Four Thoughts on… Blackpool 0-0 Watford

In the hours before Saturday’s game, I saw a statistic that in all league meetings between Blackpool and Watford, there had never before been a 0-0 result. Therefore it was somewhat inevitable that the Bloomfield Road crowd witnessed a goalless draw. Here are my observations on the match:

1. Midfield – history repeats itself
In his pre-match press conference, Ian Holloway hinted that in order to combat the way Watford play, he may play an extra striker. In light of these comments, it was no surprise then that it was Chris Basham who was left out in order to accommodate the return of Lomana Lua Lua. Holloway was apologetic about this decision when announcing his team to the sponsor’s lounge before the game, stating that Basham was extremely unlucky to miss out after an impressive performance at Southampton last week. It was a big call, and in hindsight one that the manager got wrong.

Gary Taylor-Fletcher once more dropped deeper, as he has done many times this season with questionable levels of success. The idea is obviously to employ a 4-2-1-3 formation, but Taylor-Fletcher all too often finds himself too high up the pitch, resulting in the side often resembling a 4-2-4. The number of short passes in midfield was vastly reduced from the previous weekend, despite the best efforts of Ludo Sylvestre who needed more help in trying to pass through the visitors.

One even wonders whether Taylor-Fletcher is happy to play in this role, with body language at times on Saturday suggesting he would rather be playing as part of the forward three. Not only did Taylor-Fletcher drift forward to form a front four, he could regularly be seen pointing at others to drop in for him when he advanced. Some weeks a rotation of this makeshift front four is clearly visible, but it was less evident against Watford, giving the impression the front line were not asked to regularly rotate with Taylor-Fletcher. As a consequence, Blackpool often seemed outnumbered in midfield which led to a slightly longer passing game compared to what has been on offer during the last month or so.

Quite simply, the balance of the team with Taylor-Fletcher in the hole does not look right, and it is a little concering that ‘Pool are having to use the former Huddersfield man in this way as regularly as they do. The nigh-on 4-2-4 is not bringing the best out of the player or the team, and perhaps it is something that should be Plan B or C, rather than the way Holloway sets up his side as default.
2. Never assume, it makes an…
For all the disappointment at dropping two points on Saturday, Blackpool were unlucky not to go ahead on the back of their first half chances, hitting the post twice – firstly after a splendid run and shot from Matt Phillips, and again shortly afterwards through Lua Lua. Watford did have their moments too in the opening 45 minutes, but any neutral would likely have said that ‘Pool had done more of the two teams to forge a half-time advantage,

However, the massively disappointing aspect from a Blackpool perspective is that it seemed like there was too much complacency. It is almost as if it was expected that the goal would come, when the plan should have been to force it through changes in either tactics or personnel. As the largely dismal second half wore on, it wasn’t until the 67th minute that Holloway sought to alter his team. Even then, it was a fairly like-for-like substitution with Kevin Phillips replacing the frustrating Lua Lua.

With just over 10 minutes to go, the next change saw Billy Clarke replace a tiring Sylvestre, but this only served to weaken the midfield further. Clarke joined the action in the midfield, but at this point there were effectively ‘Pool five strikers on the pitch, regardless of where they were supposed to be playing. It would surely have made more sense for Basham or Angel Martinez to be deployed in midfield if Sylvestre needed to be withdrawn.

One wonders whether Holloway maybe backed himself into a corner with his team selection, and he was worried that bringing on an out-and-out midfielder may have seemed negative. Giving the team an extra dimension by reverting to a more orthodox 4-3-3 may have been the key to unlocking Watford, but the manager chose to stick with the same set-up, with which a resolute visiting side had got to grips with more easily in the second half.

3. Lomana Lua Lua – frustration reigns
Since joining on a free transfer in October, Lomana Lua Lua has quickly established himself as something of a fan favourite on the Fylde coast, mainly influenced perhaps by his breakthrough performance in the 5-0 victory at Elland Road. Personally though, I have yet to be convinced by his all-round game and Saturday was another example of how he can be such a frustrating player.
What lets Lua Lua down is this – while he can produce the odd moment of magic, he does not do the simple things well. Over the course of match, players are required to do many more simple things than complex ones, and it can be infuriating when a player repeatedly cedes possession by trying to be too clever when a more straightforward option is available.
Lua Lua did have his moment of excitement when he was denied by the post, but beyond that there was little he did to impress and should probably have been substituted earlier than he was. Currently there seems to be a mixture of players who aren’t in the team and possibly deserve to be, and others who are regulars in the team when they haven’t perhaps done enough to merit that right. I dare say Lua Lua belongs to that second category at the moment, and more concentration when asked to do the simple things would help him warrant his place.
4. Welcome back Matt Phillips

Perhaps one of the biggest disappointments from the weekend was that the performance of Matt Phillips did not earn his team three points. Awarded the man of the match by the sponsors, his display against Watford was arguably his best 90 minute performance since joining the club in August 2010.

Phillips looked full of confidence, running at defenders time and time again – his major strength which puts fear into other teams and memorably tore apart the Manchester City left-back Aleksandar Kolarov almost a year ago. Phillips was also desperately unlucky not to open the scoring when his first half shot came back off the upright after running with the ball from his own half.

With so many players eager to stake their claim for a starting place, one did wonder how long Holloway would perservere with Matt Phillips, but it now looks like the extended run in side is paying off. Tom Ince should still feel aggrieved that he has had to wait, but the former Liverpool youngster will probably now have to bide his time until Callum McManaman returns to Wigan before winning his place back.