Blackpool 1-3 Norwich City – Four Thoughts

Blackpool lost 3-1 at home to Norwich City to extend their winless run at the start of the season to nine games. It is now the worst beginning to a league campaign since 1966/67 when the Seasiders failed to win any of the opening 11 games and were duly relegated from the First Division. Here are my thoughts on the match…

1. Uneventful first half

Against all the odds, José Riga’s side have managed to avoid a real hammering this season and have been at least competitive in most games. Given the situation it’s seemed unreasonable to ask much more than that and once again Blackpool kept higher quality opponents at bay for a good portion of the match.

There were several changes to the starting line-up but in terms of general organisation the team seemed to vaguely know their shape and their individual duties. Chances were few and far between in the opening 45 minutes and it was a fairly pedestrian pace, which probably suited Blackpool with the aforementioned gulf in ability.

Tony McMahon’s free-kick was the only ‘Pool chance of any note, but from the distance involved it was unlikely to ever challenge Ruddy in the Norwich goal. At the other end, Blackpool had kept the visitors’ dangerman relatively subdued but one always felt that the Canaries had extra gears to find; something that could hardly be said of the hosts.

Norwich had an opportunity shortly before the break that should have seen them head down the tunnel with a one goal advantage. Former Blackpool man Wes Hoolahan found a pocket of space between the lines and played in Lewis Grabban who dragged his shot wide.

Norwich offer a glimpse of their attacking threat.
Norwich offer a glimpse of their attacking threat.

As you can see in the image above, Blackpool’s defensive shape was all over the place. Joan Oriol was chasing back trying to recover his position while Donervon Daniels stepped up to confront Hoolahan, leaving a massive space in behind. Fortunately for the home side the resulting finish from Grabban wasn’t up to scratch, but it showed how Blackpool could be cut apart in an instant.

2. Patchwork defence

Blackpool took the lead early in the second half with a good move of their own. David Perkins advanced through the middle and weighted his pass to Ishmael Miller perfectly and the attempted clipped finish from Miller rebounded into the path of Nathan Delfouneso, who made no mistake in hitting the back of the net.

Blackpool’s defence remained a worry though given its makeshift nature. Injury to Jeffrey Rentmeister and an illness for Peter Clarke left Daniels as the only recognised centre back available. McMahon, who has looked shaky for much of the season at right back had to deputise in the middle and John Lundstram dropped in out of position at full back.

The lead established by Delfouneso didn’t last long and, rather than being a failing in the unit as a whole, it was a cruel own goal from Daniels which brought the visiting side back on level terms. The West Brom loanee fluffed two headers in a row and it was the second of these which found its way into the Blackpool net with nobody occupying the post to clear it.

Daniels had more rotten luck for Norwich’s second goal which deflected off him and looped over the helpless Joe Lewis. There’s an argument though that Daniels had stood too far off Grabban inviting the shot, however fortuitous the eventual deflection might have been for the Canaries. Going behind was a killer blow and Lundstram helped ensure the collapse was complete minutes later when he dallied on the ball and gifted possession to the opposition. Josh Murphy made a positive run and with McMahon backing off him managed to curl the ball low into the corner past Lewis.

With a severe dearth of goals in the side – Blackpool have scored just four in nine league games – it’s difficult to see where points will come from when goals are conceded. That we are nearly in October and are already having to mend and make do to put out some sort of defence with just a couple of injuries is another damning indictment of the club’s recruitment policy.

3. First sight of Cubero

Months after putting pen to paper, José Miguel Cubero was finally able to make his Blackpool debut following a farcical registration process – yet another administrative foul-up in a season already littered with them; the loss of Matt Williams as club secretary continues to be keenly felt. Cubero, who featured for Costa Rica during the World Cup in Brazil, had a huge weight of expectation on his shoulders, but it was a decent enough debut.

Riga stated in his pre-match press conference that one player can never make the difference on their own, but there were some promising elements to Cubero’s play even if he did understandably tire as the game went on. Nobody in a tangerine shirt completed more passes than Cubero’s 47, and his pass completion rate was a tidy 85%.

Cubero seeks to find space in the middle of the pitch.
Cubero seeks to find space in the middle of the pitch.

Throughout his impressive opening 45 minutes for the club, the Costa Rican constantly looked for pockets of space and already looked to be taking on a leadership role within the team by marshalling those around him. Cubero showed signs of high level game intelligence and it’s something that has been lacking in a naive squad. For all of Perkins’ energy alongside him, it was evident that the ex-Barnsley midfielder put himself in dangerous situations numerous times whereas Cubero always kept it simple.

Cubero spots an opportunity to advance with an untracked sprint.
Cubero spots an opportunity to advance with an untracked sprint.

The above image also shows an example of when Cubero looked to break beyond midfield and sprint into space, which could have fostered a good opportunity had the pass to him been better. Instead, the ball ran through to Michael Turner whose suspicious-looking backpass to Ruddy went unpunished.

So, is Cubero going to be the saviour of the season? As Riga intimated, that level of impact is unlikely, but first impressions were positive and as Cubero gets more familiar with his new surroundings he could become a key player. The real shame is that Cubero is believed to be the only main target Riga has been able to land – how might things have panned out differently if five or six of the incoming players also fell into this category?

4. No end in sight to the misery

Once the third goal had gone in and the usual exodus was underway, those who remained inside Bloomfield Road were left to muse on another home defeat, albeit not an unexpected one. Norwich City went top of the Championship with their win and clearly it was always going to be a tough ask to take anything from the match. However, the expectation levels have now plummeted to an all-time low with the life being strangled out of the club week by week.

Blackpool have taken just 17 points from the last 114 available, which is believed to be the worst ever run of form in the club’s history. The sad thing is, it’s difficult to see how the situation can be retrieved. Nearly a fifth of the season has already gone, and at the current rate of point-scoring, ‘Pool will just about make it to double figures. Now, it’s improbable that such a low tally will be the end result come May, but it won’t be long before the Seasiders require play-off form just to finish 21st.

The obvious problem is that Blackpool just lack the necessary quality, but resolving that is no easy fix, even if the club does finally remove its self-imposed financial shackles. The transfer window for permanent signings is months away, and by that point who would willingly sign for ‘Pool when relegation is likely to be a formality? Acting sooner than then and dipping into the loan market, what Premier League club would want to send their best youngsters to the Fylde coast in our current predicament?

No, unfortunately the ship appears to have long since sailed and at this juncture any genuine improvement in the table seems fanciful at best. Two more tough games await in the coming days with a trip to Middlesbrough followed by a Friday night home clash with Cardiff. The latter of those will take place in front of the Sky cameras, when one imagines a strong backlash from the terraces will occur. Championship status appears a lost cause and with seemingly nothing to lose, the lengths angry supporters might go to in protesting their displeasure could know no bounds.