Ian Holloway’s Blackpool made it three home wins out of three as the impressive opening to the season got back on track after a couple of disappointing away results. The Seasiders ran out 4-1 winners over Middlesbrough on a wind and rain swept night at Bloomfield Road. Here are my thoughts on the match:
1. Blackpool start strongly
Given that ‘Pool had only taken one point from their last two games, they seemed determined to get back to winning ways with an exceptionally bright opening half hour against Middlesbrough. The fluency of the passing as displayed in the previous two home matches continued with moves from one end of the pitch to the other taking place at high speed.
The midfield trio was the same as the one that lined up (and failed to fire) at the King Power Stadium a few weeks back – Isiah Osbourne, Barry Ferguson and Tiago Gomes – but they seemed to find their feet and enjoy a better balance on Tuesday night. Ferguson – like Neal Eardley – is a player whose every flaw is picked to pieces by the more critical element of Blackpool’s support, but he should receive his due plaudits for a masterful performance against Middlesbrough.
Ferguson carried the whole side forwards at times and showed what a commanding leader of this side he can be, even coming close to scoring only for the linesman’s flag to deny him. Elsewhere the front three, and particularly Tom Ince of course, were a major threat with ‘Pool seemingly desperate to get an advantage as early as possible. Blackpool racked up a high number of shots in the opening exchanges and could easily have been three goals to the good before 30 minutes were on the clock.
2. Middlesbrough little answer to Blackpool attacking threat
Struggling to repel the advancing tangerine hordes, Tony Mowbray appeared to react by getting his side to go more compact in their shape. Blackpool were enjoying great success by carving through their opponents with plenty of quick, short passing. In the five or so minutes before Blackpool’s second goal, Middlesbrough did actually enjoy a brief respite by tucking in and intercepting a number of short passes that had proved so successful for the Seasiders in the opening half hour.
However, it did not take Holloway’s side long to adapt, and seeing that Middlesbrough had simply gone compact, as opposed to dropping deep, ‘Pool began to use the ball over the top to great effect. It was a moment such as this which led to the second goal, when George Friend dithered on the ball under pressure from Ince who looked up and found Delfouneso in space to fire home again.
From this moment Blackpool were able to offer multiple threats with Middlesbrough not knowing whether they were coming or going – equally susceptible to short incisive passing or being caught out with long through balls and pacy Blackpool forwards seeking to latch onto them. On paper Boro look a reasonably strong side, and their home form demonstrates they can have a good season.
However, aside from their capitalising on Blackpool switching off from a corner on the stroke of half-time, Boro were rarely able to pose a threat and did not really click on the night. Particularly lacking, as highlighted by fellow Blackpool blogger Tangerine Dreaming on twitter, was Middlesbrough’s distribution – Andre Bikey being singled out. This was not Middlesbrough side anywhere near their best – a night to forget for them.
3. The Taylor-Fletcher question
After the 1-1 draw at Barnsley, I had a semi-written ‘Four Thoughts’ piece on that match, yet never found the time to write it up beyond anything other than mere bullet points with some explanations. One of the four points was to be titled ‘The Taylor-Fletcher question’, yet I am able to re-use this topic as Tuesday’s events only back up the point I had intended to make – i.e. the flip-flopping between him residing in the midfield and the attack is not helping anyone.
Taylor-Fletcher didn’t have a bad game in midfield at Oakwell, but the crux of my argument was to be why he was there at all after signing so many other players who can play there, on top of the ones we already possess. It was my belief that he may have been more effective in the forward line than Kevin Phillips, and could also have helped to bring Matt Phillips more into that match given his link-up play and aerial ability appears to exceed Phillips Snr.’s these days.
Restored to the front three on Tuesday, Taylor-Fletcher was magnificent. The improvement in his all-round game since first signing for Blackpool over five years ago is incredible and he is rightly one of the first names on Holloway’s team sheets – perhaps so much so that Holloway chooses to shoehorn Taylor-Fletcher into the side wherever possible.
However, just as Holloway stated at the start of this season that he would no longer be moving Alex Baptiste between right back and centre back, it is maybe time for the manager to consider a similar approach with Taylor-Fletcher. The former Huddersfield man is at his most dangerous in the front three and dropping into spaces – his effectiveness advancing from a midfield role is not quite as great. The crowd were vocal in their appreciation for Taylor-Fletcher when he was withdrawn with the game already won – in no small part due to Taylor-Fletcher’s contribution.
4. Imperfection has never been so good
While the result on Tuesday didn’t flatter Blackpool – the Seasiders were good value for their 4-1 win – the performance was still not vintage, with some rough edges still on display. At times, some sloppiness crept in, including inaccurate passing and concession of niggly fouls inciting a few moans and groans from the Bloomfield Road crowd – this even when Blackpool were out of sight at 3-1 and 4-1.
Isiah Osbourne was one such player who was guilty of being a little careless on occasion, as were Alex Baptiste and Craig Cathcart. However this did still not really detract from their performances too much. What this kind of nitpicking shows is just how promising Blackpool are to perform like that, get a result like that, yet still give the impression that there was plenty more in the tank if needed.
‘Pool have set their standards so high in spells this season that even the smallest mistake can frustrate – that’s how far this Blackpool team have come. It is still only six games into the campaign, but the buzz continues to grow. Now it is up to Ian Holloway and his charges to prove that they can call upon these high performance levels over the long-term.