Seaside Strategy – Newcastle United Home

In the build-up to this key fixture, Ian Holloway sat his players down to watch video of what had made them successful last season and in the first half of their debut Premier League campaign. Although the Seasiders had turned to footage of their Championship performances, it was nevertheless surprising to see the Blackpool starting 11 feature no fewer than 10 of last season’s regulars – Matt Phillips, signed from Wycombe Wanderers in August 2010, was the only exception. This back-to-basics approach seemed to pay off however, with a level of performance rarely witnessed since the turn of the year. Despite giving away yet another early goal, ‘Pool fought back and arguably deserved to claim all three points, denied by the woodwork and some questionable refereeing decisions.
Blackpool lined up in a more traditional flat 4-3-3 formation, with last season’s successful midfield trio of Charlie Adam, David Vaughan and Keith Southern reunited for only the second time this season. Elsewhere Matt Phillips came in for a first start in months, while Craig Cathcart was dropped in favour of Alex Baptiste. The average position charts below show a much clearer gameplan than in recent weeks.
A return to old values seemed to steady the ship from a Blackpool perspective, with the players much more aware of their responsibilities. Contrast this diagram with the average position chart from the Fulham game and the difference is there for all to see. The midfield three knitted together neatly, with Vaughan making a very welcome return from injury to turn in another man of the match display. Up top Gary Taylor-Fletcher, DJ Campbell and Phillips worked tirelessly, although it could be argued that Campbell found it a little harder to influence the game operating as he did on the left.
In contrast Newcastle stuck to a fairly rigid 4-4-2 with Peter Løvenkrands playing slightly withdrawn off Shola Ameobi. Blackpool largely coped well with the Magpies who were probably feeling the after-effects of their creditable draw with champions-elect Manchester United. The ‘Pool defence looked as solid as it has all season, Matt Gilks having little to do aside from pick the ball out of the net on 17 minutes. Again the damage was self-inflicted as Charlie Adam lost concentration for the second time in seven days to gift Newcastle an early lead, albeit well-dispatched by the veteran Dane.

Joey Barton and Jonas Gutierrez were below their best and, despite being suspended midweek, a fresh Kevin Nolan did not have his usual impact. As ‘Pool pressed for the elusive winner in the second half, Alan Pardew appeared to be settling for a point to virtually assure Newcastle’s Premier League status for 2011/12, taking off the goalscorer and replacing him with Stephen Ireland. This change saw the Magpies adopt a more defensive 4-5-1 formation, with Nolan and Ireland taking it in turns to support Ameobi going forward. This change helped stifle Holloway’s charges and the visitors saw out the last 10-15 minutes without too much trouble when a home onslaught may have been expected.

Although the most important statistic could not separate the sides, elsewhere ‘Pool’s dominance cannot be disputed. The Seasiders outpassed their visitors 366 to 250 with a completion rate of 73% to Newcastle’s 65%. In the shots department ‘Pool managed 17 attempts to the Magpies’ 11, but ultimately could not convert their performance into the three points it warranted.
Analysing individual performances, Vaughan’s return saw him complete more passes than anyone else on the pitch, demonstrating the role he performs for the side – the glue, if you will. Charlie Adam also seemed to benefit from Vaughan’s recovery. Tangerine Dreaming highlighted last week how Adam’s performances have dipped in recent weeks with his pass completion dropping to a lowly 53% against the Latics. The chalkboard below however shows how he appeared to regain some of his form, as well as displaying the impact of Vaughan.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

Vaughan completed an impressive 81% of his passes on his return to action and while Charlie Adam was less economical with a ratio of 68%, that was nevertheless a huge improvement on recent weeks. Adam also attempts more passes in the final third and can be forgiven for misplacing the odd attempted assist. It will concern ‘Pool fans though that it is still Adam’s wont to give the ball away cheaply in dangerous situations – a defensive lapse in the 85th minute saw Adam lay the ball off to nobody in his own area when the ball should have been cleared without hesitation.

In singling out another individual, I would like to praise the contribution of Neal Eardley who had one of his best outings in a tangerine shirt. Eardley was sacrificed in the middle of Blackpool’s slump, presumably in a bid to shore up the team’s leaky defence by replacing him with the more defensively-minded Alex Baptiste. This change didn’t stop the goals pouring in, and it can be argued it limited the Seasiders in an attacking sense. Yesterday Eardley did well to both receive the ball quickly from Gilks, and support Phillips going forward down the right flank, as the chalkboard below illustrates.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

In addition to the attacking dimension provided by Eardley, and Crainey on the other flank, the former Oldham man also ably marshalled Gutierrez, restricting the Argentinian and the usually excellent Jose Enrique behind him to very few successful crosses. Craig Cathcart has made a significant impact at Bloomfield Road this season and the young Northern Irish international is sure to have a big future, but him being left out is probably overdue, and may have happened sooner if Holloway had more options at the back – Dekel Keinan’s departure still seems strange. That argument is for the end of the season however, and for the last four games you would expect Holloway to stick with the current back four, barring any injuries or suspensions.

Like many others, I went into this game thinking nothing less than a win would suffice, but as it happened, the other results on Saturday helped Blackpool climb out of the relegation zone on goal difference. It was not perhaps a great result, but every point matters at this stage. A win against Stoke next week would pile the pressure on our relegation rivals who all have tricky fixtures, but it’s now becoming clear this fight will go right to the wire. The display at Bloomfield Road yesterday showed me the players have the spirit for the battle – now all they need is Lady Luck to swing their way.