Four Thoughts on… Blackpool 2-1 Coventry City

Blackpool left it late once again as they completed a very successful January with their third win of the month against a spirited Coventry City side. Here are my observations from the game:

1. Lack of first half goals continues to frustrate
It has been a curious quirk of the season so far that Blackpool have regularly failed to find the back of the net in the first 45 minutes of games. That statistic has been particularly noticeable of late, with ‘Pool having gone behind in each of the last four games (including the FA Cup stalemate with Sheffield Wednesday). On the one hand, it’s a fact that displays an admirable never-say-die attitude of the team having come back to draw two and win two of those four matches, but there has almost been a sense that the Seasiders have needed to go behind to give them a kickstart.
Focusing solely on league matches for a moment, the figures show an alarming dearth of first half goals. Out of the 45 league goals scored this term, only a staggeringly low 12 have been scored in the opening half of matches – around 27%. Eight of those 12 first half goals have also come from the 30th minute onwards, which means that so far this season Blackpool have scored only four goals ( roughly 9%) in the first third of games. Why ‘Pool are such slow starters is unclear, and as a result the team have had very few comfortable victories this campaign.

On Tuesday night, Blackpool did have chances to take a first half lead as they enjoyed the majority of the ball in the opening 45 minutes. However, the inability to be ahead at half-time was mainly due to some poor decision-making from the front three. At different times Tom Ince, Matt Phillips and Lomana Lua Lua all found themselves in good positions, but took the wrong choice when it came to finding the right final pass or right time to shoot.

Manager and players have recently asked the fans to be more patient, but it might be a case of the forwards sometimes taking their own advice – if only they would put their head up in and around the box the path to goal may become clearer. There is a sense that an early goal for the Seasiders would allow them to brush teams aside, but that first goal continues to elude Blackpool for the time being.

2. Ferguson and Sylvestre struggle as a duo
It has been a regular bone of contention on this blog about using Gary Taylor-Fletcher in the advanced midfield role, so much so that people are as fed up as reading about it as I am writing about it. However, it was the tactic Ian Holloway chose to employ once more against Coventry. It does seem clear that this role does not bring the best out of Taylor-Fletcher, but a side-effect is that it also seems to be having an influence on the performances of Barry Ferguson and Ludo Syvlestre.

Both of the two midfielders came in for criticism from supporters post-match – Ferguson was accused of only ever passing backwards and sideways, while Sylvestre struggled to find his creative rhythm and gave the ball away more often than usual. One must wonder though whether these two players are better suited to a more traditional three man midfield, which opens up extra passing options and would allow Blackpool to try and pass through sides in neat triangles, as had been witnessed in games when ‘Pool had operated with a flatter midfield three.

The unlucky man in all of this would appear to be Chris Basham, who has done well since coming into the side as a midfielder. Viewed by some as a defensive option, he actually fills the role of a box-to-box midfielder when he plays, and in some instances can drive the side forward, as well as providing an aerial presence from both goal-kicks and at set-pieces, both attacking and defending. It may be that Basham is reinstated for away games when the pursuit of an ‘attacking’ 4-2-1-3 isn’t a crucial in Holloway’s eyes, but the home fans may see more of Ferguson and Sylvestre with an extra body alongside them, rather than way ahead of them.
3. Hoofball – the art of winning an ugly game
“We don’t have a Plan B” has been a familiar cry when results haven’t gone well this season, but Blackpool may finally have found a way of winning matches that is in stark contrast to the usual style of play. Of course, winning matches late on has become something of a routine this season, but it has typically been through dogged persistence and pressure which has caused opposing sides to crumble, with the odd tactical curveball thrown by Ian Holloway. The assault that Coventry caved in against was something not seen at Bloomfield Road for quite some time.

Following on from the Crystal Palace and Sheffield Wednesday games, ‘Pool once more found themselves chasing the game late on. The substitutions midway through the second half saw Blackpool initially go to a 3-1-4-2 formation, with Alex Baptiste the screen in front of a back three of Ian Evatt, Craig Cathcart and Stephen Crainey. Ince and Matt Phillips adopted traditional winger roles with John Fleck partnering Ferguson in central midfield, while Taylor-Fletcher was joined up front by Kevin Phillips.

However, after 10 minutes without success, Evatt joined the attack as the formation became rather more difficult to fathom. Evatt looked unsurprisingly cumbersome as a forward, but was having some success in winning flick-ons for Kevin Phillips and definitely helped unsettle the Sky Blues’ defence. Witnessing the panic caused, Holloway then added new signing Roman Bednar to the mix as ‘Pool threw the kitchen sink at the visiting side.

At last Blackpool began to grind Coventry down and a disallowed goal for Kevin Phillips was a sign of things to come as first Phillips equalised following good, calm work from Bednar, then in the dying moments of stoppage time Taylor-Fletcher came up with an unlikely winner. It may not be a traditionally attractive way of playing, but the acquisition of Bednar gives Blackpool the flexibility of switching things up when teams set up to frustrate them. Ian Holloway must surely now look at his squad and feel he has a wide range of options to win ‘Pool the necessary games to contend for promotion – using the right options, at the right time will be decisive.

4. Coventry in strife
A final thought is reserved for the visiting Coventry City side, and it must have seemed like a long journey home for their players and supporters on Tuesday night. The Sky Blues had a game plan and defended well, just as Palace and Wednesday had before them. Like those sides, they also managed to get a goal against the run of play, but once they had their lead continued to defend valiantly, even having the odd chance themselves to extend their advantage on the counter-attack.

However, as Holloway brought on his substitutes, there must have been some envious glances from Andy Thorn in the opposing dugout. Thorn, who can only dream of the resources at Holloway’s disposal, ultimately was helpless as his brave side could not hold out. It was a classic example of ‘bottom of the league syndrome’, with luck frequently eluding those teams involved in relegation battles.

There’s no doubt Thorn’s side will battle all the way in their bid to avoid the drop, and if they can keep up their recent home form then they may still have a chance of retaining Championship status. However, results like the one on Tuesday when they probably deserved more are a real kick in the teeth and they must pick themselves up quickly. As the winning goal went in, several Coventry players, understandably, looked thoroughly demoralised.

It was however a performance they should be able to take positives from and their defence is something they can build success around. Coventry are not leaking goals and in Alex Nimely they have a young player who looks a handful. The lack of finances at the club may prove their undoing in the end, but they do not look to be going down without a fight.