Paul Ince’s side racked up consecutive clean sheets, but failed to inspire creatively as Blackpool made it back-to-back goalless draws at Bloomfield Road. Here are my thoughts on the match…
1. Same shape, different personnel, same problems
Paul Ince opted to retain the 4-4-1-1 shape used last week in the credible home draw with Leicester City, having had more chance to test it during a full week’s training. There were however some changes to the starting XI. Craig Cathcart dropped to the bench due to an illness, replaced by new loan signing Gary MacKenzie who arrived on Friday from MK Dons.
Gary Taylor-Fletcher joined Cathcart on the bench and Chris Basham missed out completely through injury. Angel Martinez and Matt Derbyshire came into the starting line-up. What this meant for the midfield was that Matt Phillips moved to wide left, while Angel partnered the commanding Barry Ferguson in the middle. Neal Eardley remained in right midfield and Tom Ince was given another chance in the number 10 role in behind Derbyshire.
Once again though, it felt like the players didn’t necessarily fit the system from an attacking perspective. Derbyshire was largely anonymous, while Phillips struggled on the left having to keep turning back rather than running at his opposing full-back. If Phillips is to feature in the team, then it would make sense not to use him as an inverted winger, but rather as a more traditional right winger. There is however a strong case that his recent form does not at all warrant a starting place.
If 4-4-1-1 is going to be the system moving forward, then it would be preferable to see square pegs in square holes. Taylor-Fletcher is a natural fit for the number 10 role, whereas Ince may find more space coming in from the left. In an ideal world, ‘Pool would have a new loan striker to lead the line, but Nathan Delfouneso appears to be the most logical choice in the meantime – he’s been unfortunate not to have featured more.
2. Pragmatic, if little more
Where Paul Ince can take far more credit is in the two defensive performances at Bloomfield Road. Back-to-back clean sheets show that ‘Pool’s previous frailties in defence have been addressed to some extent. The home side provided Bristol City with very few chances; a close call on a disallowed goal was the only heart-stopping moment all afternoon.
Part of the strong defensive display this weekend was down to debutant MacKenzie, who some might not have had high hopes for, coming as he does from a league below. MacKenzie set his stall out early, winning some convincing headed challenges in the opening 10 minutes, while also proving an attacking threat at set-pieces. He did tire later on, and it was only one game against a relegation struggler, but MacKenzie showed potential.
Eardley in right midfield is possibly not the most progressive approach, but this too has probably helped to make the Seasiders more solid. Had Tom Heaton not pulled off an excellent save to deny Kirk Broadfoot’s powerful header, then a 1-0 win and three points closer to safety would have seen most fans head home satisfied. As it was, the goalless draw was a frustrating outcome.
3. Aiming not to lose?
A more critical review of Saturday’s encounter with the Robins would be to question if Blackpool pushed hard enough to win the game. Starting from solid foundations is admirable, but with games running out, Blackpool need to be winning games, and fast. Drawing every game from this point on would just about see ‘Pool safe, but the match with Bristol City is really one the club should have targeted to win.
The aforementioned Broadfoot chance aside, Blackpool created very little. The lack of an attacking spark was evident for much of the match, but Paul Ince appeared hesitant to throw caution to the wind and it could be argued the substitutions that were made were somewhat conservative. It arguably took far too long for the first change to be made, with Eardley being replaced by Delfouneso. The 4-4-1-1 shape remained, with Ince taking Eardley’s position on the right, and Derbyshire dropping deeper in support of Delfouneso.
It wasn’t until the 83rd minute that the ineffective Phillips was replaced by Taylor-Fletcher, which prompted another reshuffle; Delfouneso shifted out to the left and Taylor-Fletcher led the line. Neither of these substitutions did much to change the game though, and an emphasis on a more attacking formation in the final stage of the match might have helped ‘Pool create more. It also more than a little baffling how Derbyshire saw out the full 90 minutes given how little he contributed – the introduction of Elliot Grandin or Ludo Sylvestre may have kick-started Blackpool into some sort of positive action.
Paul Ince’s viewpoint will be that opening up the game could have cost Blackpool on the counter-attack, but at some point it is a risk he will have to take, as the team are now 360 minutes and counting without a goal. Another 10 points is the absolute minimum target for survival, and it is hard to imagine the side getting there on goalless draws alone.
4. Good to get away, but a tricky March
For obvious reasons discussed to death already, one suspects the players will be happy to have two matches away from Bloomfield Road coming up during the next seven days. It’s possible we may see more expansive football on the road. Tomorrow’s trip to face Birmingham City is another crunch game between two struggling teams, and failure to pick up anything would not bode well ahead of a very daunting trip to possibly the strongest team in the Championship right now, Watford.
Following those consecutive away games, ‘Pool return home to face the always unpredictable Peterborough United. From looking doomed at the start of the season when they lost their opening seven league matches, Posh’s form since then has been better than the Seasiders’. Impressive wins in recent weeks at Blackburn and Millwall demonstrate that Darren Ferguson’s side are well capable of performing on the road, meaning three points are far from a certainty.
It’s hard to know what to make of the situation at Blackpool right now. Despite back-to-back draws, it’s hard to escape the feeling that we are slowly drifting towards serious trouble. That said, just one win would give an immeasurable boost and calm everything down. Major upheaval is coming this summer, but for now it’s imperative the team keep their heads above water and finish the season as a Championship club – a win in the next two games would go a long way to securing that.