Four Thoughts on Blackpool 0-2 Charlton Athletic

Blackpool lost their second home match in a row on Saturday as their form faltered once more despite a mid-week win at Hull. Charlton took all three points south with them following a deserved 2-0 victory. Here are my thoughts on the match:

1. Generally positive first half

Given the opening 45 minutes of the match, there was little sign of what was to come after the half-time break. Blackpool were not fantastic in the first half, but they had a slight edge over the visitors with Ian Holloway’s side dictating more of the play. Sure, there were moments of caution, including when Charlton hit the bar following a corner – more on that later – but by and large ‘Pool looked the more comfortable side.

Gary Taylor-Fletcher in particular posed a genuine threat to Charlton’s goal and went close on a couple of occasions. First, he picked the ball up not far inside the opposition half and his audacious long range effort went narrowly over with Charlton keeper Ben Hamer scrambling. Later Taylor-Fletcher received the ball on the edge of the Addicks’ area and brought it down well, advanced quickly towards goal but skied his shot when it mattered. Throw in another goal attempt from Matt Phillips and the first half had plenty of attacking intent and threat about it from a Blackpool perspective.

Charlton also had their forays forward, with Ricardo Fuller forcing Matt Gilks into a good save just before half time, but the visitors’ role was mainly confined to hitting on the break after significant spells of possession from the home side. Sadly for Blackpool fans, this was about as good as the match got.

2. Defending from corners

A vulnerability when defending set-pieces is hardly a new issue for Blackpool to contend with, but once again the frailty in this area made a significant contribution to Saturday’s defeat. Until the opening goal from a corner, ‘Pool had been more than holding their own in the game and arguably could have been ahead. However once Leon Cort gave the Addicks the lead, Blackpool were poor – very poor. It has to be said, the warning sign on corners had been there in the first half. Sitting in line with the six yard box at the North end of Bloomfield Road, I witnessed ‘Pool struggle to get to grips with Charlton’s corners and had a let off when the visitors struck the bar early on. The most striking thing I observed was that Cort, one of Charlton’s tallest players, appeared to be marked by Taylor-Fletcher. Meanwhile, Ian Evatt, one of the tallest Seasiders, looked to be occupying an area towards the back post and not having a direct opponent to mark.

Blackpool were operating on a mix of zonal and man-marking then, as confirmed in Holloway’s post-match press conference: ““I asked three people to look after certain areas – two of them did it, one didn’t,” fumed Holloway. Who were these people? Evatt was seemingly one, and it looked as if Isiah Osbourne was another. Below is a diagram of how it appeared to me:

Osbourne looked to have responsibility for the near post zone of the six yard box, with Evatt the back post area. Was the third player responsible for the middle of the six yard box, and who was that Blackpool player? There are a couple of candidates, but regardless, Cort punished any confusion by getting a march on Taylor-Fletcher and finding the space between Osbourne and Evatt to power home the header.

Zonal defending is an easy tactic to criticise, as excellently noted by Michael Cox of zonalmarking.net in a piece for ESPN last week. Cox observed the hypocrisy often spouted by zonal marking critics who equally promote the presence of men on both posts – that ironically being a form of zonal defending itself. Where Blackpool may be going wrong is in trying to use a blending of the two systems.

Sticking to one or the other to prevent confusion, and then working on it more often in training has to be a priority. As things stand, Blackpool are simply too fragile from set-pieces, and this will only be exaggerated as opposing scouts pick up on this and target this facet of the game even more. As the old saying goes, goals change games and conceding softly from a corner on Saturday swung the match heavily in Charlton’s favour – Blackpool never recovered.

3. Charlton’s tactics spot on

For all the criticism Blackpool warranted in the aftermath of Saturday’s performance, it would be remiss of me to overlook the game plan that was so well executed by Chris Powell’s Charlton. Powell’s side had just about coped with the Seasiders in the first half, trying to crowd out Blackpool where possible. Abdul Razak often dropped back into the midfield leaving Fuller on his own up front, in what largely resembled a 4-4-1-1 formation.

Once the visiting team got the opening goal shortly after the break, Charlton adopted an even more compact shape. After taking the lead, Razak dropped deeper with the effect being a 4-5-1 that flooded the midfield and central areas. Add in Blackpool’s predictability and inability to fully exploit the wide areas and Charlton were able to snuff out danger in nearly every instance – few chances dropped to the Seasiders as they tried in vain to find a way back into the match.

As Blackpool’s shape become ever more muddled, Charlton were able to launch more threatening counter-attacks and got a deserved second goal. The defending may have been inept and somewhat comical, but there could be no doubting the crispness of Chris Solly’s strike – a wonder goal that flew fast and true into the top corner with Gilks rooted on his line.

Charlton have found it tough going re-adapting to life back in the Championship after a spell in League One, but will surely have used Huddersfield’s win at Bloomfield Road as inspiration when plotting their own approach to Saturday’s game. The blueprint on how to win on the Fylde coast has been exposed – it is now up to Blackpool to find a way to combat it.

4. Holloway’s confused tactics once Blackpool fell behind

Last season when sides went a goal ahead against Blackpool, it was often the most dangerous thing they could do with Ian Holloway’s side coming back from behind more often than any other side in the Championship. This season however, it’s unclear if ‘Pool have the same capability. They have still won points from this scenario, including wins at home to Leeds and away at Hull, yet the last two home matches have seen Blackpool lacking ideas as games have drifted away with little hope of salvaging anything. A significant factor in this has to be the manager’s approach to chasing games. If anything, Blackpool seemed to panic too early on Saturday by throwing on Tom Ince for Tiago Gomes. On the face of it it’s a logical change – Ince has been the division’s star player so far this campaign while Gomes flatters to deceive at times and is not delivering as many might have hoped given how impressively he performed in the opening one or two matches of the season. Yet what this change did was completely unsettle the shape when more perseverance might have been the way to go – after all the first half wasn’t too bad.

This was further compounded when Kevin Phillips and Nouah Dicko were introduced not long afterwards, as Blackpool re-structured into an unbalanced 4-1-5 formation – a midfield seemingly surplus to requirements. Perhaps anticipating the criticism that would come his way, Holloway defended his tactics post-match by insisting the “tactics were fine” and that “the shape should have been easy for [the players] to understand.” Au contraire.

For all the excellent service Holloway has given Blackpool in his time at Bloomfield Road, he remains a man of many contradictions and the ‘throw as many strikers on as possible’ is at odds with his public appreciation for the ‘Spanish way’ of which he extols the virtues. The number of midfielders in the Blackpool ranks is staggeringly high, yet abandoning them altogether when behind seems counter-productive with little supply from which to create chances. Long balls too are a lost cause when the forwards on the pitch lack any real height amongst them.

Charlton must have been grateful for Holloway’s approach as it merely played into their hands. Powell’s men hustled and harried throughout the second half giving little opportunity for ‘Pool to make any breakthrough – the defence easily coping also with the long balls that came their way. That Holloway was so quick to jump to the defence of his tactics is a worry and suggests he lays the blame at his players as opposed to the system he adopted. In the mind of this writer, a change of tack is most definitely required to get this season back on track.

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