Blackpool bounced back from mid-week cup disappointment against local rivals Preston North End with a 1-0 victory over Barnsley. It is the third consecutive season that ‘Pool have won their opening two league games. Here are my thoughts on the match…
1. Forced selection and weak bench
It’s common to begin these match reviews by discussing the manager’s team selection, the reasoning behind his decisions and other options he might have chosen instead. Paul Ince currently has no such luxury and in just the second league match of the season, he was down to the bare bones. Tom Ince’s suspension and Angel Martinez’s injury effectively picked the manager’s side for him.
The question for Paul Ince was how to set out the players available and once more it required square pegs in round holes. Chris Basham was asked to protect Kirk Broadfoot again down Blackpool’s right flank; it’s fair to say neither looks comfortable there but both, Basham in particular, battled manfully in the circumstances. However, for all Basham’s effort ‘Pool did miss the creativity of a more suitable player out wide – not one of his 10 attempted crosses found a tangerine shirt.
Meanwhile Bobby Grant, nominally a central striker, occupied the left wing spot in a fairly orthodox 4-4-2. If the starting XI was a sign of Blackpool’s wafer thin squad, then the bench confirmed it. One would arguably have to hark back to the Colin Hendry era for a bench that was so weak. That Paul Ince had to turn to Anderson Banvo and Dion Charles to fill the bench told a sorry tale of a club that desperately needs reinforcements.
2. Low on numbers, mainly low in quality
It wasn’t only Blackpool who were low on numbers however, and like last week’s opponents Doncaster, Barnsley also had similar personnel problems as their South Yorkshire rivals. It gave rise to a match that had very little for the purist to enjoy, with two teams not yet up to speed with the new season. In truth the two sides were fairly evenly-matched and for the most part it was a mistake-ridden game with neither team having much cutting-edge.
Despite this, there were a couple of players who stood out for their respective sides. The importance of retaining Barry Ferguson, hailed as the best move of the season by Measured Progress in our season preview, seems to be ever more accurate as he held the Blackpool side together. Ferguson had more touches (61), completed more passes (31) and made more tackles (7) than any of his teammates, demonstrating his value to the side.
Barnsley’s standout player was also a central midfielder, the effervescent David Perkins. Blackpool’s lack of pressing allowed Perkins space between the lines from which he was at the heart of most of Barnsley’s play. Perkins had more touches of the ball than any Blackpool player (82) and completed more passes than anyone on the pitch (48) as the home side struggled to contain him.
Those two aside, there wasn’t much to admire beyond sheer workrate, and if the game itself was low quality, then it was concluded with a goal of the scrappiest nature. Not only do Blackpool now look more of a threat aerially from corners and free-kicks due to the height in the side, but Jack Robinson’s long throws add another weapon into the mix. The game being decided by a stoppage time own goal was appropriately messy, but nonetheless secured three important points.
3. Perplexing substitutions
The changes Paul Ince made during the game at the Keepmoat Stadium invited discussion, given how on the surface they appeared fairly defensive at the time. However, while replacing a left back and asking Basham to protect his right back were not the most glamorous substitutions, there was a logic behind them with Blackpool struggling to contain Doncaster in wide areas.
This week the substitutions were a little harder to fathom. Once again, the changes took places with the scores level and at a time when supporters may expect attacking players brought on to try and find a winning goal. The first change did see a striker come on, Nathan Eccleston took up his place wide left replacing Grant who himself had also been out of position in that role – maintaining the 4-4-2. Ince was later forced to sub the substitute, with the seemingly injury-prone Nathan Eccleston suffering another injury and having to be replaced by Tom Barkhuizen.
The substitution that raised most eyebrows though was the removal of Steven Davies; not because Davies had played particularly well, which he hadn’t, but due to both the timing and his replacement. Having played the first 74 minutes with little involvement – Davies managed only 19 touches of the ball in that time – it’s hard to argue he shouldn’t have been taken off, but doing so at a time when ‘Pool had a direct free-kick, at which Davies is a specialist, was rather bemusing.
Equally strange was the choice to replace Davies with midfielder Neal Bishop and adopt a 4-5-1 formation. This gave the perception that Ince was happy to settle for a 0-0 draw, with his post-match comments confirming this: “I’d pretty much resigned myself to it being a goalless draw to be honest.” Of course, Blackpool did go on to win the game, but to attribute it to that particular change would a stretch.
The reasoning behind in the change is perhaps more simply explained by Ince just not having enough faith in the young players on the bench. Attacking options were available in Banvo, Barkhuizen and Charles, but did Ince lack confidence in throwing them into the match? At this point it’s worth remembering the Native American proverb: “Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.” Paul Ince is clearly having to work with limited resources at the moment, and so second guessing his decisions within these constraints is perhaps a little unfair, which brings me neatly into point four…
4. Phoney season
Last week I preached the value of it being too early to judge too much, and of course that remains this week, and probably for the next one to two months too. I’d repeat what was said last week, in that a win despite a questionable performance is neither the sign of a good side, nor of one papering over the cracks – it’s just too early to tell.
Much of why it is too early to tell is because of the lack of depth to Blackpool’s squad, and also the lack of time the few new players have had to build up fitness and gel with their teammates. Even the first week of the season offered little time on the training ground, as the cup game at Deepdale was followed by two rest days.
It’s plain to see that Michael Chopra is lacking sharpness, as evidenced by his passing up of good chances one would normally expect him to take, as well as overhit or misplaced passes in the final third. Similarly Davies has yet to really impress, but he too appears to be lacking fitness. It’s also worth remembering how these two players will benefit from creative players around them, of which we are not currently blessed, particularly with Matt Phillips and Tom Ince absent.
While in an ideal world a squad would be assembled long before now, Blackpool do not inhabit that world. Drawing conclusions about our fate at this stage is unwise and it could well be another couple of months before our future trajectory can be more accurately predicted. For now, horrible and scrappy wins like the one we saw on Saturday are welcomed. No more, no less.