The ongoing chaos at Bloomfield Road continued as Blackpool were defeated 1-0 by local rivals Burnley. The win ensured the visitors took a big step towards the Premier League, while the hosts were left staring down the barrel of League One. Here are my thoughts on the match…
1. Surprising team selection and substitution
It’s been exceedingly difficult to predict the side from week to week, such has been Barry Ferguson’s penchant for shuffling his deck and throwing more than the odd curveball. The interim player-manager was true to form in that regard, and once more the starting XI left the majority of Blackpool fans scratching their heads.
On examining the teamsheet it looked like ‘Pool were going to employ a 4-5-1 formation once more, with Chris Basham and Neal Bishop attempting to provide some width, although essentially cramming five defensive midfielders in to try and keep a clean sheet. In reality we saw a 5-3-2 formation that was quite frankly bemusing.
Basham was asked to play in central defence alongside Craig Cathcart and debutant Harrison McGahey, while Bishop found himself paired with David Goodwillie up front. The effort displayed by Bishop can never be ignored, but having already featured out of position (and struggled) elsewhere on the pitch this season, what suddenly made the former Notts County-man a suitable foil for Goodwillie?
In the absence of Ricardo Fuller, was it deemed that Bishop would provide the best aerial relief for the Seasiders out of the options available? If that was the aim, then it certainly wasn’t the result achieved, as the graphic below illustrates.
The makeshift striker won just five of his contested 21 headed duels, with Blackpool never really able to keep possession high up the pitch. One must wonder what was going through the mind of Andy Keogh, who would have been a much more logical choice in that role. Did Ferguson feel that Bishop would provide more defensive cover tracking back?
Regardless, it was a negative decision and one made all the more bizarre following his comments after the Leeds game when Ferguson was quoted as suggesting the team needed to score goals. Leaving natural strikers on the bench at the expense of a defensive midfielder deputising is a strange one to comprehend.
However, as baffling as that was, nothing can even come close to what ‘Pool fans would later witness. Having just gone a goal behind, Goodwillie was sacrificed for Louis Almond. A product of Blackpool’s own youth system, Almond had not yet featured in a league game for the club despite now being 22, having spent most of his career to date on loan in the Conference with clubs including Barrow and Hyde.
He has failed to set the world alight at any of his loan clubs, yet somehow was favoured to the aforementioned Keogh and another (but significantly more promising) Blackpool youngster Tom Barkhuizen. It’s hard to imagine it was the actual intention, but the introduction of Almond almost felt like a protest of its own; a ‘fuck you’ statement to both the owners and the fans.
That might sound harsh on Almond, but even he must have been surprised to find himself on the pitch. To his credit, the lad tried to put himself about but it’s clear he is not comfortable at Championship level, and one wonders if he will ever make a career in league football should he be released from Bloomfield Road. When the side desperately needed a goal, seeing the likes of Keogh, Barkhuizen and Elliot Grandin sat on the bench while Almond was on the pitch was frankly hard to take.
2. Game almost a sideshow
With so much going on in the stands and on the touchline, for long periods it felt as if the match itself was something of a distraction. In that sense it’s perhaps a shame that Blackpool’s performance will not gain much attention, for the Seasiders could have quite easily have taken something out of it.
There was very little quality admittedly, and it’s clear Burnley were not at their best, but as the game reached its concluding stages, there was some pressure applied and only an excellent Kieran Trippier clearance denied Andy Halliday a late equaliser. Nerves definitely set in amongst the visitors and there was clear relief amidst the joy expressed by the Clarets at full-time.
Throughout the 90 minutes Blackpool did not create a great deal – indeed Halliday’s late effort was the only shot on target – but at the same time they restricted Burnley to very little too. Jack Robinson almost gifted Kightly an early opener, but otherwise clear-cut chances were few and far between. Youth team graduate McGahey showed enough to demonstrate why he has been awarded a professional contract and given the circumstances showed a fair bit of maturity.
However, despite running Burnley close, at no point did you feel this was a game ‘Pool could win, and sadly we have now reached a point of the season where it’s wins that the club needs. Setting out defensively would be all fine and dandy if we had a six point or more gap to the bottom three, but after this weekend the Seasiders could be firmly entrenched in the relegation zone with a daunting trip to Wigan to come.
3. Bob Malcolm must go
On a crazy day of football, the icing on the cake was probably when coach Bob Malcolm took it upon himself to deliver a left-hook to Stephen Dobbie as the latter was readying himself to be substituted on. Quite what caused this fracas is as yet unclear, but for Malcolm to resort to violence against one of his own players is unacceptable.
At the time of writing the club have yet to properly address this situation, with Ferguson seemingly unaware of the full details when he gave his post-match interviews to the local media. The caretaker manager did say “he will deal with it” but that was as far as it went, and thus far Malcolm’s fate is unknown.
Malcolm took to Twitter in the early hours of Saturday morning to attempt to explain himself, although only made things worse for himself, with his ill-advised tweets later deleted. In his first social media missive, he seemed to acknowledge a mistake had been made, but stopped short of making an actual apology and tried to instead play down the incident.
Having been on the receiving end of angry messages from ‘Pool supporters, Malcolm later responded to a claim he had ‘offered a fan out’ for a fight in the aftermath of his altercation with Dobbie. In a further example of unprofessionalism, Malcolm denied the claim, but appeared to suggest he was up for a fight and that all anyone had to do was come along to the training ground to take up the challenge.
Both of the above tweets were deleted by Malcolm mid-morning on Saturday, but as with all social media, what has been seen cannot be unseen and fans were quick to screengrab the evidence. This latest farce is not the first time Malcolm has courted controversy having previously been fined for anti-sectarianism during his time at Rangers, as well as a drink-driving offence while at Derby County.
Physical violence against our own players cannot be tolerated, and following ill-discipline from Paul Ince earlier in the season to which the club failed to adequately respond, now is time for the board to take a hard line. If Malcolm is not immediately relieved of his duties then it is simply not good enough.
It was a chaotic atmosphere at Bloomfield Road on Good Friday, when it felt as if the whole club was collapsing due to poor leadership from the top. To use a historical analogy, one could compare it to the Götterdämmerung of Berlin in 1945. The etymology stems from one of Wagner’s famous operas and translates to Twilight of the Gods, but is commonly used in English to describe a disastrous conclusion of events, such as the fall of Berlin at the end of WWII.
Or, putting it into more familiar context, Blackpool’s calamitous fall from grace. It has been a long slow descend into farce since relegation from the Premier League, and Saturday was possibly the lowest point yet. The game was littered with the loudest chants against the owners to date and the match was disrupted on a number of occasions by the 53rd minute tangerine and tennis ball protest and rogue pitch invaders.
Everyone will have their own opinion on the protests, as they are entitled, but it is clear to see how it has got to this stage and the mismanagement which has precipitated it all. A fairly strong editorial, at least by their standards, saw the Gazette call for Karl Oyston to get a grip on the club. This warning should be welcomed, but there is an element of closing the door after the horse has bolted.
Just as the Götterdämmerung of Berlin did not come out of nowhere, neither has the circus that currently surrounds Bloomfield Road. Our ‘Battle of Stalingrad moment’ if you will, the onset of this crisis we find ourselves in came when the club’s owners decided to put their own personal wealth ahead of the club’s future in the pecking order. For far too long our local media have glossed over the underlying problems, despite the overwhelming evidence which suggested the direction things would take.
At this point, it really does feel like too little too late. It’s nigh-on impossible to see how Blackpool survive from here, and a win for Millwall today has seen ‘Pool drop into the bottom three for the first time season. The likelihood now is that the club will be relegated, and the scene is set for the home match against Charlton for the true Götterdämmerung. The scenes we witnessed against Burnley was only the starter; the main course could be even more revolting.