Month: February 2011

Season So Far – Slippery Slope?

As we enter February on the back of the worst run of the season, the games become ever more crucial for Blackpool. In the last mini-review on 3rd January I’d surmised that we were ahead of the game in terms of the number of points on the board and felt that even as few as five points would be a good return from the rest of the January fixtures against Birmingham, Liverpool, West Brom, Sunderland and Man Utd. After all, with four of those matches at home, five points would be the minimum the Seasiders would chalk up, right? Wrong.

Disappointing home defeats to Birmingham and Sunderland were unexpected, and while the double over Liverpool was completed, narrow losses at the Hawthorns and against the champions-elect have seen ‘Pool walk away empty-handed from five of the last six games. All of these defeats were only by the one goal, some consolation in the form of the side’s goal difference, but it’s a run Ian Holloway and his team will be looking to arrest before the situation starts to look bleak.
Who’s up next then for the Seasiders? Let’s examine the next batch of fixtures for the month of February:
  • West Ham United (h)
  • Everton (a)
  • Aston Villa (h)
  • Tottenham Hotspur (h)
  • Wolverhampton Wanderers (a)
The two games that bookend this month are without a doubt the obvious ‘six-pointers’ and victory in these games would probably be a satisfactory return. This would take Blackpool onto 34 points by the end of February, while at the same time helping to deny their rivals catching up. West Ham’s activity in the transfer market could give them a lift, while Wolves will be expecting nothing less than three points when they entertain ‘Pool at Molineux. Failure to win at least one of these two games would be a concern, while two defeats does not bear thinking about.
The trip to Goodison Park is unlikely to be easy, with the Toffees’ form sure to pick up at some point you would imagine. Aston Villa, with the help of Darren Bent, look to have improved in recent weeks and following the war of words between Holloway and Gerard Houllier, that could be a hard-fought encounter. The mid-week visit of Spurs is perhaps the hardest of the lot,  and any points taken from this match must be considered a bonus.
I’ve said on so many occasions this season that a certain run of fixtures could be season-defining, and each time the statement feels truer. Halting the decline is a must, and one would hope that the reinforcements added by Holloway will help ‘Pool achieve this. Blackpool have yet to go more than three games without a win all season, something only Man City and Arsenal can match or better, but that record is in danger when the Hammers come to Bloomfield Road this evening. Preserving this record would go a long way to reaching an acceptable points tally by the end of the month, and in turn survival.

Incoming (Part II)

It’s that time once again to reflect on Blackpool’s transfer window activity and take a look at the individuals brought in by Ian Holloway in the increasingly nervous survival battle. 12 players were signed during the last transfer window, with a fairly even split between success stories and disappointments. With Dekel Keinan having already departed for Cardiff and long-term injuries to Chris Basham and the mysterious Malaury Martin, Holloway has reacted by signing a further five players during January, four of them on deadline day itself. Let’s run through them one by one.

Salaheddine Sbai – free from Nimes
Sbai was the first signature captured, signing a few days before the end of the window. Little is known about Sbai, with Holloway himself admitting he was signed based on DVD footage alone. The Moroccan international is primarily a left-back, although it is believed he can fill in at centre-back. The YouTube footage of Sbai reveals him to be quite a slender build, so it’s unlikely he will be utilised in the centre of the defence unless there are a few injuries. Sbai is a probable starter against West Ham, but with David Carney returning from international duty this week, and Stephen Crainey’s injury only likely to keep him out for a couple of weeks, it’s hard to know how much of a role Sbai will play between now and the end of the season. The unfortunate man out of the three options is Carney, who had it not been for the Asian Cup, could have established himself as first choice left-back.
Andy Reid – undisclosed from Sunderland
Reid should be a familiar name to most, and is a player with experience of both Premier League and international football. Reid has often been mocked for his heavy build, but his quality is undeniable. He arrives on an initial six month contract from Wearside, but at still only 28 is probably a player Holloway would like to nail down beyond the summer is Premier League survival is attained. In many ways Reid could have been seen as a replacement for Charlie Adam, with his on the ball ability and set-pieces among his strong points. Reid has struggled to make an impact this season at Sunderland, but if Holloway can get him firing, Reid will surely be an excellent addition.
James Beattie – loan from Rangers
Perhaps the biggest name of all the new signings Beattie brings bags of experience and a proven goalscoring record. It can be argued that Beattie is another player who has lost his way in recent years, but the same can be said for most of the Blackpool squad. Beattie reportedly earns a fair whack and one would expect that Blackpool are covering 50% at best of his wages. His signature is a coup for Ian Holloway and if he can get back amongst the goals in his native North West he will be a real asset. However, like Marlon Harewood, it remains to be seen how he may affect the balance of the side. With DJ Campbell excelling in the central striker role, it would be a shame to see the in-form striker shifted out wide to accommodate Beattie who is unlikely to be effective from a wide position.
Sergei Kornilenko – loan from Zenit St Petersburg
Belarussian striker Kornilenko was by far the most outlandish signing ‘Pool made on deadline day, but should not be underestimated. While he is unfamiliar to most, the consensus among Eastern European football experts seems to be positive. Jonathan Wilson, author of Behind the Curtain: Travels in Eastern European Football, rates Kornilenko as a “big lad who will put himself about”, while Russian football expert James Appell is quoted as saying it could turn out to be a “fantastic deal” for the Seasiders. Both however have raised concerns over the language barrier and warned that players from that part of the world struggle to settle. If ‘Pool can make him welcome though, he could be a revelation. The YouTube clip above points to him being something of a poacher and a strong aerial presence. Again though, you’d expect a player of his style to be more suited to a central role rather than on the left of a front three – Kornilenko is left-footed.
Jason Puncheon – loan from Southampton
Less than a month ago Puncheon was part of the Saints side that knocked an unfamiliar Blackpool XI out of the FA Cup, but obviously impressed enough to earn himself a loan move to the seaside yesterday, believed to be with a view to a permanent deal. At just 24 Puncheon has already featured for five league clubs, with spells in non-league to boot. A recent loan spell with Championship side Millwall saw the midfielder rack up five goals in seven appearances and is a player with an eye for goal. Normally operating as a winger, it will be interesting to see where Holloway envisages Puncheon playing, but my suspicion is that he will provide competition for Elliot Grandin in the hole. Grandin has often drifted wide, in what Zonal Marking has identified as a ‘central winger’ role, and it is this position that could fit Puncheon too. The last player Blackpool signed from a team that had just knocked them out of the FA Cup was Keith Russell from Hednesford Town back in 1996 – it’s fair to say Puncheon has to be an improvement on him.
Arguably the most significant outcome of the transfer window was the news that bids for Charlie Adam had not matched ‘Pool’s valuation (contrary to what ‘Arry Redknapp might have you believe), thus keeping him at Bloomfield Road until at least the summer. That drama is for another blog post altogether, but the additions are bound to be welcomed by the majority of Blackpool fans. Ian Holloway now has the depth of attacking options he has been craving, and will no longer be forced to rely on the declining Brett Ormerod as a main alternative from the bench. Everyone associated with the club can be proud of their efforts in the transfer market, and Blackpool appear to have given themselves the best shot possible at staying up. The remaining 15 games will be the proof of this particular transfer pudding.