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.