Month: August 2011

Four Thoughts on… Crystal Palace 1-1 Blackpool

Blackpool went into the first international break of the season on the back of a good performance at Selhurst Park, but had to settle to take only a point from it. Here are my thoughts on Saturday’s game:

1. ‘Pool should have been out of sight at half time
Whereas Blackpool dominated the first half of their home game against Derby without actually creating any notable opportunities, the first 45 minutes at Selhurst Park was a much more convincing display of superiority. Ian Holloway commented post-match that it was probably the best ‘Pool had played so far this season, and it’s hard to disagree with him. Blackpool looked a cut above their opponents in the first period and had a whole host of chances. Alex Baptiste did give the Seasiders a half-time lead just before the break, but in reality the damage inflicted could have been a lot heavier.
A cutting edge was all that was missing from a 45 minutes that had a lot of positives to be taken. Chance after chance went begging, with Palace also having to clear a few shots off the line in a desperate, but successful, bid to stay in the game. Brett Ormerod will have been disappointed not to make more of the chances that fell his way, but by far the best opportunity came to Billy Clarke. Through one-on-one, Clarke failed to beat the onrushing Julian Speroni and never really looked confident of doing so. Palace did have one golden chance in a half during which they were overrun, but Matt Gilks did well to save a close-range header.
2. Full backs on form
Ian Holloway has changed his defence in each of the last four league games, be it through injury or choice, but the back four at Selhurst Park is not far off Blackpool’s best available. Stephen Crainey is seemingly indisposable at left-back, but Alex Baptiste submitted evidence he can be an effective full-back, despite arguments he is a more able central defender. Both Crainey and Baptiste put in excellent performances which means Holloway may retain the same defence after the international break for the first time since the opening week of the season.
It was a particularly strong performance from Stephen Crainey who provided a serious attacking threat during ‘Pool’s strong spell. Ian Holloway spoke of wanting his side to cross the ball more often and the Seasiders’ left-back was able to do exactly that. The below stills show examples of when Crainey was able to whip dangerous balls into the Palace box.


In both of the above cases, despite good work from Crainey down the left, ‘Pool forwards were unable to get ahead of their marker and get on the end of the crosses. Still, it’s what Holloway will want to see from ‘Pool’s number 3 and potential incoming signings may be more successful in converting these chances. One man who did convert his chance on Saturday was Alex Baptiste, who collected a neat pass from Gary Taylor-Fletcher to fire past Speroni, aided by a clever dummy from Kevin Phillips. Like Crainey, Baptiste offered a good offensive threat and showed that it is not just Neal Eardley who can attack from the right-back position.
3. Long overdue minutes for Ludo Sylvestre
It was a frustrating first season at Bloomfield Road for Ludovic Sylvestre. Reportedly tracked by Ian Holloway for a good year before his eventual signing, much was expected of the former Barcelona  and Sparta Prague player. Syvlestre was never really given a decent run of first team football however, and had to settle for just seven Premier League appearances. Keen to stress the importance of the Frenchman, Holloway had indicated that the side could be built around him this season, but so far this has not been the case, despite an impressive pre-season.

The League Cup tie at Sheffield Wednesday excepted, Sylvestre had yet to feature for Blackpool this campaign. The signing of Barry Ferguson has instead provided Holloway with his anchor to build the team around and long-time servant Keith Southern is difficult to leave out too. With only one place in the midfield three left, the manager has opted for someone a little more attacking with Elliot Grandin starting the season at the tip of the midfield three, and Taylor-Fletcher filling in there since Grandin’s injury. As if Sylvestre had not been unfortunate enough, the rule change that meant only five substitutes can be named has also hampered his inclusion in the squad, with Holloway typically favouring a bench comprising a goalkeeper, a utility player and three attackers.

Introduced on the hour mark at Selhurst Park, Syvlestre turned in a solid enough performance, rarely wasting a pass. He seems happy to receive a pass at any time, has the confidence to turn on the ball and normally finds his own player with a simple pass. The question is whether he does enough to justify a regular selection alongside Ferguson and Southern, and that is yet to be seen. Sylvestre’s effectiveness in the final third is unproven and is therefore perhaps a little too similar to the two mainstays of the Blackpool midfield. Sylvestre maybe lacks the flair of his countryman Grandin, and once fit, one suspects Holloway will bring Grandin back into the team, assuming no new attacking midfielders are brought in on deadline day, or the loan market shortly afterwards. Sylvestre may have to wait for an injury or suspension for Ferguson or Southern before finally getting a run of games in the side.

4. Both teams will believe they could have claimed all three points
For all the superiority of Blackpool’s first half performance, when taking the whole game into account some Crystal Palace fans may believe they could have won the game – a claim that would not be that wide of the mark. Some positive substitutions from Dougie Freedman allowed Palace to begin to put on the pressure as the second half wore on. Matt Gilks was called upon more often in the Blackpool goal, and with 10 minutes to go, the home team did level the scores – influential substitute Glenn Murray with the equaliser.

After that, Palace had several chances to take the lead with one real heart-in-mouth moment for ‘Pool fans coming when Murray again got the better of the Blackpool defence. The below stills show once again that a high defensive line could be Blackpool’s undoing.

‘Pool defence at sixes and sevens, Stephen Crainey playing Glenn Murray onside.

Luckily for ‘Pool fans, and agonisingly for Palace, the shot goes narrowly wide.

In the end, a point each wasn’t too far off being a fair result. Palace proved that it is possible to turn a game around even after few would have given them much hope based on the first half alone. ‘Pool themselves ran out of steam a little, and this added weight to the theory that reinforcements are required before the Seasiders welcome Ipswich to Bloomfield Road on 10th September. At the moment it doesn’t seem like Blackpool have enough about them to brush sides away completely, and in a competitive Championship season, teams such as Palace will not roll over even when behind. Ian Holloway now has two week break before his team’s next game to add that killer instinct, be it through permanent or loan signings.
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Four Thoughts on… Blackpool 0-1 Derby County

Blackpool lost their 100% record in suffering a 1-0 home defeat at the hands of Derby County. Here are my thoughts on the game:

1. First half keep-ball
In the post-game disappointment, the level of performance in the first half has widely been forgotten about. In terms of a controlled display, the first 45 minutes on Wednesday night was the best half so far this season. The move towards a Spanish ‘tiki-taka’ style was clearly visible, as the midfield three of Keith Southern, Barry Ferguson and Elliot Grandin showed evidence of knitting together well. There was the odd stray pass, but by and large it was an excellent short passing display as ‘Pool kicked towards the South Stand. It’s a shame access to chalkboards is gone along with our Premier League status, as it would have been interesting to have seen the number of passes racked up.
The criticism though, is that while ‘Pool had the vast majority of the ball in the first period, the home side never really hurt their opponents despite their domination of possession. Derby often retreated back into a 4-5-1 shape when they didn’t have the ball, and were content to watch as they let Blackpool pass it around in front of them. The lack of dangerous passes in the final third would be a concern to Ian Holloway, and the manager has since spoken that he was frustrated at the lack of long diagonals. This was evident as most passes in the first half tended to be around 15 yards or less. It was good to witness ‘Pool control a game, but taking this to the next step in the form of assists and goals is something to work on.
2. More emphasis on playing out from back
In the previous game against Peterborough, I highlighted the distribution of Matt Gilks, which tended to be going long the majority of the time. There was little willingness to pass out from the back, and instead possession was often gifted to the visiting side due to a lack of height in the Blackpool forward line. Against Derby, there was a noticeable shift, with Gilks looking for a short pass more regularly. This pronounced effort was not always successful as Gilks was at times slow to take his goal kicks, by which point Derby had marked up the centre backs who had split to receive a short pass.

However, the short ball was used more often and this may have been in part due to a centre back pairing of Ian Evatt and Matt Hill, both of whom were playing on their natural side. Holloway has spoken in the past of perhaps seeking as left sided centre back, and the ability of Matt Hill to receive the ball on his natural foot when passing out from the back may have been a boost. At various times the three midfielders all looked to make themselves available for the short ball too, but again this was sometimes a little ponderous and allowed Derby to cut the option off before Gilks was able to release the ball. Nevertheless, it’s likely Holloway was disappointed with Gilks going long so often against Peterborough, and looks to be addressing this as ‘Pool look to build from the back.

3. Final third issues
As good as possession was in first half, it’s clear that the final third was missing some inspiration and creativity. The chance that fell to Stephen Crainey just before half-time was the only telling opportunity of any note, and showed that ‘Pool are perhaps in need of a spark. This can probably be attributed to both system and personnel. Unfortunately Brett Ormerod continues to struggle, often stumbling and giving the ball away cheaply. Even small things like basic offsides at unnecessary times threaten to tarnish Ormerod’s lofty reputation with the Blackpool crowd. Experience is one thing, but Ormerod was often the weak link at which attacks broke down. With three games in a week taking its toll, Brett will surely sit out the match at Brighton.

Ormerod’s replacement in the last few games, Billy Clarke, has also began the season a little disappointingly, in spite of a positive pre-season. An energy-sapping 120 minutes at Sheffield Wednesday which included several missed chances seems to have knocked his confidence, and in cameos against Peterborough and Derby he has failed to impress. Perhaps overly keen to make amends, Clarke was wasteful with the ball against the Rams, shooting from improbable positions when he had little chance of scoring. Tom Ince did however look lively in his brief time on the pitch, and save for a tackle by his own teammate Gary Taylor-Fletcher may have equalised after a superb run into the box.

One audible qualm from the Seasiders support on Wednesday night was the pace at which Blackpool attacked. At times, ‘Pool failed to move the ball forward quickly enough, often favouring a sideways or backwards pass. A main culprit in the eyes of many fans is Elliot Grandin, and while I can see the case against, on many occasions he had little other option due to poor movement from the front three. Personally I would always favour a pass that retains possession rather than running into a brick wall or a long diagonal to someone without reasonable aerial presence. As previously mentioned, Holloway himself has bemoaned the lack of long diagonals, but without the aerial ability of a Luke Varney, these can only be really directed towards Taylor-Fletcher.

All in all, Wednesday night was a perfect illustration of what Blackpool are lacking. Another option up front is an absolute must, while a creative midfielder to provide competition for Elliot Grandin wouldn’t go amiss either. With the transfer deadline not quite the albatross it was last season though – players can still be brought in on loan after the 31st August – it’s unclear how soon those reinforcements will arrive. There may indeed be a temptation to see which players the top Premier League teams deem surplus to requirements, and take a punt on some of those.
4. Derby ‘did a job’ on Blackpool
This may hardly be the most complimentary phrasing, and indeed any Derby fans reading this may even think it’s more than a little patronising, but I mean it in the nicest possible sense. Significant credit must be given to Nigel Clough and his team for combatting Blackpool’s style of play, and as Tangerine Dreaming put it ‘executing the perfect gameplan’. The way Derby approached the game seemed to be to frustrate Blackpool and quickly gather behind the ball when the home team won possession. It was a set up designed to try and take a point, but the Rams ended up going away with all three after making the most of their only clear-cut chance.

Sloppy defending from Blackpool – in both the first instance of Hill giving away a needless free-kick, and then failing to follow up the rebounded shot – was pounced upon by Derby, who then were able to go into their shell even more. Defending so robustly is not an easy skill, and requires great organisation on the part of the defending team. Marshalled by the impressive Jason Shackell, the Rams were able to do exactly that and restrict the Seasiders to very few scoring opportunities. Derby have provided a blueprint for how Championship teams can be successful at Bloomfield Road. The onus is now on Holloway and the Blackpool players to develop an alternative way of breaking teams down who set up in this way. It’s unlikely this will be achieved without further additions in the transfer market, one suspects.

The Execution – Blackpool 0-1 Derby County

Having a clear strategy and executing it is absolutely crucial in football. In this match Nigel Clough came to Blackpool with a clear strategy, his players clearly understood what was expected of them and they carried out the strategy perfectly to record a deserved victory.

Setting up

Derby worked hard to pack the midfield and sit men in behind the ball.

Blackpool set up with three up front and three in midfield with Elliot Grandin again pushing quite high up the field. Derby matched Blackpool’s three men in the centre of the pitch, played a lone striker and two wide men who tried to support their striker as best as possible, but asked to sit in behind the ball when they didn’t have the ball.

Strategy

Derby came with a simple, but very effective defensive strategy to try to stop Blackpool playing and hoping to break at speed to steal something on the break. In possession their wide men made runs to support the striker as did Craig Bryson. When they gained field position towards the Blackpool defensive third their full backs stepped up, in particularly John Brayford from right back.

It’s all in the execution

First and foremost all bar one of Derby’s players appeared to be instructed to sit in behind the ball to form a bank for four players and a bank of five players, filling in the spaces afforded to Blackpool which made it hard for Blackpool to pass through them. However, the roles of two players were pivotal in executing their strategy.

Firstly, Craig Bryson played a slightly more advanced role than the other central midfielders and it appeared that his brief was to apply pressure to Barry Ferguson in the deep to hurry him in to moving the ball and hopefully breaking Blackpool down high up the pitch. He worked tirelessly off the ball and his work rate doubled in possession as he advanced to support the striker when they gained possession.

Secondly, Jamie Ward on the right side of midfield appeared to be asked to sit in behind the ball and most importantly to track the runs of Alex Baptiste to support Kevin Kilbane at left back. In doing this he enabled Derby to control the threat of Baptiste, who in the first two games of the season has been excellent moving forward and had been the catalyst for Blackpool asserting dominance in those games. Not so here as Baptiste had his element of surprise taken from him and although he did ok when advancing, Derby clearly knew what to expect.

Variety is the spice of life

Blackpool gained some good field position for large periods of the game, but couldn’t get the Derby defence to break down or even on the turn with any kind of regularity. This was largely due to the Derby defensive approach, but also the dominant performance of Jason Shackell who was rarely beaten in the air or on the ground. However, Blackpool’s endeavours were hindered quite considerably by their own approach. They failed to turn good possession in to chances and goals for a couple of key reasons. Firstly, as they advanced in the final third their movement of the ball was slow and predictable and rarely saw ball cut in to the channels and behind the defence. Secondly, only on rare occasions did they have players willing to make off the ball runs to get beyond the Derby defensive line.

Throughout the Premier League season very few teams came to Bloomfield Road happy for a draw, however, this season this situation may well become the norm. It will be important that Blackpool add variety to their point of attack and gain a better awareness of when their passing and movement becomes a little one-paced. This needs players with a good sense of tempo and on the evidence of this match alone, Gary Taylor-Fletcher was really the only player to consistently understand that the pace of pass and movement had to be increased. Added to this, Blackpool had few players in this match to create and try through balls behind the defence. Again Taylor-Fletcher is important here, but so was Elliot Grandin, who attempted to cut balls, but appears to fall short when adding the required weight to the pass.

Moving on

On the evidence of this game alone Blackpool may be short of a creator in midfield and a striker to dominate a defence. Or perhaps they need to work less on passing and movement patterns in training and more towards gaining an appreciation of when to change both game plans and game tempo. Or both? Whatever path they take this game will be important in the context of their season as it marks a clear shift of attitude towards the Tangerines from opposition teams. A failure to find a way forward will seriously harm any chances they have for promotion. Derby on the other hand will be delighted with a perfectly executed game plan and if every game panned out in the same fashion then they’d be a dominant force in the Championship. However, football is rarely that predictable and as the season progresses they’ll hope that such execution remains from game to game as player performance and selection inevitably vary.

Four Thoughts on… Blackpool 2-1 Peterborough United

For the first time in 20 years Blackpool opened their season with back-to-back wins by taking three points off Peterborough in a 2-1 victory. Here are some observations on the game:

1. Wasteful Peterborough
The visitors started nervously, almost succumbing to a string of Elliot Grandin corners. After some goalline clearances and scrambles in their own 18 yard box, Posh then had several opportunities to take advantage of Blackpool’s high back line. The first such chance fell to Lee Tomlin, slid in behind the ‘Pool defence but never appearing to have the confidence to beat Matt Gilks who narrowed the angle well to deny Tomlin. Shortly after Craig Cathcart lunged wildly at the ball, missed it, and presented David Ball with a second one-on-one for Peterborough. Like his teammate, Ball also failed to beat Gilks and Bloomfield Road breathed another heavy sigh of relief.
These were the two clearest-cut chances Peterborough had, and offers insight into the telling difference ‘Pool have already witnessed just two games into the new campaign. Hull and Matty Fryatt in particular did not punish Blackpool for their defensive frailties last week, and it was a case of deja vu in the first half on Sunday. Whenever a forward went clean through last season, Blackpool fans were resigned to conceding another goal. ‘Pool won’t always get away with it in the Championship, and in some senses have already used up a fair amount of their luck in the opening two fixtures, but the way Ian Holloway’s defence are set up may not be quite as damaging as we had become used to.
As for Peterborough, you get the feeling they might well achieve their aim for the season and avoid relegation. They showed they can be a threat going forward and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them taking a few scalps. They are an adept passing team and their width caused Blackpool problems at times. With their big summer signing Nicky Ajose absent though, they just lacked the finishing touch to make their best chances count. The Seasiders will play worse teams campaign, of that I’m sure.
2. Gilks in the thick of it
One of the reasons ‘Pool kept a first half clean sheet was the profligacy of the Peterborough strikers. The other major factor was the performance of Matt Gilks. A risky inclusion in the team due to his injury picked up on international duty with Scotland, Gilks justified his selection with probably his best performance since getting injured against West Ham back in November 2010. While you could point the finger at the Posh players for not finishing their one-on-one chances, Gilks set himself well in these situations and doing enough to keep them at bay. Upon returning from injury at the end of last season, one wondered whether Gilks would regain his best form, but this is an encouraging step in that direction.

It’s not all positive however, and it could be said that Gilks played his part in the good spell that Peterborough enjoyed in the first half. Time and time again possession was gifted to the visitors by the Blackpool goalkeeper as Gilks kicked the long, usually straight through to his opposite number or a Peterborough centre-back. Playing out from the back as a matter of course is seemingly in the past – Gilks instead favouring the long ball up to nobody in particular. The existing Seasiders forward line offers little in the form of any considerable height and one has to wonder how often this tactic will lead to Blackpool retaining possession. Singling out Gilks for criticism may be unfair – it’s likely this isn’t something he’s necessarily taken upon himself, rather an instruction from the management, but with the current aerial ability up front (or lack thereof) it would be preferable to see a return to playing out from the back.

A final point on Gilks is the concern surrounding his fitness. The strategy at the moment would appear to be that a keeper will only be signed as and when Gilks is unable to play, and this probably isn’t a bad thing. Holloway spoke last season of being unable to take young Premier League goalkeepers on loan unless they are guaranteed to play, so there should be options available if Gilks does suffer an injury. Mark Halstead endured a difficult evening in Sheffield last week and one would hope he would only be an emergency option – it’s clear he would probably struggle in the Championship. Then again, how can Halstead improve sat on the bench all season, when even an injury to Gilks would likely see him continue to deputise for a loan keeper? Blackpool fans will be hoping it doesn’t come to that however, and a fit Gilks on Wednesday will be a big boost.

3. Phillips potent
It’s hard to write anything new about Kevin Phillips, but he continues to live up to his reputation and scored the two goals which gave ‘Pool victory, both of them in and around the six yard box. In terms of his all-round performance, Phillips was less influential than in his debut against Hull, but his eye for a goal is as sharp as it’s ever been. Darren Ferguson and Darragh MacAnthony have both pinpointed Phillips as the difference between their side and Blackpool and in simple terms this is correct. Phillips snaffled his two chances while Peterborough missed their best opportunities. Many ‘Pool fans had predicted Holloway had signed Phillips as an impact sub, someone to bring on when the team needed a goal, but on the evidence of the first two matches, he’ll be tough to leave out.

The reality though is that it is unreasonable to expect Phillips to last 90 minutes every game of a long and tiring Championship season – some form of competition for his place is required. At the moment there is healthy competition for the places on the wide berths of our forward three – Gary Taylor-Fletcher, Matt Phillips, Brett Ormerod, Billy Clarke and Tom Ince all offer Ian Holloway options – but there is little else through the middle. It’s early days for Craig Sutherland and too soon to be expecting too much from him, despite his blatant potential. From the outside looking in the activity in the transfer market appears to have ground to a halt, with no new names being linked for a while. At least one permanent striker before the window closes should be a priority. After that, the loan market can be utilised where necessary.

4. Warning against complacency
Kevin Phillips’ second goal looked to have killed the game as a contest, and Blackpool ought to have seen the game out comfortably. With Peterborough reeling from the shock of two goals either side of half time, when they themselves could justifiably have been in the lead, ‘Pool asserted control of the match. However, the introduction of substitutes in the last 25 minutes disrupted Blackpool’s rhythm, especially as the three replacements were brought on one at a time. The lack of an out-and-out midfielder on the bench also meant that once Grandin was withdrawn, the neat interchanges in midfield were now absent, and allowed Peterborough to regain a foothold in the match.

Nevertheless, nobody can legislate for the sort of mistake made by Craig Cathcart with 10 minutes to go. The so-called ‘golden rule’ of defending is to never pass the ball across your own 18 yard box, and the committal of that cardinal sin allowed George Boyd to nip and cleverly round Matt Gilks to pull a goal back. Luckily Blackpool managed to hold on for all three points, a feat that wasn’t so easily achieved last season. Despite the drop in division, it’s still important for ‘Pool to keep their concentration towards the end of games.

One would like to think that the early part of the second half when Blackpool bossed the game might be a fairly regular occurrence this season, and in situations like this ‘Pool must not become too complacent. With the potential to do well this season, dropping points unnecessarily could be the difference between a top half finish and a play-off push, or dare I say even better. Avoiding a repeat of last season’s late goals drama is vital – more late goals conceded in coming weeks could have a psychological impact on the defence, that conceding late on is something they cannot prevent. Cutting out silly errors like the one on Sunday is crucial.

Blackpool 2 – 1 Peterborough United

Approaching the game

Both sides made little concession for each other tactically, both set up to play attacking football and stick to their principles. This made for an open game with plenty of chances, but for all the excellent ability on the ball and build up play, it was the mistakes made by either team that tended to present the better opportunities.

Setting up

The middle of the pitch became very congested

The key point of interest about the way that each team set up was their most advanced midfielder.

For Blackpool, Elliot Grandin was aggressive in his positioning, receiving the ball higher up the pitch than he was last week and at times this made Blackpool have four forward players in a 4-2-4 shape. However, he stayed too high up the pitch at times when Blackpool were out of possession. When this happened, Peterborough enjoyed success as they outnumbered Blackpool three to two in the centre.

George Boyd on the other hand, played at the tip of the Peterborough midfield diamond, but he wasn’t fixed in that position. At times he dropped deeper then pushed up high which meant that Peterborough’s formation flexed from a flattish 4-4-2 out of possession and to a 4-3-3 in possession.

Fluid problems

Peterborough attacked at speed with quick one touch passing and swapping positions. Their positional interchanges seemed to cause Blackpool problems who struggled to track runners coming from unexpected areas of the pitch. However good this interchanging was from an attacking point, it was also their downfall defensively. When teams have a fluid approach to positional play it is essential that they regain their shape when off the ball. Too often Peterborough made mistakes to give possession to Blackpool and they struggled to get their shape back, becoming exposed at the back.

Moving around

Blackpool seemed happy to keep the ball and managed to move the ball around the back line easily before moving it out to Barry Ferguson who had plenty of options. Generally Elliot Grandin would be the receiver from Ferguson and when this happened there was a good flow to Blackpool’s passing. However, as with the Hull game last week, Blackpool really start to break a team down when a defender steps higher up the pitch. Last week it was Alex Baptiste and this week it was Ian Evatt and Baptiste. Both advanced well in to the final third at times with Baptiste effectively joining the attack, adding great variety to Blackpool’s play and an element of surprise.

The game seemed to swing towards Peterborough when Elliot Grandin was substituted, so much of Blackpool’s positive play centered on him and his removal seemed to stunt Blackpool as their passing options seemed closed off and possession started to be surrendered too easily.

High and dry again

Again Ian Holloway had his defensive line playing high up the pitch and again they looked susceptible to a surprise ball over the top. It was vital in the context of this game that Matt Gilks was alive to the threat and make some great saves in one on ones. Gilks’ anticipation may well be the key element in this line working better for Blackpool given that their defence will be turned and their centre backs don’t have enough pace to recover.

Crossing the divide

The clearest difference between the two sides defensively was Peterborough’s inability to deal with a cross ball. In the first half Blackpool had a series of corners, all poorly defended by Peterborough. Also, Blackpool found some great crossing positions in open play and again Peterborough struggled to deal with them effectively. The first Blackpool goal was a perfect example of that with Kevin Phillips not even having to jump to head the ball in at the back post from a deep out-swinging cross.

Moving on

Ian Holloway will be happy with that performance, however, he may reflect on his timing of his substitutions, especially against such an attacking team as Peterborough who will seize on any initiative you give to them. Peterborough on the other hand were excellent moving forward, but their transition from attack to defence leaves them wide open and easy to pick apart. However, even if that is accepted as a weakness it is imperative that they reduce their defensive errors which left them exposed all too often in this match.

Hull 0 -1 Blackpool – Gaining Control

Blackpool start the season with a win and a clean sheet, but at times Hull were threatening and had they shown more composure in front of goal then they may have secured a draw.

Setting up

Hull set up in a standard 4-4-2, with Robbie Brady starting wide left supported by a central midfield duo of Paul McKenna and Tom Cairney with Robert Koren holding position on the right flank. Up front Dele Adebola and Matty Fryatt were given starts. For Blackpool Craig Cathcart lined up in the middle of defence with Alex Baptiste at right back. Barry Ferguson anchored the midfield with Keith Southern and Elliot Grandin supporting him as Ian Holloway set up in his normal 4-3-3. Up front Kevin Phillips held the central striker role supported by Gary Taylor-Fletcher on the right and Brett Ormerod on the left.

 

4-3-3 up against a 4-4-2. Similar feeling for Blackpool

Opening up

Tactically the game appeared pretty straight forward. Hull looked to close Blackpool down quickly and high up the pitch. In possession they either went high and long to Adebola or worked the ball to the flanks. Blackpool on the other hand sought to control possession in midfield, but went long from back to front quite often wide right to the head of Taylor-Fletcher.

Hull had the best of the early part of the match. They looked to try and make Blackpool rush their possession and in particular both McKenna and Cairney stepped up when required to pressurise Ferguson in the deep. Brady was the main threat throughout the game and Hull tried where they could to  get him one v one where possible and subsequently he was able to get in to some good crossing and shooting positions. Hull looked to get Liam Rosenior forward from right full back but in truth he struggled to break in behind the Blackpool defence when he had space to exploit.

As the first half progressed Blackpool controlled the centre of the pitch winning tackles and loose balls to assert their dominance. Elliot Grandin found himself in good forward positions between the Hull defence and midfield but struggled to pick the right pass. Even though Hull worked exceptionally hard in closing down Ferguson, he was well supported by Grandin and Southern as well as the defence providing him with passing options so Blackpool were rarely exposed in midfield.

In forward positions Blackpool weren’t very fluid in their movement, Taylor-Fletcher often staying high and wide and not necessarily backing up Blackpool’s suggested game plan of exposing Joe Dudgeon to the high ball. As the half progressed Taylor-Fletcher went in search of the ball and Blackpool instantly looked more potent around the final third.

Change of ends, change of sides

Even though Hull had chances in the first half, Blackpool held the advantage in the critical centre of the pitch and that remained in the second half. Pearson’s main change in the second period was to swap over Koren and Brady around 58 minutes. Brady continued to look dangerous, but less could be said of Koren. Brady caused trouble for Blackpool all game long and his two footed ability makes him hard to read. His delivery was reasonably good and varied, and will take a shot on even with the most limited opportunity. However, Hull’s strikers lost their composure when they could have scored but they were also let down through a lack of guile in their forward movement which made them predictable at times. When Brady wasn’t creating, their main chances tended to come from some poor organisational and positional play from the Blackpool back line.

Two factors

Even though Blackpool enjoyed a numerical advantage in the centre of the pitch they generally exerted better pressure for two reasons. The use of Baptiste and the introduction of Billy Clarke. Alex Baptiste had a strong game from full back and from the half hour mark added some excellent progressive running to support the attack and occasionally was the furthest man forward. He defended excellently, rarely being beaten and also made a last ditch tackle. He has given Holloway the ideal solution after the last minute debacle over Neal Eardley and his contractual issues and is probably first choice at right back again.

Keith Southern and Barry Ferguson dominated with good passing and link up play with Grandin however only once Billy Clarke came on did Blackpool start to threaten in the final third. Clarke’s movement opened up the forward line and gave Blackpool’s midfielders plenty of options and their forwards better spaces to run in to and it was from his deft flick that Blackpool made their winner.

Moving on

Hull looked dangerous at times and when teams are matched man for man with them they’ll enjoy some great success and if they can generate composure in front of goal then they’ll have a strong season. Blackpool on the other hand will hope to move better in the final third and work their high defensive line with more anticipation and composure. Three points is a most welcome start for Blackpool, but there will be greater challenges ahead.

Four Thoughts on… Hull City 0-1 Blackpool

It was a winning start for Blackpool last night at the KC Stadium and a decent game to boot, if not quite at the same standard we had become accustomed to during our one year stay in the Premier League. The quality of the winning goal cannot be disputed however and Gary Taylor-Fletcher’s strike indicated ‘Pool do still possess some top class ability.

With the loss of the statistics and chalkboards that go with top flight status, my ‘Seaside Strategy’ series of posts will be taking a back seat this season. Instead I’ll be analysing the Hull game, and many other games this campaign, by picking out four key themes. I’ll still be looking at tactics, but they might not always be the primary focus. As ever, your feedback is always appreciated.

1. Four distinct spells

In a game that ebbed and flowed between the two sides, it could reasonably be divided into four  separate periods. The first of these was the opening 15 minutes, during which the home side were comfortably on top. Indeed, it took ‘Pool until the 7th minute to hold onto the ball for more than 10 seconds, and even then it was in their defensive third. High pressing from Hull forced the Seasiders into going long too early – Taylor-Fletcher providing the only exit route, but with little success.
After around a quarter of an hour, ‘Pool gradually came into game. The team started to find feet with their passes and they began to find some neat interchanges. The odd ball was still given away and the tendency to hit Taylor-Fletcher remained, but it was a visibly improved Blackpool side. A Stephen Crainey tackle on Leroy Rosenior in the 22nd min seemed to galvanise both the players and the vocal backing behind the goal. Blackpool didn’t dominate this part of the match, but it was a marked shift from Hull’s early pressure and saw Blackpool grow in confidence. The Seasiders definitely ended the half as the better team.
‘Pool began the second half with a lot more urgency about their play. It quickly became evident that three points were there for the taking, with Hull scruffily gifting possession away and Blackpool seeking to take advantage. One great pitch-length move on 54 mins showed how Blackpool have retained some of the slick passing from last season, as they passed out of defence before Ferguson won a free-kick outside the Hull 18 yard box. Ferguson saw more of ball in this spell, and it is easy to see why he has records for so many touches and passes at Birmingham – Ferguson always looks to keep things moving with short passes.
From around the 60 minute mark, Hull started to carve out a number of chances and give ‘Pool cause for concern, although Blackpool were still seeing a lot of the ball. With both teams tiring and  the match becoming stretched, Hull were having a lot of success with the ball over the top. Fortunately for ‘Pool some very poor finishing ensured the ball stayed out of the net and City were made to pay as Taylor-Fletcher played a nice one-two with Billy Clarke before launching an unstoppable shot into the top corner – the technique involved in the goal was first class and was enough to win Blackpool the three points.
2. Defensive frailties remain
Despite keeping a clean sheet, there was still plenty for Ian Holloway to examine after the game as his defence once again showed its vulnerabilities. Blackpool contained Hull well for the best part of an hour, but as the second half wore on the back line was regularly breached. Too often ‘Pool were reliant on last ditch tackles, saves from Gilks or simply rotten finishing from Matty Fryatt and Jay Simpson. With the benefit of stills from the television – not a luxury we’ll have on a regular basis this season – we can identify five of the most worrying moments for Blackpool’s defence.

Defensive line a mess, arms aloft for offside, but Baptiste recovers well with last ditch challenge.

Evatt, Baptiste and Cathcart all taken out of the game – Ferguson and Crainey having to cover. Crainey does enough to put off striker as Gilks collects ball on edge of area.
Baptiste and Cathcart with their arms in the air this time, deflection off Evatt setting Fryatt clear. Gilks saves well after Fryatt delays shot.

Starting to wonder if the defence has woken up with aching arms today. Cathcart recovers well to prevent Fryatt equalising in stoppage time.

Sounding like a broken record now, but Baptiste again appeals in vain for offside. Jay Simpson wastes a glorious one-on-one opportunity with two minutes remaining and ‘Pool hang on to all three points.
3. Season too far for Ormerod?

When the starting line-up was announced before yesterday’s game, there were few surprises. Craig Cathcart was the obvious choice in defence once it had emerged Neal Eardley would not be making the trip for off-the-field reasons, and one of Elliot Grandin or Ludovic Sylvestre was likely to slot into the midfield alongside Barry Ferguson and Keith Southern. Up front Taylor-Fletcher and Kevin Phillips were always going to start, but it came as a shock to some that it was Brett Ormerod, not Billy Clarke, filling the final spot in the XI.

I had speculated on twitter that Holloway may go down this route, favouring Ormerod’s experience, but it was not a move I or many other ‘Pool fans would have preferred. It goes without saying that in years to come Ormerod will always hold a special place in the memories of Blackpool fans, from the way he broke through as a youngster following his move from Accrington Stanley to the winning goal at Wembley in the 2010 Championship play-off final. There is however only so much room for sentiment in modern football and while Ormerod will always give 100% effort, one can’t help but think that the club has better options available.

When Clarke replaced Ormerod midway through the second half, the contrast was there for all to see. Where Ormerod had strained and stumbled, Clarke was vibrant and full of energy. The age disparity would suggest this is obvious, but the even more mature Phillips looked sharper than Ormerod throughout, despite playing the full 90 minutes. With Clarke, Tom Ince and Gerardo Bruna all able to occupy that spot on the left of the front three, it’s hard to see how Ormerod can successfully compete for his place this season – even before any potential new signings are taken into account.

4. Taylor-Fletcher integral
Even though Taylor-Fletcher has worn the tangerine shirt since the start of the 2007/08 season, he has never particularly been considered one of the stars of the team, and at times has even been a target for the negative section of ‘Pool support. Those days are surely behind us now as Taylor-Fletcher has stepped forward to be a key component of this Blackpool side. Few expected he would handle the step up to Premier League level, but he gave a good account of himself at the top level and contributed both goals and assists with his deceptively quick feet.

Now back in the Championship, and with the names of Adam, Vaughan and Campbell confined to the past, Taylor-Fletcher has come to the fore. A clever footballer, last night was another strong display from the man who began in non-league, showing good vision to lay the ball off for Phillips towards the end of the first half, the veteran striker seeing his shot denied by the woodwork. Taylor-Fletcher sought to combine with Phillips again early in the second half, intercepting the ball in the Hull half before trying to quickly release Phillips – the finely cut grass meant the pass did not hold up as he might have wished and proved a little too heavy for Phillips to collect.

The quality of Taylor-Fletcher however was best illustrated by his fine winning goal. Turning on the ball, Taylor-Fletcher looked inside to Clarke before searching for the return ball. The technique on the strike cannot be understated – it was sweetly hit despite having to watch it over his shoulder. Taylor-Fletcher will be expected to take up some of the slack in the goals department left behind by Adam and Campbell. On this showing, he is more than up to the task and is a player who Blackpool should tie down on a new contract as soon as possible.