Against a backdrop of managerial uncertainty, Blackpool recorded their first league point of the season with a goalless draw at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers. Here are my thoughts on the game…
1. Two up front
For the majority of the season so far, Blackpool have started games with a lone forward and operated with a five man midfield. It was much more of a traditional 4-4-2 formation for the Seasiders for the visit of Wolves, as Nathan Delfouneso was partnered by Nile Ranger who made his first start for the club. Ranger had shown some promise with a couple of bright appearances off the bench and can also be relatively pleased with his performance this weekend.
The former Newcastle striker was given the task of playing slightly higher up and contesting the headers, while Delfouneso had more defensive responsibility when ‘Pool didn’t have the ball. The graphic below illustrates the aerial duels for which Ranger competed.
Ranger won an impressive eight of 14 headed duels, which when you consider the battle he faced all afternoon was a decent achievement. Time and time again, Ranger was pushed and pulled all over the place by the Wolves centre backs with the referee offering little protection. For the most part, Ranger got his head down and was careful not to react to the treatment being dished out.
Ranger tired as the game wore on and perhaps could have been replaced by fresher legs during the second half, but it was an encouraging display from the controversial forward. He could have capped off his full debut with a decisive goal, but despite a strong and powerful run to break free of the Wolves defence, his attempted finish was, if anything, too delicate and came back off the crossbar to deny Blackpool all three points.
2. A long overdue clean sheet
Blackpool couldn’t quite find their first win since Wigan away on 26th April last season, but they did come up with their first clean sheet since that date. José Riga was particularly pleased with this aspect of the result in his post-match press conference, but it was perhaps only a matter of time given the relatively tight games ‘Pool have been involved in this season. Despite the five successive defeats prior to this weekend, the goal difference hadn’t taken too much of a beating at any point, which could prove vital later in the season if Blackpool can build on today’s point to give themselves half a chance of survival.
In addition to one excellent save from Joe Lewis, a lot of the credit for the clean sheet can be attributed to Peter Clarke and Donervon Daniels. The central defensive pair were resolute and are slowly building up some form of understanding, despite some of the early season concerns about Clarke’s age and Daniels’ inexperience. It was a much more no-nonsense approach from the duo (and the team all-round), which shows in the statistic of a staggering 58 clearances from Blackpool.
The graphic above shows the various defensive actions – blocks, interceptions and clearances – completed by the club in each of the six games thus far, with a sharp incline for the Wolves game. It was very much a safety-first tactic and was evidenced even more when pulling all 11 players back for Wolves’ many corners. One explanation for more defensive actions being carried out is that there was simply more defensive work to get through, and of course there’s merit to that argument.
On the day, Wolves completed nearly twice as many passes as their hosts and had more of the ball. They also enjoyed good success down the flanks with the defensive abilities of Tony McMahon and Joan Oriol a niggling worry for Blackpool. However, once the ball approached real danger areas, Riga’s side did what they needed to do and the number of genuine clear-cut opportunities was kept to a minimum.
3. Midfield balance still in question
With the attack and defensive both showing some signs of improvement, attention now turns to the midfield which remains something of a problem all-round. David Perkins remains a livewire in the middle of the pitch and as usual his energy and effort cannot be overlooked. However, the ex-Barnsley midfielder still possesses the knack of dithering on the ball a little too long and Wolves clearly targeted this weakness in his game and nearly benefitted from this on a couple of occasions.
Perkins’ central midfield partner John Lundstram is enduring more of a struggle and has failed to build on his promising debut at Nottingham Forest on the opening day of the season. That day he looked a neat and tidy player who looked to move the ball quickly and go from box to box. In recent weeks he has looked rather more ponderous and at times anonymous. If José Miguel Cubero’s work permit situation does eventually get resolved, Lundstram’s position looks most at threat.
In wide areas, Edu Oriol had a decent game and looked a threat on the ball while also linking up well with his brother. In a team clearly lacking cohesiveness for much of the season so far, and with good reason let’s not forget, it was pleasing to see some interchanges that came more naturally. On the other flank, Andrea Orlandi had a curious afternoon. On the occasions Orlandi was involved, there were signs of his obvious quality, but it just wasn’t often enough.
The image above shows Orlandi’s contribution and the Spaniard attempted only 20 passes, completing 12 of them in his 66 minutes on the pitch. A noteworthy point about Orlandi’s performance is how often he wandered centrally or even over to the left; a natural left-footer, it perhaps seems that the former Brighton player feels a little uncomfortable wide on the right.
Unfortunately, there aren’t a whole host of midfield options to pick from right now with the slender squad, Cubero’s work permit issue and an injury to Jacob Mellis, but one might expect Tomasz Cywka to get another opportunity on Tuesday against Watford. Ideally, Riga may have liked to boost this area of the pitch on deadline day, but for whatever reason there was no progress made here so the club could look to the loan market, assuming the Belgian is still in charge.
4. Defiant Riga
This past week has been yet another chapter for the big book of Karl Oyston foul-ups and once more heaps embarrassment on those who are supposed to be running the club. Shameful backing of the manager since the day he was appointed, shameful undermining of the manager in public and shameful unprofessionalism in approaching another manager with Riga still in situ; shame, shame, shame.
Riga has risen above this nonsense and Saturday proved to be a resounding vote of support for the manager from the club’s supporters, and a vote of no confidence for the harebrained chairman who continues to blunder his way through life with what seems like utter delusion. Blackpool are off the mark, look a more organised team unit following the international break and have the fans behind them. Getting rid of the manager at this juncture would be complete madness, but with a chairman like Karl Oyston, anything is possible.
Any new manager coming in would essentially start from scratch with the team having to once more adapt their style and would upset the togetherness they seem to have gained, as witnessed in their post-match delight at winning their first point. It’s important to remember that for all of the visible improvement this weekend, this is still largely a set of limited players and to think any incoming manager can get more out of this side any time soon is somewhat fanciful.
If this was to be Riga’s swansong, he can leave with his head held high. He has found himself in an impossible situation and despite claims to the contrary from his imbecilic boss, he has conducted himself with total dignity and professionalism. It’s only a point, and Blackpool are still a long way away from safety, but the result against Wolves was the first sign of green shoots. Only Karl Oyston could possibly think cutting those shoots down is the right course of action.