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.