Blackpool produced a tremendous display to beat Leeds United, despite being behind for most of the game. It was one of those night matches to remember at Bloomfield Road as ‘Pool kicked off their home league campaign with a stirring comeback to send out a warning message to the rest of the Championship. Here are my thoughts on the game:
1. Blackpool step up a gear when necessary
Despite being in total control for the majority of the weekend’s match, it was hard to leave The Den and proclaim that it had been a spectacular Blackpool performance. It was a professional one, sure. It was more than good enough to beat the opposition on the day, certainly. However, in truth ‘Pool never really needed to get much beyond second gear to brush aside the Lions. Although the margin of victory over Leeds wasn’t as large, the display from Ian Holloway’s players was exponentially better.
Leeds may have got the opening goal, but for long spells of Tuesday night’s match, it was one way traffic with Blackpool asserting their dominance. An injury to Barry Ferguson meant Angel Martinez lined up alongside Tiago Gomes and Isiah Osbourne, and the three combined to excellent effect. Their passing was crisp, their ball-winning tenacious, and they swept up the pitch with neat interchanges at high speed. All three looked to advance up the pitch at every opportunity, particularly Gomes and Osbourne, and received excellent hold-up support from the front three of Kevin Phillips, Tom Ince and Gary Taylor-Fletcher.
In fact, until Blackpool eventually found their well-deserved equaliser, all that was missing was a little composure in and around the Leeds penalty area. Final passes would sometimes go astray, crosses would be agonisingly out of reach of their targets, and shots were a little wayward. Yet the build-up to the final third was some of the most exciting, thrilling football witnessed in recent years – a strong statement bearing in mind the successes of the Holloway years.
In one post-match interview, Holloway said that even if Blackpool had lost last night, he felt the crowd would have appreciated his team’s efforts. Evidence of this could be seen in how well the crowd stuck with the Seasiders last night – not panicking when time was ticking by – as the supporters begin to almost expect that eventually Blackpool will make the breakthrough when playing so well. Tuesday night certainly laid down a marker for home performances, and if ‘Pool can get near that on a regular basis, they will not be far away from their ultimate season’s goal.
2. Knack for late goals continues
As part of the season preview week on the blog (see posts commencing 13th August), I did have to scrap one article I didn’t quite get around to finishing. Titled ‘Six Steps to Success’, I’d picked out six areas where improvements might help towards an automatic promotion bid. One of these points was the statement that Blackpool need to rely less on late goals, and instead seek to control games by taking the lead. The reasoning for this was to be that on a number of occasions, Blackpool got out of jail somewhat fortunately.
The aim of controlling games was followed to the letter away at Millwall, yet ‘Pool reverted to their old ways against Leeds relying on two late goals to seal victory. However, when it yields such an entertaining match, it seems churlish to complain about late goals too much – it is certainly a sign of the character of the squad. For all Blackpool’s dominance on Tuesday, they did have a 10 minute lull early in the second half, to which Holloway reacted with his now trademark bold substitutions, replacing two midfielders with two attackers.
It proved to be a masterstroke, with both Nouah Dicko and Matt Phillips scoring off the bench to earn the Seasiders three points. There has been much talk about Phillips and his possible departure, but after missing the Millwall match, he responded in the right way which should help both Blackpool and himself regardless of the final outcome. One man who also has to take a lot of credit is Stephen Crainey who made pivotal contributions to set up both goals – the former Leeds man will have delighted in performing so well against a club where he endured a torrid time.
3. Leeds with negative Plan A, and no Plan B
It was very much a stereotypical Neil Warnock approach to Tuesday night, and against a Blackpool outfit at the top of their game, he was always likely to come unstuck. The strategy appeared to be for Leeds to be solid and frustrate ‘Pool, with the aim of grabbing a goal on the counter or from a set-piece. With Blackpool’s lack of defensive height, Leeds did manage to take an early lead from a corner which hung in the air for Tom Lees to power home.
This advantage suited Leeds, who from that point on were content to bunker down and try to frustrate Blackpool. To their credit, they did a good defensive job – in such scintillating form it still took the Seasiders 75 minutes to crack the Whites’ resistance. Yet sitting back against Blackpool is never really the best plan when ‘Pool’s obvious weakness is in their defending. The somewhat negative approach from the visitors allowed Holloway to really gamble with his substitutions without much threat of Leeds scoring a second goal.
When the inevitable did finally happen in the form of Dicko’s equaliser, Leeds caved. With the game plan in tatters, the away side looked stunned and unsure of how to react, and so it was no surprise when Blackpool completed the comeback minutes later. In the remaining 10 minutes, Leeds never really carved out a clear-cut chance as ‘Pool retained possession while the visitors chased shadows.
On the evidence of 90 minutes alone, it would appear Leeds fans may be in for another season that falls considerably short of their high expectations. In a typically inconsistent Championship, they will surely pick up plenty of 1-0 wins with their current approach, but it is difficult to see them challenging for a play-off place, let alone automatic promotion. But then it was only 90 minutes – their win over Wolves may suggest an entirely different trajectory. Time will tell but Tuesday will be a wake up call for many.
4. Some defensive concern
Without wanting to be negative in the aftermath of such a fantastic night’s entertainment, there are still aspects of Blackpool’s squad that could do with being addressed. The popular belief appears to be that we’re light on strikers, and while another forward or two wouldn’t go amiss, it might in fact be better to argue for the recruitment of some added depth in defence. After a man of the match performance away to Millwall, a knock for Ian Evatt left the squad looking paper thin in that area.Craig Cathcart was Evatt’s replacement on the day, and over the 90 minutes, he did a decent job, despite a shaky start no doubt caused by a lack of match readiness. However, looking at the bench, Bob Harris was the only defensive player available, with no cover at all in central defence. The versatile Chris Basham can fill in there, yet it’s unlikely he will ever get a run there. Ashley Eastham would appear to be the only other centre back on the club’s books, but again it’s hard to see Ian Holloway relying on him week in week out in the Championship.
Although Blackpool played excellently overall, conceding from a corner is somewhat inevitable with so little height in the side. When Evatt is injured, the already diminutive team has even less chance of competing in the air. Signing a defender may not always be the most exciting move a team can make in the transfer market, but another option in this area would be a huge boost to the squad.