Wigan Athletic 1-0 Blackpool – Four Thoughts

Blackpool’s recent fond memories of the DW Stadium failed to continue as José Riga’s side suffered their fourth consecutive loss at the start of the 2014/15 season. Here are my thoughts on the game…

1. Selection issues

Trying to predict Blackpool’s starting XI at the moment is not a simple task; lots of new players, some injured, some unfit and one still ineligible means it remains a patchwork team at this point. When the team news filtered through to the hostelries of Wigan, it appeared that Blackpool might be joining the throng of side employing the en vogue three centre back system as Jeffrey Rentmeister was handed a league debut.

As the teams lined up for the kick-off, it swiftly became clear the Belgian, primarily a central defender, would in fact occupy a deep-lying midfield role as Riga opted for a 4-1-4-1 formation. Francois Zoko was given the job of leading the line and Sergei Zenjov came back into the side to play on the right of midfield. It appeared an unusual team selection, but in his post-match interview Riga outlined the reasons for picking the team he did:

“My first thought was to put on the pitch players who were fit enough physically, because again we were playing a game a few days after the previous one. I know that Ishmael is still not ready, Nile is not ready, so we try to keep a good organisation.”

So here we are, four games into the season, and the manager is still having to shuffle his pack based on who he feels is adequately prepared to feature. It’s another damning indictment for the pre-season chaos brought on by the “unique way in which Blackpool operate” and it could yet be a long time before this squad is anywhere near the physical condition required to compete in the Championship. And that’s only from a fitness point of view; not only do Blackpool need to be fitter, there are also massive questions over whether the quality is there either.

2. Defensive frailties

Blackpool only conceded the one goal on Saturday, a rare positive given that it could have been many more. Indeed, Wigan’s inability to really punish Blackpool meant that the Seasiders actually climbed above the hapless Fulham who leaked five goals away to Derby. ‘Pool are climbing the table…hurrah!

Blackpool really should be bottom though, because Wigan missed a host of chances in the opening half an hour that were fairly straightforward opportunities. First Emerson Boyce put over from four yards following a teasing whipped-in free-kick and then former ‘Pool loanee Callum McManaman had the goal at his mercy from not much further out, but shanked his shot wide. A few minutes later Don Cowie should have hit the back of the net but his header sailed over Joe Lewis’ crossbar.

The long overdue opener finally arrived on 35 minutes when Oriol Riera, not to be confused with either of Blackpool’s Oriol twins, found acres of space in the visitors’ box and directed his shot into the bottom corner and beyond the reach of Lewis. A lack of understanding can be blamed for the goal, as the screencap below illustrates.

McMahon and Daniels (circled in tangerine) let Riera (circled in blue) get away from them.

The original cross found its way to Andrew Taylor and at this point the two Blackpool defenders circled, Tony McMahon and Donervon Daniels, failed to pay enough attention to Riera. McMahon got drawn in towards the ball and attempted to provide Nathan Delfouneso with assistance in handling Taylor, while Daniels held his position on the edge of the six yard box. Seconds later, Riera had peeled away, taken a touch and fired home the only goal of the game. As easy as that, ‘Pool found themselves behind.

This is just one example of the frailty of Blackpool’s defensive unit, but one could equally point to many other situations in this fledgling season. There has simply not been a significant amount of time for the shape to be worked on in training and the natural consequence of that is goals like the one above. One can attribute blame to the players if you like, but simple mistakes are inevitable in a situation like ours.

3. Lack of attacking impetus

Frankly there are problems all over the pitch, not just in defence, and from an attacking perspective the visiting side offered little at the DW Stadium. The first half in particular was bereft of goalmouth action at the far end of the stadium and it is for this reason that Miller was introduced at the break, coming on for the anonymous Rentmeister.

Sergei Zenjov has copped for a lot of the early season criticism, with many questioning both his fitness and his ability. The Estonian did not do his cause too many favours on Saturday with a performance consisting of, well, not very much.

Zenjov's attempted passes. Blackpool are kicking from right to left.
Zenjov’s attempted passes. Blackpool are kicking from right to left. Image from http://www.squawka.com/

In the 66 minutes Zenjov spent on the pitch, he attempted just nine passes, completing six of them. Four the completed passes actually went backwards (with Blackpool kicking from right to left in the graphic) and the other two were sideways. Zenjov struggled to make any impact whatsoever.

Of course, it’s not that Zenjov deserves to be singled out, because plenty of other players failed to impress too. Despite a promising debut at Nottingham Forest, on-loan Everton midfielder John Lundstram has been disappointing in the three league games since. Zoko did very little in the lone frontman role while Delfouneso continues to be something of an enigma in a tangerine shirt.

Only David Perkins threatens of offer any kind of energy in the midfield or attack, but he does not have the ability to really drive this Blackpool side on and in the absence of any noteworthy support he is fighting a lost cause. Miller is another one who looks some distance off being fully fit, but he did create the Seasiders’ best chance of the game for Nile Ranger who shot agonisingly wide from close distance.

It was a shame for Ranger, because his introduction did seem to unease the Wigan defence and combined with Miller, the pair make for an imposing duo. It wasn’t enough however, and Blackpool still only have two goals to their name in five matches in all competitions. It’s to be hoped that the returns from injury of Jacob Mellis and Andrea Orlandi, whenever that may be, will give ‘Pool an extra attacking edge they are sorely lacking.

4. Riga’s continued frustration

For a manager who remained mute virtually all summer after being appointed, it’s safe to say Riga has finally located his voice. The Belgian was quoted after Saturday’s defeat as saying:

“I try and do my job – even in this situation – and I am doing my job, as are the players. I don’t want to complain, but it is just the reality.”

For a man who does not want to complain, Riga certainly did not hold back in his pre-match media commitments played out on Radio Lancashire on Friday. Blackpool’s manager gave off the air of someone completely exasperated with their working environment and the interview featured many eye-catching quotes that are worth breaking down:

“People have to know that in my team maybe there is one player who was part of my plan and he’s not playing, still not playing. You don’t have to make the mistake to think that it was my decision but the situation has made that [the other players] are with me now. And I’m just thinking one thing; that they will improve enough to get results.”

Blackpool have now brought in an incredible 18 players this summer, most of them admittedly in the last couple of weeks, but Riga is stating that only José Miguel Cubero was one of his original targets. The Costa Rican is yet to be granted a work permit and in the meantime the manager has not exactly given a ringing endorsement for the rest of his squad. Riga did go on to state that he didn’t mean that they are not good players, but that they “are not ready”. One suspects their readiness applies to both fitness and their ability to win games at this level.

Asked by the Radio Lancashire presenter if his other preferred targets were still available, Riga did not paint an optimistic picture:

“You can imagine it’s more difficult. They’re not waiting for Blackpool, eh? It was already difficult. You have to know that even now when we spoke with some agents they are less and less happy to let their players play with Blackpool because there is no improvement about the situation.”

Certainly, if more players are to arrive between now and the end of the transfer window, it looks more likely that they will not be from the list Riga initially submitted and will instead be plucked from trialists or whoever else the club can get their hands on. The recruitment policy would seem to be scattergun. But hang on, didn’t people say that about Ian Holloway’s transfer strategy? And Paul Ince’s? It would seem there is a pattern emerging here and if only there was a common denominator to which it could be attributed.

On a completely unrelated note, Riga spoke of the unhelpfulness of his chairman Karl Oyston being away on holiday and how it is affecting transfer dealings:

“I’ve not had the normal contact [with Karl Oyston] that you can have during this period only one week before the end of the transfer window. It’s not been a normal relationship as manager and chairman. If people are not aware it’s not a good situation for a manager there is something to do urgently.”

It’s believed the chairman has now returned from his questionably-timed break, but what urgent measures the club will take remains to be seen. In one way, it could be argued that such a disastrous start to the season might kickstart Oyston into backing his manager with some of the cash reserves the club is currently sitting on, there to be used, “if required”.

To avoid being completely cut adrift at the bottom, now might be the time to put football first and invest in some genuine quality as requested by the manager.