Seaside Strategy – Tottenham Hotspur Away

One point gained or two points dropped? This will only become clear at season’s end, but undoubtedly it was a point more than many expected away at a team who reached the quarter final stage of the Champions League. Incredibly this means Blackpool are now unbeaten in three games, but the failure to take maximum points from any of these games means ‘Pool have once more dropped into the relegation zone. Charlie Adam scored from the spot (at the second time of asking), but another late goal conceded, this time from Jermain Defoe, meant Ian Holloway’s side were denied only their third win in 2011.

In terms of how the match was played, it was reminiscent of many a Blackpool match so far this season – end-to-end action, lots of chances for both sides and a very open game. Zonal Marking covered the game at some length, although in contrast to their formation diagram, I’d argue the Seasiders’ midfield three played a lot flatter, and that Sergei Kornilenko began through the middle, with DJ Campbell occupying the left front role. The decision to bring the Belarussian into the side was an odd one, and to be honest didn’t really work. Since his impressive debut against Spurs in the reverse fixture at Bloomfield Road, Kornilenko has not been able to replicate those early promising signs. The chalkboard below shows his lack of a goal threat.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

Fortunately, his withdrawal at half-time resulted in the long overdue introduction of Jason Puncheon. It has been something of a mystery as to why Puncheon’s chances have been kept to a minimum, but his second half display at White Hart Lane vindicated those who had been calling for his inclusion. Initially operating from a wide left position, but chopping and changing flanks with Gary Taylor-Fletcher, Puncheon was able to add more pace to the ‘Pool forward line and was particularly effective on the counter-attack. The chalkboard below shows his passes in the wide areas and his shots at goal.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

It is Puncheon’s attempts on goal that interest me most, and he is undeniably a goal threat. Puncheon has already made his mark with goals against Everton and Chelsea, and arguably should have added to his tally against Spurs. In the latter stages, as the game became stretched, Puncheon had three chances, two before the equaliser and one in the very last moments of the game. Although he was unable to seal the three points with a third goal of his Blackpool career, on another day it could have been a different story. On this performance, one would expect to see Puncheon start in the crucial home encounter against Bolton.

One final observation I’d like to make about Saturday’s game is the tighter looking defence, with Ian Evatt being particularly deserving of some credit. Aside from a strange exclusion in the home game against West Ham, Evatt has started every game for the Seasiders this season and has adapted well to life in the top flight. He has had off-days, but by and large he’s been a reliable performer. The chalkboard below shows how Evatt won all seven of his duels in the Blackpool half, snuffing out the threat posed by Roman Pavlyuchenko and Jermain Defoe.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

Unfortunately, as always seems to be the case, the ‘Pool defence could not hold firm in the dying minutes. It’s easy to see the thought process behind bringing on Craig Cathcart after Adam’s goal, but it perhaps unsettled a Blackpool back four that until that point had just about being coping. Shutting up shop hasn’t worked for ‘Pool this season and failure to hold onto leads has cost them dear. A better option might have been to pack the midfield and cut off the supply, rather than go to an unfamiliar back five.

Being churlish you would say that ‘Pool sacrificed two vital points in their relegation battle. That would take away from an excellent performance however, in an entertaining game that showed Blackpool can compete at this level on their day, even with such slender resources. It’s inconceivable to think that anything other than a win against Bolton next week can keep Blackpool up, but to even be in this position in a fantastic achievement. All ‘Pool fans should have that in their minds as we enter the final two weeks. The dream is still attainable, and that should be applauded. Up the ‘Pool!