Blackpool 1-2 Birmingham City – Four Thoughts

Blackpool are now without a win in 16 matches in all competitions as they were defeated at home to Birmingham City, surrendering a 1-0 lead. Here are my thoughts on the game…

1. Failure to capitalise on strong start

Going into yesterday there was generally a feeling amongst supporters that it would be the day ‘Pool would finally chalk up that elusive win, given some more encouraging performances in recent weeks against Nottingham Forest and Ipswich Town. Barry Ferguson obviously felt the players who had started those games deserved another chance, opting to go with the same XI for the third match in a row.

Ferguson’s faith initially seemed to pay off as the Seasiders dominated the opening exchanges, and had three good opportunities to open the scoring inside the opening 15 minutes. It was only a lack of composure from Faris Haroun and Andy Keogh which prevented the home side blitzing their opponents almost as soon as the game had got underway. The latter did put finally ‘Pool ahead on the 20 minute mark, but the remainder of the half lacked the same intensity of the opening spell.

Taking a half-time lead provided some rare cheer in the Bloomfield Road concourses, but there was nonetheless a nagging feeling that it could and should have been a more comfortable advantage. However, scoring goals continues to be a major problem for Blackpool and you have to go back to the last win on November 30th when ‘Pool last managed more than a solitary goal.

2. The right substitutions?

In the post-mortem of another disappointing outcome, many have pointed to Ferguson’s substitutions as a main reason for the end result. It was a bold move, that’s for sure, to replace Steven Davies and Angel Martinez with Ricardo Fuller and Elliot Grandin. Of course, with hindsight it’s an easy decision to criticise – would Ferguson have been better served protecting the 1-0 lead rather than making attacking changes?

That said, there’s an element of sense behind the substitutions that were made. All season long a major downfall has been the inability to score the second goal and kill teams off. Indeed, ‘Pool have only scored two or more goals in six league matches out of 32, won by a margin of two clear goals just twice, and average less than a goal a game. With that in mind, it could be argued it was refreshing to see the interim manager looking to put the game beyond Birmingham by chasing a second goal.

Only seconds before the away side’s equaliser, both Fuller and Stephen Dobbie passed up the opportunity to pull the trigger and a golden opportunity was wasted. Games can turn on such crucial moments and had Blackpool doubled their advantage at that time, it could have proved to be an inspired change. Alas, the aforementioned lack of composure was present once more and once Lee Novak notched his first of the afternoon the confidence drained out of the hosts.

3. Balance of the side

Since taking charge of first team affairs in the wake of Paul Ince’s dismissal, Ferguson has preferred a midfield diamond and a front two, but it’s yet to become clear if this set-up provides the side with a good balance given the personnel available. The midfield has looked a little messy and unfortunately it was another rather anonymous performance from Angel at the base of the diamond and it was an afternoon to forget for Dobbie who looked a yard or two off the pace.

On a slightly more positive note, Haroun had a fairly lively afternoon and turned in probably his best performance in tangerine, if not delivering much of a final product. Meanwhile, David Perkins provided plenty of running but it’s uncertain whether we are seeing the best of him on the left which at times does lead to him drifting inside a little too frequently.

It wasn’t long after Dobbie was sacrificed for Andy Halliday, seemingly in the hope of providing a bit more balance, that Blackpool were reduced to 10 men to take their number of red cards this season into double figures. It’s the third time Jack Robinson has been dismissed this season and while he does not seem to be learning his lessons, his case was not helped by Gary MacKenzie, who is looking more and more like a League One defender with each passing week.

From here on in it was always going to be a difficult task and with the momentum in the visitors’ favour, a second goal seemed inevitable as Novak once more got the better of MacKenzie. Further misery was heaped on Ferguson when McMahon picked up his 10th booking of the season after tangling with Nikola Zigic – Blackpool will now have to do without their left back for three games, and their right back for two.

4. Where now?

With other results at the foot of the Championship going against Blackpool including victories for all of the bottom three, a relegation battle is now facing Ferguson’s side for the remainder of the season. Winless in 15 matches, it’s hard to see how Blackpool can get out of this terrible slump and it is a daunting challenge for the interim manager. For months it has appeared that ‘Pool might escape due to how poor the bottom sides are, but the gap is now just eight points with Blackpool’s form the worst in the Football League – ‘Pool can no longer rely on the ineptitude of other teams and need to start getting wins themselves.

There are plenty of decisions to be made and having taken only three points from six games, some may start to question if the current limbo of Ferguson’s position is helping. Does the chairman officially endorse the former Rangers man until the end of the season to put a stop to the uncertainty, or does he take an even more extreme measure by bringing in a manager from outwith the club?

If Ferguson is to remain in the manager’s role, does he bring himself back into the team? His presence is clearly a big miss and there may come a point where he feels he can assist more by being on the pitch himself. There are other personnel changes to consider too and many would consider bringing Craig Cathcart back into central defence in place of MacKenzie, although suspensions at full back may mean the Northern Irish international is required elsewhere.

Does Chris Basham also warrant a recall? The change in system seems to have dealt the ex-Bolton player a rough hand with his versatility perhaps being his downfall yet again. Basham had done little wrong other than struggling in an unfamiliar position and his battling qualities might be what the side needs at the moment in midfield.

Also, at what point will Fuller be fit enough to start? The whole team fell apart once Birmingham equalised, but in the minutes before that, there were enough promising glimpses to suggest he could reinvigorate the Seasiders’ frontline, probably alongside Keogh who was one of the few players to emerge from yesterday with some credit.

Lastly, is it time for Ferguson to abandon his preferred diamond shape? While providing more attacking hope than Ince’s negative 4-5-1, it has done little to improve the results and it might be worth examining a different formation as the balance of the midfield does not inspire and puts Blackpool in danger of being overrun at times.

There are lots of questions, but sadly very few answers right now. It has been a catastrophic three months for Blackpool who will have gone through December, January and February without racking up a single win. Everyone will have their own opinions for the ultimate cause of such a sudden decline, but what’s clear is that if it is not reversed quickly, a return to the lower leagues will begin to look more and more likely.