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.