Seaside Strategy – Fulham Away

A flat game at Craven Cottage saw Fulham rather easily claim all three points against a sloppy Blackpool. An inability to hold onto the ball in the first half meant ‘Pool contributed to their own demise and once they went behind, Ian Holloway’s men never looked like getting back in it. Holloway himself is sure to be at the forefront of the post-match discussion as his team selection backfired. James Beattie and Brett Ormerod returned in place of Luke Varney and Jason Puncheon, two of the star performers a fortnight ago at Ewood Park. The theory behind this decision was sound – Beattie was there to give Blackpool more height at set-pieces while Ormerod would offer more defensive cover. 
Ultimately though, the lack of pace and movement up front left the Seasiders horribly exposed, particularly once they fell behind. ‘Pool had commendably been trying to pass the ball around, but some poor first touches and misplaced passes contrived to give Bobby Zamora a simple one-on-one chance, James Beattie playing the decisive through ball to the opposing striker as he attempted to find Cathcart. Blackpool also showed their vulnerability from set-pieces as Fulham added two more goals from free-kick situations to put the game beyond the Seasiders.

Looking at the average position chart below, it is easy to see the difference between the two sides, particularly in the forward areas.
It is true that Blackpool’s front three do rotate from time to time, but the chart shows a horribly condensed forward line. For all the possession the Seasiders enjoyed at times – in fact ‘Pool bossed the overall possession 66% to 34% (Edit – ESPN Soccernet stats, 54% v 46% according to the BBC) – it was their usage of the ball in Fulham’s half which was way below par. Too often ‘Pool sought to find a way through the congested middle of the park and the lack of movement gave the likes of Charlie Adam and David Vaughan very few options. 

Adam did manage to complete a few of his searching long diagonals, but when he did the players on the receiving end were offered little support, often being forced back and losing the forward momentum. It was noticeable how languid Blackpool’s attacks were, and goes against what Holloway supposedly learned on his Spanish jaunt.

The likes of Spain and Barcelona move the ball quickly and precisely and force their opponents to chase the game, whereas Blackpool today were happy to roll the ball around with very little urgency.
The chalkboard above shows how Blackpool dominated the possession, and it has been Holloway’s mantra to keep the ball to frustrate opponents. In terms of successful passes, Blackpool outscored the home side by more than double – 533 to Fulham’s 255. However, when you look more closely in the areas in which the two sides had the ball, it’s a little easier to understand the 3-0 scoreline. The significant majority of the Seasiders’ passes were restricted to the first two thirds of the pitch – essentially harmless passes. Meanwhile Fulham made their usage of the ball count with a lot more cut and thrust about their play.

It’s easy to criticise team selection in hindsight, but Ian Holloway must surely rue not playing to his own team’s strengths. Leaving out Puncheon and Varney handed the initiative to Fulham and ‘Pool never really recovered from Beattie’s mistake which handed the hosts the lead. Keeping the ball is all well and good, but it’s important to hurt sides when you have it. Barcelona’s domination of possession is accentuated by the way they keep the ball in the opposing half and keep the other team pegged back. Blackpool gave the ball away cheaply in these advanced areas and never really threatened a well-drilled defensive unit.

With four consecutive home games to come, it is to be hoped Blackpool return to a high pressure approach, and pace in forward areas is key to this. DJ Campbell will be back after suspension and is a player the Seasiders have missed sorely. Now is not the time for Blackpool fans to feel sorry for themselves. While the home record is often dismissed, it is rare that ‘Pool have not put up a good show in front of their own fans (only the West Ham, Sunderland and Birmingham games spring to mind). An attacking approach against Arsenal, Wigan, Newcastle and Stoke over the course of the next month can yield positive results – it’s time to keep the faith in that approach.