Four Thoughts on… Blackpool 1-0 Reading

All in all it was a rather forgettable afternoon by the seaside on Saturday, but a 1-0 win over Reading ensured Blackpool ended a run of three games without a victory to keep themselves on the fringes of the play-off places. Here are my thoughts on the weekend’s action:
1. Dreary day, but important outcome
The weather set the tone for the occasion on Saturday, with the damp and blustery conditions playing their part in a forgettable day. As part of a pre-match preview for the Reading blog The Tilehurst End, I tipped a narrow Blackpool win and advised Royals’ fans to brace themselves for inclement weather. If nothing else, I hope they at least followed my advice and wrapped up warm, as there was little other comfort to be taken from their long journey north.
The first half was particularly uneventful, as neither side really got going – stray passes were the norm and the main action centred on two refereeing decisions. Lomana Lua Lua’s through ball found Callum McManaman running through on goal, only for him to be felled outside the box. The referee gave no decision, when surely it was either a professional foul from the Reading defender or a bookable offence for a dive from McManaman. At the other end, Reading had a goal ruled out for offside – Matt Gilks saved well from a header following a free-kick, and although the rebound was poked in, the flag went up.

It was a marginally better second half, but still not enough to elevate the game above anything other than dull. One good five minute spell for ‘Pool brought the winning goal, when Matt Phillips charged down the left before finding McManaman in space just inside the Reading box. A sharp turn created just enough space for a shot and McManaman found the corner to hand ‘Pool all three points. It may not have been pretty, but in the end Blackpool did enough and once ahead never really looked like succumbing their advantage. Over the course of a successful season, victories like the one over Reading are vital, and winning in this fashion from time to time should be commended.

2. Reading disappointing
As one of the many teams aiming for a play-off finish this season, Reading’s trip to Bloomfield Road should have been an entertaining encounter between two teams vying for the same goal. However, without the injured Noel Hunt and the influential Jobi McAnuff, who was suspended having picked up his fifth booking in the 3-2 win over Peterborough, Reading were something of a let-down.

Reading may have a case to claim they had just about the better of the opening 45 minutes, but ultimately the visitors created very little. Attacking down the flanks appeared to be the most obvious gameplan, but with poor delivery from crosses, Blackpool were more often than not able to clear quite easily. Set-plays provided Reading with their most dangerous moments of the match though, with the disallowed goal coming from a free-kick in the first half – defending set-pieces can be a weakness for ‘Pool, but Reading were unable to make the breakthrough.

This is by no means a bid to write Reading off however, and it may simply be an off day for them, not helped by the absence of key players. Inconsistency is rife in the Championship and it’s entirely plausible that the return match will look like it’s being contested by two completely different teams. There is no doubt that Reading will play better this season, and even then they were only just edged out on Saturday.
3. Midfield questions remain
The starting line-up saw Gary Taylor-Fletcher restored to the midfield, with McManaman earning a recall in the front three alongside Lua Lua and Matt Phillips. Taylor-Fletcher has of course filled this role already this season with varying degrees of success, and it was another mixed display for the midfield as whole. The same fluency that appeared to accompany the trio of Barry Ferguson, Keith Southern and Ludo Sylvestre was not quite there against Reading.

A major reason for this, is that with Taylor-Fletcher in the midfield, he will often push forward to make it into a midfield two and forward four. It was often a similar story when Jonjo Shelvey occupied that role, and makes you wonder if it has been a conscious decision from the management. Having this option alongside a flatter midfield three makes ‘Pool flexible and a bit harder for other teams to predict, but does mean the short passing game of the midfield is a little more neglected.

As the second half wore on, Matt Phillips dropped into the midfield with Taylor-Fletcher swapping places, and while it was effective in one sense, with Phillips running from deep to provide an assist, it is not an arrangement that one can envisage being used very often. As the substitutions were made, both Chris Basham and Angel were used in a more defensive-minded midfield, and their presence helped close out the game. One wonders if Ian Holloway may use either of these two players alongside Ferguson and Sylvestre in a return to flat a midfield three in the coming weeks, particularly away from home. If not, then it is likely to be Taylor-Fletcher who will continue in what is becoming a more familiar role for him.
4. Get well soon Keith Southern
It has been a reflective week or so for football in light of the news of Gary Speed’s untimely passing, and Blackpool supporters had another reason to put things into perspective when Keith Southern’s troubles were revealed. It emerged before the Reading game that Southern had had an operation to remove a tumour from one of his testicles. Results from the biopsy are as yet unknown, but it is believed the operation went well and Southern himself is targeting a return to training in January.

The longest serving player at the club has a tremendous attitude towards the game, and despite not being blessed with an awful lot of on the ball talent, his work ethic and determination has seen him be an almost ever-present name in the Blackpool team for the best part of a decade. Even now his absence is keenly felt, the midfield losing a key ingredient without him in the side.

It is to be hoped his recovery is as successful as it is swift. Our thoughts are with Keith and his family and hopefully we will see him step back out at Bloomfield Road in the not too distant future.