-time with the scores level at 1-1. Everton were rightly furious at the decision to blow for a foul on Seamus Coleman just before half-time, seconds before Louis Saha went on to bag what should have been his second goal of the game. Tangerine Dreaming has identified Marouane Fellaini’s impact in stifling ‘Pool’s midfield in the first half, in particular Charlie Adam. 
What else caused the Seasiders to struggle though? The chalkboard below compares the number of successful passes in the first half at Goodison Park against those made in the previous match versus West Ham.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

By all accounts it was hardly a scintillating first half against the Hammers last week, but the number of successful passes still dwarves the figure from Saturday’s game. ‘Pool only completed 114 passes in the opening 45 minutes, a startlingly low figure. A failure to hold onto the ball and make it work for them handed the initiative to the Toffees who exploited Blackpool’s defensive frailties on numerous occasions. 
Nowhere is this issue more pronounced than in an examination of Paul Rachubka’s chalkboard below.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

For many, the return of Rachukba between the sticks was a welcome sight, following a string of error’s from Richard Kingson. However, while none of Everton’s five goals can be directly attributed to Rachubka, Holloway must be concerned with his distribution. The USA born goalkeeper managed to find a tangerine (or white, in this instance) shirt only four times out of 21 attempts  in the first half – a woeful 19% completion rate. Also noticeable is Rachubka’s failure to play the short ball even once. 
A key facet of Holloway’s system has been to play the ball out from the back, but by opting to go long so frequently, ‘Pool gave the ball away cheaply. In the second half Rachubka managed a more respectable 50% pass completion rate, but still opted to go long more often than not. Rachubka may be less accident prone than his Ghanaian counterpart, but unless Holloway can train his number 1 (in squad number terms) to make the angle for the short ball, he may quickly find himself back watching from the sidelines.
Blackpool suffered an early set-back almost immediately after the break, but thereafter enjoyed their best spell of the game. Elliot Grandin and Jason Puncheon began to combine well, with Blackpool’s counter-attacks testing, and overcoming, Everton’s defence. Holloway now has a variety of forward options and Puncheon impressed on his debut, getting into dangerous forward positions and causing problems with his pace.
At 3-2, the momentum was with Blackpool, but the scoreline presented Holloway with a dilemma. So often ‘Pool have forfeited winning positions, with different strategies all failing at various times. Against Man Utd, Holloway sought to continue to attack, throwing on both Matt Phillips and Marlon Harewood. As we all know, that strategy backfired as the team from Salford turned the game on its head with three quick goals. Holloway tried to emulate the win over Everton’s city rivals by packing the defence and midfield, but as Tangerine Dreaming points out, it resulted in handing Everton the advantage – Pool’s defence was at sixes and sevens despite their superior numbers. 
It is a decision easy to criticise in hindsight, and one Holloway must surely regret. Positive changes, or even keeping things as they were could have seen ‘Pool return with at least a share of the points, if not all three, but ultimately defensive lapses have cost the Seasiders again. There are enough positive signs in Blackpool’s attacking ability to retain hope, but the failure to strengthen the defence despite Dekel Keinan’s departure could come back to haunt the Seasiders.