Four Thoughts on… Burnley 3-1 Blackpool

A disappointing showing in front of the Sky cameras saw Blackpool go down 3-1 to a superior Burnley side on Saturday evening. It was a poor performance which will only fuel the negative atmosphere currently surrounding the club. Here are my thoughts about the weekend’s match.

1. Burnley in the derby mindset
From a Blackpool perspective, the build-up to this game was somewhat low-key. Considering the two sides hadn’t met since the 2008/09 season, the anticipation among the ‘Pool support for this Lancashire derby hadn’t exactly hit fever pitch. Whether that transmitted to Ian Holloway’s players is unclear, but it was the men in claret and blue who looked by far the hungrier of the two sides. Suggesting a team simply ‘weren’t up for it’ is something of an cliched English approach to football, but on this occasion it seems a fair comment.
From the off the Burnley side looked to harry their opponents and frequently pressured the visitors into making a lot of mistakes. Burnley’s running off the ball was relentless and ‘Pool struggled to get to grips with the high tempo of the game, often finding themselves caught in possession. In contrast, ‘Pool didn’t exert the same pressure when the home team had the ball. It was a frustrating viewing experience for Blackpool fans and aside from a couple of early runs from Tom Ince, there was little to set the pulse racing.

This is by no means an all-star Burnley line-up – their stuttering form so far this season indicates their present mid-table position is about right, but they gave ‘Pool little opportunity to demonstrate any quality that the visitors may believe they have. Time on the ball was at a premium and Burnley’s constant pressure made Blackpool resemble a team of near strangers destined for a long old season.

2. Two men on the short corner

It has been a bugbear of mine since last season, and eventually Blackpool’s lack of concentration from a corner kick has cost them a goal. Set-pieces seem to be a recurring frailty for the Seasiders, but incidents like this should be cut out altogether. The premise is simple, if the opposition goes to take a short corner involving two players, the defending side needs to send two players 10 yards from the corner flag, in order to successfully close down a one-two between the attacking players.

On this occasion, the corner that led to Burnley’s first goal, only Brett Ormerod was nearby as the hosts worked a short corner. On his own, Ormerod was unable to prevent the cross after Ross Wallace passed to Junior Stanislas for a short corner. The cross came in and Charlie Austin beat Craig Cathcart to the header – 1-0. In the stands, it was Cathcart who shouldered a fair amount of the blame. Cathcart was too easily shrugged off sure, but the cross should never have been allowed.

Had the corner been put in directly, it’s an easier ball to defend as it’s usually heading away from goal, meaning it’s more difficult for attackers to put a run on their marker. In this instance, the guilty party is surely Kevin Phillips, who as seen below is slowly wandering over to the corner, but only once it is too late. Phillips was surely tasked with being the second marker on the short corner, but a lack of concentration handed Burnley the initiative.

Brett Ormerod is forced to track Ross Wallace’s run, allowing Junior Stanislas to cut back and deliver the killer cross. Kevin Phillips (top left) arrives on the scene too late.

3. Change of shape, (slight) change of fortune
Going into half-time two goals down, the performance had been so sub-standard that it was difficult to imagine what changes Holloway could make to turn things around. With so many players having an off-day, picking just three to haul off was a tough choice. As it happened, the manager sent the same 11 players back out in the second half, faced with the daunting challenge of salvaging a result. The shape of the team was different however, and not for the first time in recent weeks, Holloway changed to a 4-4-2 – Ince went wide right, Jonjo Shelvey wide left, with Brett Ormerod partnering Kevin Phillips up front.
The tactical change was not a complete success, but Blackpool did begin to create chances having drawn a virtual blank on that front in the first 45 minutes. Ince and Shelvey created more width, and Callum McManaman also looked a threat when he came on with 20 minutes to go, but the front pairing of Ormerod and Phillips struggled badly, the latter especially. It was no surprise when they were both taken off, but the change could easily have come sooner. Whether the marginal improvement was down to the shape is unclear – some players were better after the break while others were just as bad, if not worse.
Ian Holloway has been a big exponent of the 4-3-3 formation since being appointed Blackpool manager in May 2009, but his use of the 4-4-2 lately demonstrates one of two things, depending on your viewpoint. A willingness to change when necessary would be one outlook, but one could equally view it as a manager confused about the direction his team is going. I would suggest that there isn’t necessarily a need to re-invent the wheel by changing philosophy, rather a need to identify the core group of say 16 players Holloway can rely on, and build some continuity into the side.

Back to the shape however, and the balance of the midfield hasn’t quite been right all season – it remains to be seen if Keith Southern and Barry Ferguson is viable in a three man midfield (or for that matter, a two man central midfield). Holloway’s decision to leave out Southern against Nottingham Forest indicates he too has concerns in this area. Having switched to a 4-4-2 midgame on a couple of occasions now, it may only be a matter of time before ‘Pool begin a game with that shape – rightly or wrongly.

4. Lack of a target man 

Gary Taylor-Fletcher, while hardly an out-and-out target man himself, was a big loss for the Seasiders and his absence displayed what an influential player he is. Blackpool do have a tendency to go long with their passing using the diagonal ball, but without Taylor-Fletcher present, it was a thoroughly unrewarding tactic on Saturday. The resultant effect was conceding possession on a regular basis, with none of the forward line able to effectively hold the ball up.

In terms of Taylor-Fletcher’s own form this season, it has wavered, possibly down to the variety of roles he has been asked to fill, but he remains a key cog in the machine. Missing through injury, the loss of Taylor-Fletcher again highlighted a failing in Blackpool’s transfer policy this season. For all the players that have been signed – 17 in total – and the size of the squad, the loss of one player was too crucial and shows that despite the numbers it’s hard to make a case for genuine strength-in-depth.

There are too many similar players in the squad, and perhaps more alarmingly, too many who are unlikely to ever feature despite being signed only a few months ago. Comments made this week by the manager and his assistant indicate that they perhaps are now aware of mistakes made, but it will be interesting to see if they can rectify this situation to any great extent before January. A big target man may not be the Spanish way Holloway admires, but in a league such as the Championship it is a weapon that Blackpool need to have in their armoury. For the time being, a speedy recovery for Taylor-Fletcher is key.