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.