Forethoughts on Blackpool vs. Crystal Palace

During the blog’s summer hiatus, as well as taking a much-needed break from writing, I was keeping myself ticking over thinking of new ideas for features. The loss of chalkboard data that accompanied relegation from the Premier League forced my hand when it came to how matches are reviewed – the Seaside Strategy series of posts were consigned to the past.

The replacement template for match reports would become my ‘Four Thoughts on…’ series, in which four key themes are picked out to analyse each game. Until now, the reason for settling on the number four has been a little unclear, with one reader, almost angrily, commenting “Why does it always have to be four thoughts? Why do you never have three thoughts, or five?”.

The answer, dear reader, should now be a little more transparent upon reading the title of this post and the somewhat unsubtle wordplay therein. It was always my intention that I would expand my coverage by both previewing and reviewing as many fixtures as possible, but for a variety of reasons it has taken until now to launch ‘Forethoughts’.

It is hoped this will become a regular feature, and kicking it off is a preview of Saturday’s home fixture against Crystal Palace…

1. The Last Time Out
All the way back in August, the two sides played out a 1-1 draw at a sun-drenched Selhurst Park. In the post-match discussion on this blog, it was believed that Blackpool ‘should have been out of sight by half-time’. A strong first half performance from Ian Holloway’s men lacked a cutting edge to lead by more than Alex Baptiste’s goal, when their display merited more. Guilty parties in the opening 45 minutes were Brett Ormerod and Billy Clarke – the former now on-loan at Rochdale and the latter struggling to claim a place on the bench.

August’s match also saw Ludo Sylvestre make his first appearance of the season, albeit from the bench, and despite a promising performance, Sylvestre failed to break into the side until November – it’s hard to imagine the Frenchman missing from the starting line-up for this weekend’s encounter. Another man who played away at Crystal Palace was Kevin Phillips, who could have sealed all three points that day had he not spurned a relatively easy chance in the second half. Phillips will be aiming for a recall to the team this weekend after his cameo appearance at Ipswich helped earned Blackpool a point after being 2-0 down.

Crystal Palace earned a point in the first meeting between the two sides thanks to a goal from top scorer Glenn Murray. The former Brighton man could have stolen all three points for Palace as he timed his run to perfection moments later, but shot narrowly wide when one-on-one with Matt Gilks. Palace may be low scorers, but back in August demonstrated enough to suggest they can cause Blackpool’s defence problems on the break.

2. The Key Stats

  • 62% of Crystal Palace’s away games this season have seen fewer than 2.5 goals
  • 50% of Blackpool’s home games this season have seen fewer than 2.5 goals
The common belief is that any game involving the Seasiders is sure to yield a decent amount of goals, but the figures above suggest that anyone expecting a glut of goals this weekend may be disappointed.

  • The most common home results for Blackpool this season are 2-1 and 1-0 wins, each occuring 17% of the time
  • The most common away result for Crystal Palace this season is a 1-0 win, occuring 31% of the time

A close game could be on the cards based on the stats above, with the odd goal likely to separate the two sides. Getting the first goal could be crucial for both sides.

  • John Fleck will become the 28th player to make a league appearance for Blackpool this season if he features on Saturday

Fleck arrives on loan from Rangers until the end of the season, but with a lot of competition for places, it’s hard to know where he will fit in to Ian Holloway’s team.

  • Crystal Palace have not drawn a game away from home this season

This curious stat is most likely at the heart of Palace’s strong away record this season, as when they have picked up a result on the road it’s been the maximum three points.

3. The Key Men
Blackpool – Barry Ferguson

The ‘Pool captain has been suspended for the last three games, and despite the midfield doing well in his absence, one would expect the influential Scot to return. Angel Martinez, who has occupied Barry Ferguson’s role at the base of the midfield, is most likely to make way. Ferguson has been quietly effective all season and his experience and resolve in the middle of the park could be crucial against a well-organised Crystal Palace side.

Crystal Palace – Nathaniel Clyne

Palace may have a difficult job hanging onto Nathaniel Clyne during the January transfer window, with a move to Manchester United being rumoured for the young right-back. For the time being though, he remains at Selhurst Park and Dougie Freedman will be hoping Clyne has recovered from a virus to appear this weekend. At only 20 Clyne has already made over 100 appearances for Palace and has been a big part of the club’s focus on youth.

Blackpool – Kevin Phillips

Last weekend Ian Holloway’s introduction of Elliot Grandin and Kevin Phillips helped rescue a point with the two combining for both Blackpool goals, scoring one apiece. It was a timely reminder of Phillips’ abilities given the injury to Lomana Lua Lua, and is a shot across the bow of those who had begun to write him off. Phillips remains Blackpool’s top scorer this season and has been unfortunate to spend so much time on the bench. Even if Phillips does not replace Lua Lua in the starting XI, Holloway knows that the veteran can be called upon to pop up with a goal if needed.

Crystal Palace – Wilfried Zaha

Another graduate of the Crystal Palace treasured youth system, Wilfried Zaha has committed himself to the club by recently signing a five and a half year contract. A tricky forward, Zaha has been a revelation during the last 18 months racking up 75 professional appearances. The Seventy Two has identified Zaha as often being an ‘out ball’ for Palace, with excellent close control and the ability to hold up the ball. The inclusion of Zaha may force Holloway’s hand when picking his defence – pace at the back could be key for ‘Pool.

4. The Form Guide

  • Blackpool are 8th in the form table based on the last six matches, winning two, drawing three and losing one
  • Crystal Palace are 5th in the form table based on the last six matches, winning three, drawing one and losing two

Both teams come into the weekend’s fixture in good, if not electrifying, form. Crystal Palace just have the edge on ‘Pool, taking 10 points from their last six matches as opposed to nine points for the Seasiders.

  • Blackpool are unbeaten in their last five home games, last losing at Bloomfield Road against Nottingham Forest on 22nd October
  • Crystal Palace have the 7th best away record in the Championship, winning 46% of their away games this season
Saturday is likely to be a stiff test for Blackpool, with Palace possessing an away record Ian Holloway could only dream of. However, Blackpool are the 4th best team on their own ground in the Championship and will start as favourites.
Up The ‘Pool Prediction
One key component not yet mentioned that may be a deciding factor in the outcome of Saturday’s game is the small matter of a League Cup semi-final 2nd leg that awaits Palace just days after this match. With a 1-0 lead to defend at the Cardiff City Stadium in mid-week, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility to suspect Palace may have their eye off the ball. The other way of looking at this is that Saturday provides players a chance to stake their claim for a place against Cardiff, but distraction may be a bigger factor.

A relatively low-scoring game is predicted by the stats, and as such I’ll go for a 2-0 win for the Seasiders.