Paul Ince took charge of his first home match since being appointed Blackpool manager and in doing so earned a draw against promotion-chasing Leicester City. Here are my thoughts on the match…
1. A change of shape
Paul Ince has already shown his willingness to shake things up a little with the changes made in the 2-0 defeat and Leeds, and he once more saw fit to tinker with his team. This time, he altered not only the personnel, but also the formation. Gone was the 4-3-3 Blackpool have become known for in the last few years, replaced by a 4-4-1-1 shape.
This move saw Neal Eardley take up an unfamiliar role of the right of midfield with Gary Taylor-Fletcher on the opposite flank. Tom Ince did indeed assume a traditional number 10 role behind the striker – a prediction made in the previous post on this blog. Matt Phillips was tasked with leading the line.
It was a shape that perhaps gave Blackpool more solidity, but at the expense of attacking ambition – more on that later. One wonders however whether it was a case of picking the players and working out the formation from there, or picking a formation and deciding those were the players most suited to that shape.
Was Eardley really the best option on the right of midfield? He struggled to really make an impact on the game despite a few good crosses. Could Taylor-Fletcher have found himself more involved in behind the striker rather than looking a little lost on the left? Most ineffectual of all though was Phillips in the striker’s role.
2. The striker dilemma
Blackpool are clearly paying right now for the failure to land an out-and-out striker in the January transfer window, as evidenced with no goals scored in the last three games. ‘Pool lost three forwards during January with Nouha Dicko and Wes Thomas returning to parent clubs Wigan and Bournemouth respectively, while Kevin Phillips joined up with Ian Holloway at Crystal Palace.
Only Matt Derbyshire arrived and it has yet to be seen if if he has the requisite quality to score goals at Championship. What is abundantly clear from Saturday’s performance against Leicester though, is that Matt Phillips cannot fill in that role for this Blackpool team. As the lone forward, he all too often weakly conceded possession and although an unusual role for him, he looked very uncomfortable.
With that in mind, one must wonder why neither Derbyshire or Nathan Delfouneso were offered the opportunity to lead the line. Indeed as soon as Derbyshire did eventually replace Phillips, his first contribution was to win a contested header, which was more than Phillips had done all afternoon.
Taylor-Fletcher has failed to shine as the lone frontman, and now Phillips has failed. If Paul Ince does not want to entrust the striker’s position to Delfouneso or Derbyshire, then he will need backing from his chairman to bring in a loan player who can handle this responsibility. Paul Ince has stated his desire to land a target man, but who is available at this stage of the season is unclear.
3. Lack of adventure to win the game
As previously stated, what the formation change gave ‘Pool in stability – and a first clean sheet of 2013 – it did possibly inhibit the attacking flair. Chris Basham and Barry Ferguson gave the side a solid base in midfield, but neither got forward effectively when the home side attacked. There were a number of occasions in the match when a cross went into the box, or was pulled back to the edge of the box, only to encounter a surplus of blue shirts.
Basham and Ferguson failed to support these attacks well enough, often being found just over the halfway line than breaking forward. As the game wore on, Paul Ince opted to retain the cautious 4-4-1-1 shape when making his substitutions, when one may have expected him to open up in search of the three points.
In particular it was surprising not to see Eardley withdrawn in favour of one of the more attacking options on the bench as the game entered its closing stages. It seemed Blackpool and Paul Ince were happy to settle for the draw, particularly evident when Matt Gilks took his time to release the ball during stoppage time when in recent times ‘Pool would have been pouring forward in search of a winner.
Ince confirmed this approach in his post-match interview when stating how delighted he was with the point, with nary a suggestion of being disappointed at not claiming the win, even going so far as to suggest nobody, including fans and players, should be disappointed. Regardless of the opposition, Blackpool need to go into each home game targeting all three points.
4. A point in the right direction
All of the above notwithstanding, a point does at least give Blackpool a small platform on which to build. Many ‘Pool fans will have gone into this game against high-flying opposition fearing the worst, so a draw and a clean sheet can be seen as a positive. It’s a point nearer to safety and right now this is the focus of Blackpool’s season.
In some ways it was also a fortunate point though. A fairly solid performance it may have been, but the best chances certainly came Leicester’s way, most notably of all the second half penalty. Poor decision-making from Eardley and Alex Baptiste saw the pair sandwich Harry Kane who promptly tumbled inside the area. It was a needless challenge with the on-loan Spurs forward heading away from goal, but Blackpool were spared when Chris Wood’s spot-kick was hit against the bar and over.
52 points has to be the minimum target, and Saturday’s draw does bring Paul Ince’s side a point closer to that mark. 11 more points are required, and with many tough away trips among the remaining fixtures, it will need to be at Bloomfield Road where ‘Pool pick up their points. The matches against Bristol City, Peterborough and Sheffield Wednesday seemingly most relevant. The first of those takes place this coming Saturday, and a home win could kick-start Ince’s tenure and relieve much of the pressure currently surrounding the club.