In the previous article the focus was on Wigan’s final game of the season at Stoke. Now it’s the turn of Birmingham to come under the spotlight ahead of their trip to Tottenham.
How they will line up
A 2-0 home defeat to Fulham is unlikely to engender any sentimentality to manager Alex McLeish when it comes to picking his team this weekend. The Scot will be pleased to welcome back two of his regulars from suspension – both Craig Gardner and Liam Ridgewell will be available once more. Injuries continue to plague Birmingham however, with Alexander Hleb limping off on Sunday, causing more problems for McLeish in attack.
Nikola Zigic is a doubt, as is Cameron Jerome who failed a fitness test before the Blues’ previous fixture. That leaves Birmingham with only Kevin Phillips, Matt Derbyshire and Jean Beausejour, who between them have only scored three goals this season – hardly the firepower they need to secure a result at White Hart Lane.
IfBirmingham defend anything like they did against Fulham at the weekend, then Ben Foster could be crucial to the Blues’ survival hopes. Birmingham were lucky to keep the score down against the Cottagers and with goal difference potentially a deciding factor in who stays up and who goes down, Foster may need to be at his best to keep Spurs at bay. Foster, incidentally, has been at the centre of controversy this week being accused of drinking into the small hours on Tuesday morning. He’ll be aiming to make up for his misdemeanours with a performance on Sunday.
Their Opponents – Tottenham Hotspur
Birmingham will not relish the fixture that awaits them – they arguably have the hardest task out of the sides scrapping for survival. Not only are Spurs up in 5th position, they also have something to play for – unlike ‘Pool’s opponents Man United. Spurs’ win at Anfield last week has lifted them above Liverpool and put them back in the driving seat for the Europa League spot that comes with that 5th spot. Europe’s second tier competition has often been derided, but with a potential Fair Play spot should Spurs finish 6th – meaning an even earlier start – Harry Redknapp’s team will be battling to secure themselves more time off over the summer.
At Anfield Ledley King made his long overdue comeback after another lengthy lay-off and with Carlo Cudicini carrying on in goal ahead of Heurelho Gomes, Spurs kept their first clean sheet since the beginning of April. Rafael van der Vaart has found his shooting boots once more, although Spurs’ strikers continue to underperform. Jermain Defoe has intimated he may be leaving in the summer, but if that is the case he may be aiming to bow out in style, if he features on Sunday.
In terms of their form, Spurs have been struggling of late. Before the win over Liverpool, Spurs had gone five league games without a victory – the result at Anfield was also only their second three point haul since mid-February. Tottenham’s home form has been somewhat erratic too with far too many draws (nine in total) for a club of their ambition, yet they have only lost one game at White Hart Lane all season. Despite all of this, it’s hard to think Spurs will throw away 5th place after their impressive win last week.
What’s Birmingham’s form like?
The Blues looked set for a vintage season having surprised Arsenal in the Carling Cup final, but over the last couple of months they have collapsed in spectacular style. Looking at the form table for the last six games, Birmingham sit 19th out of 20, with only West Ham beneath them. McLeish’s side picked up their last win on 16th April with a 2-0 victory over Sunderland. Since then however, they’ve taken only one point out of a possible 15 to leave them just above the relegation zone on goal difference.
Birmingham have only scored three times in the last five fixtures, while conceding 13. It doesn’t take a genuis to work out they have got big problems. Away from St Andrews, Birmingham have won only twice, drawing on seven occasions. In their last six away games they have managed only two points – hardly a record to inspire confidence amongst Blues’ fans.
Up the ‘Pool verdict
With such strong downward momentum, Birmingham will surely be relying on both Wigan and ‘Pool to slip up. Anyone who saw the Blues’ performance against Fulham will have seen a team destined for the Championship – it could have been a cricket score quite frankly. A narrow defeat could save Birmingham thanks to their superior goal difference, but any result for Wigan or the Seasiders is likely to relegate Alex McLeish’s side. I anticipate a Spurs victory, but by what margin I don’t know – and the margin of defeat could be crucial to Blackpool’s hopes of avoiding the drop.
Next up it’s the turn of Wolves. Hopefully that will be up later today. (Now online here)
As we enter the final days of the Premier League season, five teams are still fighting relegation to the Championship. Over the course of the next few days I’ll be profiling each of Blackpool’s rivals and explore what we can expect on Sunday. First up, it’s Wigan Athletic.
How they will line-up
RobertoMartinez’s side had to come from two goals down at half time to beat West Ham last week, and having successfully done so one would expect Martinez to change his starting line up to include those who helped turn the match around. Conor Sammon and Victor Moses entered the action at the break against the Hammers, so they may work their way into Wigan’s team at Stoke. Sammon scored his first goal in English football to even the scores at the DW Stadium and will no doubt be itching to get his second.
Then again, it was a make-or-break gamble from the Latics boss, and Martinez may not want to go out all guns blazing from the first whistle against Stoke. Many sides change their team to attempt to counter the Potters’ unique style, and Wigan may look to set up in a way that allows them to deal with the high ball – something they looked vulnerable to in their last outing. Steven Caldwell and Steve Gohouri both offer more in an aerial sense than the defensive incumbents and could be drafted in to deal with the infamous Delap throw-ins.
The star man in the Wigan side is undoubtedly Charles N’Zogbia – the Frenchman is top scorer with nine goals, four of those coming in the last three games. N’Zogbia’s future has been uncertain in the last 12 months and he has been linked with a move away from the club on various occasions. He does now appear to have shrugged this off however, and if his recent form is anything to go by he could be the man to fire them to Premier League safety.
Their Opponents – Stoke City
On the face of it a trip to the Britannia does not seem the most straightforward task, but you could easily argue that Wigan would prefer their fixture to those of their rivals involved in the drop. Stoke have nothing of any significance left to playfor, and come into this game on the back of two consecutive defeats, both at the hands of Manchester City. The cup final loss was followed by a midweek game at Eastlands on Tuesday – Wigan will be aiming to capitalise on what could be a fatigued Stoke team thinking about their summer break.
Stoke did make five changes for their second clash with Man City though, and it’s possible that Robert Huth, Jermaine Pennant, Matthew Etherington, Rory Delap and Kenwyne Jones could return for the final game of the season. Huth and Etherington passed late fitness tests to feature in the FA Cup final, and ‘Pool fans will be hoping the rest they had in midweek will see them fit enough to take on Wigan. In goal, Asmir Begovic has been first choice between the sticks for most league games of late, but Thomas Sorenson surprisingly retained his place after the cup final for the match on Tuesday in Manchester. Begovic could return for one last appearance of the season in front of the Stoke faithful.
Encouragingly for the other sides involved in the relegation battle, Stoke boast one of the best home records in the league. The Potters have won 10 of their 18 matches at the Britannia Stadium, losing only four. Last time out at home Stoke beat Arsenal 3-1 and have won four of their last six in front of their own supporters. Stoke have not lost at home in 2011 and Tony Pulis is unlikely to allow his players to slack off.
What’s Wigan’s form like?
According to the form book, Wigan stand a good chance of dragging themselves out of the drop zone. Of all the sides involved, they have the best record with eight points from the last six games, including two wins and two draws. However, this must be tempered somewhat by analysing against whom these victories came. As ‘Pool fans will be all too aware, one of their wins came at Bloomfield Road when Blackpool’s season looked like imploding, while the other came last week against West Ham – a victory that relegated their opponents with a last minute goal. The Latics’ away record isn’t spectacular, but by no means is it the worst in the division – they lie 13th in the away table. They have won three games on the road, but have managed a credible seven draws.
Up the ‘Pool verdict
Currently occupying 19th spot, Wigan have the most work to do on Sunday. Martinez has done well to give his side a chance going into the last day when they looked dead certs for the drop a month or so ago. It’s hard to see the Latics getting all three points though, and even a point may be out of their reach against a Stoke team who will be looking to end on a high note after recent disappointment. I expect a narrow Stoke victory.
Tomorrow it’s the turn of Birmingham City to come under the microscope – check back then as the in-depth look at the final day continues. (Now published here)
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.
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.
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.
Earlier in the season Bolton had produced a rousing come back to take a point from the encounter with Blackpool. This time out Ian Holloway narrowly got the better of Owen Coyle in a pulsating encounter.
Ian Holloway set Blackpool up as he has for the last few games, with the flatter midfield three and brought in Jason Puncheon up front in place of Sergei Kornilenko. Owen Coyle brought Ricardo Gardner in to central midfield for the injured Johan Elmander.
Coyle opted to set up in his usual 4-4-2 that saw his players sit narrow both on and off the ball, most noticeably Matthew Taylor sitting in narrow off the left flank and relatively high up the pitch. This seemed to be a ploy by Coyle to increase numerical superiority in attack to feed off their more direct approach. However, by lining up like this they conceded clear numerical advantage to Blackpool in the centre. Often in the first half David Vaughan found himself as the spare man in midfield.
Holloway ensured that his players attacked from the beginning with his side swarming all over Bolton from the start.
Blackpool’s numerical advantage in midfield counted for a lot in the first half as they dominated Bolton’s midfield two and Bolton as a result struggled to gain any kind of foothold in the game. Bolton’s best chances came from direct balls over the top of the midfield, from set pieces and more so from poor defensive positioning from the Blackpool back line. As an illustration of how Bolton struggled in the first half, their pass completion was a lowly 55%. They really struggled to get their wide men in to the game and really couldn’t sustain any periods of pressure. The dominance that Blackpool gained in the centre gave them excellent passing options and combined with the movement of their forwards, they played some excellent balls in to the channels and in behind Bolton to really test the mobility of their back line.
Coyle addressed his midfield shortcomings by withdrawing Fabrice Muamba on 50 minutes and his replacement Tamir Cohen seemed to invigorate Bolton. Clearly after the break Coyle had asked his team to work harder from front to back to deny Blackpool as much time and space on the ball, and they were much better on it. Cohen himself expanding the play with a couple of quality passes and Bolton’s full backs were more assured on the ball and less wasteful. In the first half forward pressure on Paul Robinson forced him in to some poor passes and his pass completion was 50%, however, his better use of the ball in the second half meant that Bolton built their attacks more from the back and his pass completion went up to 77%.
Overall Bolton’s pass completion went up to 66% and they had 71 more passes. At this stage, although Blackpool had the lead, Bolton were starting to move Blackpool around more, trying to drag them out of shape, but they also broke much better on the counter.
It might be an obvious statement to make, but when the Blackpool forward line combines their movement, pace and finishing ability, Blackpool can score against any defence in this league. Games such as Wolves and Fulham away were characterised by static forward play and Blackpool failed to score. This match saw DJ Campbell drop deep, wide and in behind the Bolton defence to register two goals. The chalkboard below illustrates how he received the ball in the deep, before breaking in to the box to receive the ball where he’s at his most dangerous.
However, the roles of Jason Puncheon and Gary Taylor-Fletcher were crucial in the goals that Blackpool scored. Puncheon was composed on the ball, understood where he should be making his runs and combined well with the midfield to build some excellent attacks. Taylor-Fletcher, whilst not as efficient on the ball was incisive when needed to be and chipped in with two assists. His role is less about making the right runs, but more about the sleight of hand and the risk to make a pass. You can see his chalkboard below and notice how his unsuccessful passes tend to be around the box, but the key is that he is attempting those passes and only Charlie Adam has made more key passes per game than him this season.
Battle of the Chesterfield old boys
As highlighted in the preview the performance of Kevin Davies and Ian Evatt were central to this game. Davies struggled to link up play in the first half, but his ability in the air to win duels all game long was good, winning 10 of 17. In the second half, he played some excellent short passes and brought team mates in to the game and acted as a fulcrum for building counter attacks. On the other hand Ian Evatt continued his excellent recent form with a strong performance at the back. He won 7 of his 9 duels, even though at times the Blackpool back line lost their shape leaving their goal exposed. Therefore, whilst Evatt performed steadily all match long Davies was at the centre of the good things that Bolton did all match long, but grew in importance to Bolton as the match progressed and when he was withdrawn Bolton didn’t appear nearly as effective. For reference, they only managed two off target shots once he had departed on 83 minutes.
With poor defending by both sides the goals might have continued to flow, however, credit must got to Coyle for motivating his side at the break to come out as strong as they did. Blackpool and Ian Holloway will again take heart from this superb win and a four game unbeaten streak and hope to cap off this crazy season with an unlikely three points at Old Trafford
Bolton come to Bloomfield Road in a poor run of form having lost their last three games, whilst Blackpool will have taken great heart from a strong showing against Spurs last week.
Ian Holloway has a fully fit squad to choose from, but may well opt for giving Jason Puncheon a start over Sergei Kornilenko upfront. Last week against Spurs, Puncheon looked better on the ball and understand his running patterns much better than Kornilenko and certainly seemed to link up well with DJ Campbell.
For Bolton, Owen Coyle is likely to use the same eleven that lost at home to Sunderland last week, however, Bolton’s shape may be hard to call. The reason behind this is the arrival of Daniel Sturridge and the injury to Stuart Holden which has led to a slight change of shape. When these two sides met back in November Coyle favoured a standard 4-4-2, however, he likes to utilise both Elmander and Sturridge in addition to their captain Kevin Davies. The upshot of this is that when the team is being more aggressive they show a clear split in attack and defence as shown by their average positions from the Sunderland game. In that game Coyle asked Muamba and Elmader to form more of a diamond formation. An aggressive move, but it might be a step too far for an away game against an attacking Blackpool side. However, as they sit tighter and defend as they did for large periods against Arsenal they hold average position much more akin to a standard 4-4-2 with Johan Elmander sitting in central midfield alongside Fabrice Muamba.
However, that tends to be Coyle’s play at home and away from home he tends to field Elmander wide right favouring Mark Davies (injured for this game) or Tamir Cohen in central midfield or another option (Ricardo Gardner at Blackburn). Would it be a risk to field Elmander centrally? If Coyle thinks that, then Cohen will possibly start if fit.
Stuart Holden has been of vital importance to Bolton this season with his energy and mobility to move around the pitch offering passing options, but more importantly to close down the opposition and win ball. Without him in the midfield Bolton have looked exposed, non more so than when these two teams met at the Reebok back in November. Blackpool found it very easy to play through Muamba and Mark Davies with Elliot Grandin often finding a lot of time and space to build attacks. Holden had average 4.5 tackles per game and with Muamba chipping in with 3 per game they formed a strong combination. Since Holden’s injury Coyle’s midfield selection has been varied and it appears that no one has replaced Holden’s tackle contribution and the upshot of this is that Bolton lack that bite they once had.
As much as Stuart Holden helped to bond Bolton’s midfield, then Daniel Sturridge has been excellent since coming in from Chelsea. Looking at Bolton’s attacking statistics, he starts to dominate the key areas such as shots per game, dribbles and most importantly goals. With 7 goals since his arrival he will shoot on sight and should Bolton score in this game, then it’s very likely that he will be the source. He favours his left foot and should the ball not settle naturally on that foot then he will seek to get the ball to his left before releasing his shot (5 of his 7 goals have been scored with his left foot). Holloway may well ask Alex Baptiste to pick him up as he advances and try to steer him wide and away from goal whilst trying to stop him getting the ball on to his left foot.
Last time out Ian Evatt picked up Kevin Davies and coped admirably, and he has been in good form of late as Blackpool have attained a more robust defensive line. In the last three games against recognised strong aerial teams (Newcastle, Stoke & Spurs) he has managed to win 57% of his aerial duels. If he can replicate that level of performance against Davies then that will go a long way to putting Blackpool in a strong position. With the return of Matthew Gilks in goal and the move of Alex Baptiste to centre back Blackpool look more resilient defensively. Evatt and Baptiste seem to work better together as a partnership as Baptiste has the pace to act as a cover whereas Craig Cathcart is perhaps too similar to Evatt and has also made three errors leading directly to goals being conceded and points lost.
Some observers have made the comment that Bolton are already on their holidays, however, it would be surprising if that really is the case. Bolton will battle hard for every ball and Daniel Sturridge is playing like he wants to prove a point to Chelsea or perhaps a prospective new employer. Blackpool know that they must win this game to have a realistic chance of survival, should they fall short here then it won’t be because Ian Holloway has tried to defend. Expect an all out attacking performance from his team.
Neither side came in to this game in good form, but both sides put together a lively encounter which either team could have won. The game dynamic changed three times due to the deployment of Rafael van der Vaart with a final twist to the game coming as Blackpool tried to close out the game.
Van der right
Ian Holloway made one change from the Stoke game, dropping Matthew Phillips to the bench to be replaced by Sergei Kornilenko. Harry Redknapp made bold selections in his starting eleven, with Danny Rose coming in at left back so that he could keep Gareth Bale in the more advanced position down the left. Aaron Lennon was dropped to the bench and van der Vaart started on the right flank. The early passages of Spurs’ play tended to gravitate to the right and Younes Kaboul overlapped a number of times as van der Vaart drifted inside. The Dutchman didn’t play as an orthodox winger and seemed to have a free-ish role. However, only once play started to break for Spurs down their left did they genuinely seem to threaten Blackpool. Other than that Spurs appeared to try to catch out Blackpool’s high line with occasional through balls down the middle, but Blackpool anticipated well and they enjoyed little success.
Luka Modric was at the heart of some good periods of play for Spurs by keeping the ball moving quickly and from flank to flank to avoid the centre where Spurs where outnumbered 3 v 2. As the half went on Blackpool’s midfield pressed hard (mainly through Keith Southern), passed better and tried to break at speed. However, the first touch of the Blackpool forward line, especially Kornilenko was poor and attacks broke down more often than not.
Van der middle
By bringing on Aaron Lennon in the second half Spurs had fast and direct attacking options on both flanks and this meant that van der Vaart was pushed centrally. He started to go untracked through the middle and found himself in an excellent position only for his touch to let him down under pressure. Spurs found a good rhythm and created seven chances in the first fifteen minutes of the second half compared to the 10 in the whole of the first half. Modric started to break more from midfield as he had van der Vaart dropping back to cover. Modric dominated the game and was outstanding, not only with his passing but consistently found space and took men out of the game with deft flicks and dribbles. Added to this Lennon gave more incision down the right and the balance to Spurs’ attacks was excellent, giving them options and variety which Blackpool had to defend well in order to shut them out.
Playing out alongside this Ian Holloway had sought to resolve his side’s attacking problems by introducing Jason Puncheon at half time for Kornilenko and he appeared to have a better awareness on and off the ball. Added to this his first touch was more reliable and Blackpool’s attacks became more fluid.
Van der left
The injury that Gareth Bale sustained meant that Redknapp decided to move van der Vaart to the left whilst Peter Crouch came on as Spurs moulded back in to their 4-4-2. This appeared to stunt Spurs’ midfield play, there were left with more 2 v 3 situations in the centre as van der Vaart moved wide and he really struggled to assert any quality on the game from that position. Blackpool gained their own foothold in the game, again their midfield were working really hard to close Spurs’ down and trying to break at speed and as their forwards looked more cohesive off the ball and confident on it, they started to carve out more chances.
Parking the van
Once Blackpool had scored, the final part of the game played out with Spurs throwing everything at Blackpool and in doing so the game broke down in to a final scrap van der Vaart wasn’t involved in the game as much now as Spurs’ best chances came from Lennon and Modric creating or from Peter Crouch knock downs. Ian Holloway made a strange substitution in bringing on Craig Cathcart and moving Neil Eardley to right wing in to almost a 4-5-1, but once the Spurs’ goal went in and realising the aerial danger of Peter Crouch, he seemed to try to counter that by bringing James Beattie on for the sole purpose of marking Crouch at pieces and for high balls in to the box.
Tottenham controlled a lot of this game and had Blackpool not defended well and broke as purposefully as they did then the pressure may have been too much for them. However, for Harry Redknapp the utilisation of van der Vaart appears to be strange given his quality through the centre of the pitch and keeping him there in this game may have proved to be decisive. At times Blackpool sparked in to life and fizzed the ball in their passing movements once again. Heading in to the Bolton game on Saturday they will hope to sustain the movement from the forwards in the second half in addition to good midfield combinations to push Bolton very hard. Should they do that then they may be within a point from safety come their final game at Old Trafford.
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.
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.
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.
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!