Blackpool won their second consecutive home match with a 1-0 win over Huddersfield Town to relieve some of the gathering pressure at the bottom of the table. Here are my thoughts on the game…
1. Diamond ditched
Aside from last week’s trip to top of the table Leicester City, Barry Ferguson has largely opted to employ a 4-4-2 midfield diamond formation. At the King Power Stadium, Ferguson sought to try something a little different and frustrate the runaway league leaders with an ultra-defensive 5-4-1 shape. While it was ultimately unsuccessful as the hosts made their superiority count, one can at least understand such a negative approach in a game that was probably a no-win situation.
For the visit of Huddersfield to Bloomfield Road, many would have expected the interim manager to revert to the diamond, but Ferguson threw a curveball by opting for three central defenders and wing-backs in a 3-5-2 / 5-3-2 formation, possibly encouraged by how the trio Kirk Broadfoot, Craig Cathcart and Gary MacKenzie had limited, at least to some extent, a rampant Leicester side the previous week.
Whereas the full-backs were more or less restricted to their own half last week, yesterday they had more freedom to push forward and provide some width. Elsewhere, David Goodwillie had Ricardo Fuller alongside him; thankfully not having to repeat the impossible task of the previous week ploughing a lone furrow without a Blackpool player within 30-40 yards of him.
It was also a first start for Elliot Grandin since his return to ‘Pool; an unexpected decision given murmurs of renewed attitude issues which Ferguson did not exactly deny in his post-match interview with Radio Lancashire. Asked if Grandin’s start was a result of his effort shown at Squires Gate, the interim manager stifled a chuckle before going on to explain “workrate wise, he could work a bit harder” and that “sometimes Elliot’s a bit laid-back”.
Perhaps not a reward for hard work then, but rather a case of trying something different given the worrying lack of creativity in midfield for the majority of the season. Blackpool certainly made a strong start and were 1-0 up within the opening five minutes when Fuller exploited some plodding defending from Anthony Gerrard to fire home following a David Perkins through ball.
2. Scrappy, attritional affair
In something of an unusual sight for a Championship game, both teams actually lined up in a 3-5-2 formation, at least initially. However, unhappy with how his side were performing, Mark Robins switched things around in the first half, withdrawing the hapless Murray Wallace for Calum Woods while changing to an orthodox 4-4-2. ‘Pool also made a first half substitution, albeit enforced, when an injury saw Broadfoot replaced by Kevin Foley with Tony McMahon moving centrally.
Blackpool probably had the better of the first half, but it was not exactly scintillating from either side. Grandin did provide a little more purpose on the ball than the team has been accustomed to in recent months, but faded as the game wore on. Meanwhile Perkins and fellow midfield battler Chris Basham were busy, but disappointing on the ball – the latter in particular.
The return to the side of Fuller was a welcome one and aside from his goal he held the ball up well and had some neat exchanges with both Goodwillie and Grandin in the opposing half, although without really creating anything of particular note. While the wing backs attempted to get forward when possible, it was down the right where Blackpool looked more threatening with first McMahon then Foley showing some good intent.
Jack Robinson was less effective and once more showed signs that he is not learning from his mistakes as quick as he should be; some dithering on the ball inside his own half in the opening 45 minutes could have gifted Huddersfield a scoring chance. Add to that some more panicked moments from MacKenzie in possession, the left side of the defence did cause some concern.
3. Huddersfield play into Blackpool’s hands
Huddersfield did improve in the second half, yet while they had more of the ball it was never really in areas that would particularly hurt Blackpool. It was evident from the early moments of the match that the visitors were aiming to play off James Vaughan and use his aerial ability to their advantage. The graphic below illustrates this point:
In the graphic above, isolating just the passes (both attempted and completed) of former Seasider Peter Clarke, one can see the definite strategy involved in using the long diagonal up to Vaughan. However, the red lines indicate the unsuccessful nature of these passes and up against three centre backs in tangerine, it was a tactic that Blackpool were content to absorb.
Huddersfield made it a little too easy at times for ‘Pool to deal with when anyone who has seen much of MacKenzie and Broadfoot in particular would know that exploiting their lack of positional awareness and on the ball ability is the key to unlocking them. For the most part, Blackpool restricted the away side to shots from distance, as the graphic below illustrates.
Of course, one could easily argue that Blackpool did not significantly test their opponents either, and that much is certainly true. However, having conceded an early goal, the impetus was very much on the Terriers to break the hosts down and despite the nerves building at this time of the season, Ferguson’s team were able to see out the game with relative comfort.
4. Breathing room
With other sides down the bottom beginning to find the odd result, and the gap closing to just six points in mid-week, the significance of three points yesterday cannot be underplayed. Re-establishing a nine point buffer to the relegation zone has given Blackpool some much needed breathing space.
It’s not to say the club are now safe from the threat of the drop, but with nine games to go (barring the games in hand held by some other teams) it is nonetheless a healthy advantage. Typically it’s difficult to close a gap by more than a point per game over a sustained period, so barring catastrophic results for Blackpool and numerous wins for those below, for the first time in months survival looks a little more within reach.
Tuesday’s upcoming game at Bolton is a hard one to judge, such is the inconsistency of the Trotters, but even a draw would take ‘Pool ever nearer the safety mark, which at this point can reasonably be expected to be in the region of 45-47 points. Next Saturday’s trip to Loftus Road is unlikely to yield anything however.
Looking further ahead, the next home game against Yeovil can already be pinpointed as the crucial one. Victory in that match would surely all but secure safety one would think and then allow the club to put plans in place. Yesterday’s three points are a huge step towards a second season of survival against a background of mismanagement and self-inflicted turmoil. It’s now time for Ferguson and his team to complete the job before the club addresses the major issues that have put them in these circumstances in the first place.