Seaside Strategy – Bolton Wanderers Home

If you were to try to explain to someone the best and worst of Blackpool’s debut Premier League season, the easiest thing would be to point them in the direction of a recording of Saturday’s game against Bolton. It was playground football at its finest – end-to-end, mistake-ridden and hugely enjoyable. The momentum rocked back and forth between the two sides and after 90 minutes ‘Pool just edged out their opponents to recreate the 4-3 scoreline of that famous 1953 cup final. The weekend’s other results were a bit of a mixed bag, but the significance of this victory could come close to the Matthews Final if the Seasiders can achieve the unthinkable at Old Trafford.

Tactically, the game was a little all over the place. As many expected, ‘Pool lined up with the side that began the second half at White Hart Lane – Jason Puncheon replacing Sergei Kornilenko in the starting XI. This change gave Blackpool a fluid front three who caused a lot of problems for Wanderers’ defence. Neither side really controlled the match for any prolonged period, the ebb and flow switching as often as the goals poured in. 
In order to break down the match into something a little more digestible however, it’s interesting to look more closely at the contribution of Alex Baptiste. The former Mansfield man’s peformance can almost be seen as a microcosm of how Blackpool as a whole played on the day. Allow me to explain. While Baptiste was involved in the goals conceded, he also displayed an attacking zest, embodying the Blackpool ethos this season – get forward in numbers and at pace.
In terms of his defensive duties, it can be said that Baptiste did not have the best of days. For the first goal, as shown in the screen-grab below, the centre-back was unfortunate as the floated free-kick ricocheted unkindly off his body into the path of a grateful Kevin Davies, who made no mistake with his first time finish.

  

As the ‘Pool defence endured a torrid time, Daniel Sturridge had a clear opportunity to take a 3-2 lead before half-time. Ian Evatt miscontrolled the ball as he intercepted a Bolton pass, gifting the ball to Kevin Davies. The still below shows four tangerine shirts with their eyes on the ball, as Sturridge worked himself some space in behind Stephen Crainey. Only a great save from Matt Gilks rescued the situation for the Seasiders. This is just one example of how Blackpool have created their own problems defensively this season, a pattern that was most noticeable in the home game against Arsenal.

In spite of these defensive frailties though, Blackpool once again looked the dangerous outfit of old, with some exciting attacking football. Time and time again they broke forward rapidly in numbers, and often in the form of unlikely suspects. Baptiste was popping up all over the pitch, as shown in the chalkboard below.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

It’s not unusual for a Blackpool centre-back to be found way over the halfway line, but typically it has been Ian Evatt to fulfill this role. On Saturday it was Baptiste who was given the licence to drive forward, which he did on several occasions. The capture below shows one example in the 58th minute, when Baptiste picked up the ball inside his own half before surging forward to the edge of the Bolton 18 yard box. It might not be the most risk-averse strategy to employ, but Ian Holloway’s willingness to encourage his defenders to attack does take teams by surprise. Overloading opponents with seven or eight bodies when attacking has been the most exciting facet of watching Blackpool this season, and thankfully it was rewarded against Bolton.

  
Picking out another individual, I can’t conclude this post without paying tribute to the performance of DJ Campbell, who turned in another display justifying his price tag and then some. Chalkboards don’t tell half the story when it comes to analysing his performance. Campbell has quietly established himself as a player who belongs at this level and the progress in his all-round game has been revelatory. For want of a better way of charting his display at the weekend though, the chalkboard below does shed some light.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

While starting the game on the left of the ‘Pool attack, Campbell moved across the whole front line, neatly interchanging with Puncheon and Taylor-Fletcher. In the area where strikers are primarily judged, Campbell has also now racked up 13 Premier League goals. Campbell was clinical against Bolton, scoring both of his two shots – at least that’s the story the chalkboard tells. For the observant amongst you, there was also his header which came back off the bar mid-way through the first half. Even then, it was a highly effective outing for the club’s record signing who continues to impress.

As well as the all-important three points, this win will give Holloway and his players huge belief having gone for so long without winning a game – and they’re sure going to need a lot of belief if they are to pull off a result at Old Trafford. What happens now is unclear – the odds are heavily stacked against the Seasiders if the bookies are to be believed – but 10 league wins and 39 points is an achievement beyond what many, myself included, had predicted for the Seasiders. If ‘Pool are to go down, they can take enormous pride out of the last few weeks to have turned things around and in doing so giving them a chance to survive on the last day. Will it be the end of Blackpool’s dream, or merely the beginning? I can’t wait to find out.

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