In a rare home Boxing Day fixture, Blackpool ended the run of four consecutive defeats to take a point off visitors Leeds United. Here are my thoughts on the match…
1. Chopra on his own
Paul Ince’s team selections have not often required much deduction, so consistent he has been in sticking with a core of players in his chosen formation. However, there was one surprise for the live television fixture with Michael Chopra getting his first start in months. Chopra had been mainly limited to brief five minute substitutions here and there, but in recent games against QPR and Burnley, the former Cardiff striker was granted a little longer on-pitch time.
Taking Steven Davies’ place in the starting XI with Ricardo Fuller sidelined by injury, Chopra had the task of leading the line in Blackpool’s 4-5-1 formation. In truth, it was always going to be challenging with so little support, and so it proved. Chopra did appear lively in the opening exchanges, but soon found himself isolated. While Davies had struggled to replicate Fuller’s hold-up ability, It was something of a strange move to begin with a shorter forward in Chopra.
When going longer, it was instead Neal Bishop on the left of midfield who was the target for much of the time, but no Blackpool player had much joy in the air, particularly in the Leeds half, as the graphic below illustrates.
Blackpool won 18 out of 52 aerial duels, but of those contested in the away side’s half, the Seasiders won just four out of 24. The side is clearly missing the presence of Fuller, and it is to be hoped that he will have regained his fitness in time for the visit of Brighton on Sunday. However, there is a clear need for a different way of playing when Fuller is unavailable, as neither Davies nor Chopra seem well-suited to a lone forward role.
2. Improved second half performance
The first half was hardly the sort of display to bring the home support much festive cheer and despite a number of corners, Blackpool never tested Paddy Kenny in the Leeds goal. The best chance possibly fell to Dan Gosling who dallied on a pulled-back pass from Neal Bishop and failed to get a shot away before being crowded out by blue shirts. At the other end, the visitors scored from more or less their only opportunity of the half when Lee Peltier got away from Bishop to head past Matt Gilks.
A smattering of boos could be heard when the players headed inside for half-time, but it was a good response from Paul Ince’s side in the second 45. ‘Pool were more energetic after the break and began to apply some pressure. The match became a little more frenetic and the home side got back on level terms when Tom Ince’s deflected shot found the back of the net.
Taking a look at the completed pass charts (from open play), it’s interesting to note how rarely Blackpool threatened in the final third during the opening 45 minutes.
Looking at the second half, the number of completed passes actually dropped, but the areas in which Blackpool played were more dangerous.
There have been occasions this season when Blackpool have gone behind and not looked like getting back into a game, so it was pleasing to see an improvement in the second half. However, having got the equaliser, there’s an argument that ‘Pool didn’t do enough to try and then go on and win the game.
3. Sticking to 4-5-1
The 4-5-1 deployed this season has been behind some of the more stable parts of Blackpool’s game and certainly the club has had more 1-0 victories this campaign than for a long time. However, it has at the same time stifled the attacking side of things and so it’s disappointing that the formation is such a constant.
The effect of Davies or Chopra ploughing a lone furrow has already been touched upon and there’s significant evidence to suggest a 4-5-1 formation utilising either of these without Fuller available is not the best idea. Being inflexible on a starting formation is one thing, but a lack of flexibility mid-game is quite another.
Paul Ince drew some criticism for a straight swap of Davies off for Chopra at Turf Moor last week rather than chasing the game, and once more here the 4-5-1 was adhered to. The introduction of Nathan Delfouneso for Gosling saw Bishop come inside into central midfielder, and the more attacking on-loan Aston Villa player go out wide. Later, it was a reverse of the change at Burnley, with Davies replacing Chopra – again maintaining the 4-5-1.
Out on the left is a position Delfouneso has been asked to fill for much of his time at the club, both this season and last, but one in which he has rarely excelled. Delfouneso’s impact here again was limited, as his passing map shows (N.B. Delfouneso was a 62nd minute substitute).
Delfouneso in some ways personifies one of the fundamental problems with the squad that has been assembled at Bloomfield Road – a mismatch of players and system. Every week there are some undoubtedly talented players on the bench, who the manager is reluctant to use, and when they do get on the pitch, it’s not always in the position where they would be most comfortable. As we approach January, it’s something that ought to be addressed and with many loans set to expire, Delfouneso’s included, Paul Ince should be looking to re-balance his squad to ensure the downward momentum is halted.
4. Red card number nine
The issue of discipline reared its ugly head once more against Leeds as Kirk Broadfoot made himself unpopular firstly with the travelling supporters, and later with the referee and the home fans. Not long after Tom Ince scored Blackpool’s equaliser, Ross McCormack was brought down by the former Rangers man just outside the 18 yard box. It looked to be a clear case of a professional foul, but the expected card was yellow, not red.
Rather than count his blessings though, Broadfoot failed to learn from the club’s many past mistakes in this area and received his marching orders in the last minute of normal time. Over-stretching to get on the end of a Chris Basham pass, Broadfoot went into the challenge high, and with studs showing. The referee had little option and Broadfoot collected his second and the team’s ninth red card of the season.
Looking back over the last 15 years or so, Millwall hold the record with 13 red cards in a season, but with over half of the season still remaining, ‘Pool look set to smash that unenviable record. Leading figures can deny there is a discipline problem at the club and simply attribute it to one player’s absent-mindedness, but it is nonetheless a worrying trend.
Worst of all, it will mean a four game ban for Broadfoot, who like Robinson before him, will serve an additional match ban having already seen red this season. When the squad is already so thin in defence, careless decision-making from key players is adding insult to injury. Whether this decision-making is symptomatic of a deeper attitude problem within the club is up for debate, but the number of red cards is simply staggering.
Credits: The graphics contained within this post come courtesy of the good people at Squawka. Squawka is a web application that delivers real time football data. You can visit their website here, or download the Squawka app on iOS here.