Blackpool made it 10 games without a win following yet another defeat on Saturday at bottom of the table Barnsley. Here are my thoughts on the match…
This will not be the traditional ‘Four Thoughts’ match review. In truth, these have been particularly hard to write under the tenure of Paul Ince, so much so that only eight of his 42 games in charge have been covered in this way. It’s the result of largely uninspiring football – even some of the matches in which we emerged victorious – and a stubborn commitment to one particular playing style. When one has seen the same thing over and over again, what else is there really to say that’s in any way interesting to write, let alone read?
Going into the trip to Oakwell, injuries kept out Gary MacKenzie and Ricardo Fuller, but ‘Pool were able to count upon the returning Kirk Broadfoot (suspension) and Isaiah Osbourne (injury). Meanwhile Michael Chopra and Nathan Tyson earned a place on the bench following their respective off-field issues. In terms of how this affected the system, it was a case of same again, the tried-and-not-so-trusted 4-5-1.
The potential flaws of this approach were glaring pre-game; an out-of-position Neal Bishop likely to struggle at right back, a midfield lacking any attacking impetus aside from Tom Ince and a lone forward in Steven Davies who was likely to be isolated. Anyone who has seen Blackpool in recent months could have spotted this a mile off, and so it’s utterly baffling that the one man with the power to do something else appeared to be the only one who could not. ‘Pool had gone nine games without a win before this match, and still the line-up looked like one set up to win a point.
The first half yesterday was not too dissimilar to what has been witnessed on a regular basis this season. While level at 0-0, Blackpool did not look too troubled defensively (one or two minor scares aside) yet at the same time struggled to string together four or five passes. Possession was easily surrendered by both teams, but the more attacking approach came from the opposition.
A couple of headed attempts on the back of free-kicks and long throw-ins were the main efforts, while Davies had a goal chalked off for offside. There was a hint of offside about the build-up to Barnsley’s penalty, although television pictures are inconclusive. There was little argument to be had about the foul though, and Chris O’Grady’s penalty gave the hosts the lead with the last kick of the half. Paul Ince walked off to boos at the interval, shrugging his shoulders as he went down the tunnel, as if to say “what can I do?“
If a half-time rocket from the manager and the players being sent back out a good five minutes or more before Barnsley and the officials was intended to have a positive impact, a doubling of the home side’s advantage was the last thing Blackpool needed. At that point, the game was essentially up and it was simply a case of shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic. Immediately following the goal Chopra was introduced and the system shifted to 4-4-2, and not long after Tyson was brought on too to play wide right.
Neither of these changes really had much impact however, as the team looked bereft of ideas and desire. It was simply too late by that point and expecting a team to suddenly be able to turn that situation around having been indoctrinated into one overly-cautious playing style all season is to expect a miracle. The game petered out into nothing and only Chris Basham’s long-range effort made the Barnsley keeper work.
The vitriol aimed at the manager in recent weeks has gathered momentum quickly, with many of those present at Oakwell willing to make their voices heard – some as early as the 4th minute as chants aimed at both the manager and chairman were peppered throughout the match. Paul Ince and Alex Rae made the long slow walk to the tunnel by the away end barracked by a group of 50-75 fans who moved to that area with 10-15 minutes to go. That kind of reaction is rarely pleasant to witness, but at the same time is to be expected in such desperate circumstances.
What certainly hasn’t helped the manager’s cause is his increasingly strange comments in the media and the inability to acknowledge any blame he should be taking for the current predicament. One can only hear the hollow remarks of how “the ball just didn’t drop for us” and that we need to realise “this is where we are” before patience soon wears thin. It was perhaps best for all concerned that the manager chose not to speak to the media post-match as it’s become clear he is too stubborn a character to admit his own failings.
Nonetheless it showed a lack of respect for both the media and the fans who want to know where the club goes from here. So, what is the answer? Sacking the manager is the easiest route to go down and one which will be almost universally welcomed. He is winless in 10, has adopted a ‘style’ that is mind-numbingly boring even when the team does sneak a result and has shown himself up both in the media and on the sidelines with his ill-discpline. His time has to be up.
Sure, one argument – and an entirely valid one – is to question the backing he has had from his chairman. A number of the club’s best players were moved on in the summer, be it through failing to agree terms, opting to move them on or, in the case of Matt Phillips, cashing in. The overall quality of the squad has unarguably been significantly reduced. The backing (or lack thereof) from the club’s owners is clear – they are letting the supporters down badly.
But then one also has to cast doubt on the signings the manager has made. A number of players have come in who are bound to be drawing a hefty salary, while other players were offered renewed deals or brought in, only not to be trusted and cast aside by Paul Ince. This is not a squad that can be reasonably expected to challenge at the top end of the table, but neither is it a squad that should go on a run as horrendous as this one.
The biggest failing that can be pinned on Paul Ince is his steadfast refusal to do some different. To do anything different. How can a manager go on a run as bad as this one while sticking to the same structure week after week? If the manager was to show more flexibility and still come up short while seeking to attack teams, the spotlight would be more firmly on the lack of support he’s had in squad recruitment. As it stands, why would anyone want to trust Paul Ince with financial backing?
The anger directed towards the Oyston family is sure to continue, and it’s plain for all to see they have squandered the position we found ourselves in only three years ago, as distant a memory as it might seem. However, their removal is an unlikely prospect in the short-to-medium term and as such the most positive call to action fans can wish for is the removal of Paul Ince as manager. Confidence in him is shot, it’s gone and it’s impossible to see it turning around even if he is still in charge for the next match.
Your time is up, Paul…