Four Thoughts on Colchester United 2-2 Blackpool

A new season and a rare new blog post. Here are my thoughts on Blackpool’s opening day draw with Colchester United.

1. The new reality

On Saturday, the quality of football was really rather poor. Very poor, actually. Given the last couple of years, it shouldn’t be that much of a shock to Blackpool fans to see low standards, but at least there was the occasional impressive opponent in the Championship which provided some interest and relief from the dirge. In the season opener, any flashes of quality were kept to an absolute minimum from both sides, albeit the strike for Colchester’s equaliser is deserving of a special mention.

Overhit passes, missed open goals, passes to the opposition, crosses going out for goal kicks, non-existent marking: all of these things were present in abundance, and plenty more basic errors to boot. This was not a match between two competent football teams and both sides have significant work to do to resemble one.

Blackpool did start the better of the two teams and, at least going forward, they carried a goal threat which is not something that could be said often last season, standard of opposition notwithstanding. However, despite leading at half-time, the second half was more-or-less a complete non-event from a Blackpool perspective and Colchester’s performance after the break not only warranted a point, but could have been enough for all three, but for some good goalkeeping and wayward finishing.

It’s been a swift tumble down the divisions for our once-proud club and getting used to being back at this level will not be easy. Turgid games such as this one will now be the rule, rather than the exception. There will be a handful of teams at the top with genuine quality, but the majority of clashes will be close-fought, dogged encounters such as this one.

Gripes about the standard of football are legitimate and reasonable in the early stages of the season considering where we have recently been, I would posit.  As the campaign unfolds, it will be merely accepted as the new normal, however reluctantly. For right now, this was a shock to the system and not a pleasant one. League One…Blackpool are back.

2. Captain not-so-fantastic and other concerns

Unveiled as captain as part of Sky Sports News’ bombastic coverage of all 92 clubs earlier this week, David Ferguson was given the armband as team captain, although somewhat confusingly fellow starter Colin Doyle assumes the mantle of club captain. Neil McDonald’s choice of Ferguson sparked no little amount of debate; understandable given the former Sunderland player has started just six games of league football in his entire career.

If Ferguson wanted to prove the doubters wrong, then his opening day display was the exact opposite of what he needed to do. The 21 year old looked unsteady and uncertain, never getting tight to his winger and being run ragged for much of the afternoon. It appeared that Colchester had highlighted ‘Pool’s left-back as a potential weakness and the home team spent considerable efforts switching the play to Ferguson’s side of the pitch. The second equaliser came after Ferguson was tied in knots by Gavin Massey, one of Colchester’s better players on the day.

One can only assume that McDonald sees Ferguson as his first choice left-back by handing him the captaincy, but on this evidence even Charles Dunne might feel hard done to, which tells you all you need to know. Ferguson has to sharpen up, and quickly.

Blackpool’s other full-back Emmerson Boyce also gave cause for concern, albeit more for his fitness than his undoubted ability. The former Wigan man was blowing out of his arse after half an hour, so playing the full 90 minutes will have taken a lot out of him. With such a slender squad, ‘Pool may have to risk continue playing the soon-to-be 36 year old, although how he will cope with another two games in the next six days is anyone’s guess.

Fitness all-round is a worry as the Seasiders flagged badly in the second half whereas their opposition grew into the game asserting more pressure on the visitors. Given Blackpool’s now usual yet tragic early season squad size, coping with knocks or fatigue will be challenging. In midfield, both Henry Cameron and Jim McAlister were rather anonymous on a sunny afternoon in Essex and the lack of bite in midfield could be costly against superior opposition.

Jose Miguel Cubero emerged from the wilderness as a second half substitute as McDonald tried to shore up the team to protect the three points, but ‘Pool conceded almost immediately and Cubero almost gifted United a winner by dallying on the ball on halfway. Finally, up front the diminutive Jack Redshaw missed the easiest chance of the game and bordered on making Keigan Parker look like a stranger to the offside flag.

3. Bright spots

With my now-typical grumpiness out of the way, what positives were there to take from the game, if any? Well, the good news is that despite the position we now find ourselves in, a few players showed some promise and knowing how poor the bottom end of the third tier can be, there may yet be hope that ‘Pool can avoid back-to-back relegations. Lofty ambitions, I know.

Blackpool’s first goal of the day came after some very good work down the left from Bright Samuel, who laid it on a plate for Mark Cullen. Samuel is seemingly yet to sign a professional contract and it goes without saying that it is something that the club should resolve sooner rather than later. Decide for yourselves whether that will happen or not. Despite his tender years, Samuel possessed a genuine threat with his pace before limping off.

The aforementioned Cullen also caused problems for Colchester and while his first was a simple tap-in, you do have to be there to make the easy finish. His second was a more all-round individual effort and Cullen punished Colchester’s defending with a good dribble and low powerful finish. Cullen looked lively throughout and the early indication is that he might make a decent transition from League Two.

In defence, Clark Robertson and Lloyd Jones offer some much needed stature and height to a side that is sorely lacking it. Their communication as a pairing will need work, but after just one game this shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Loanee Kwame Thomas also provided a bit of height in forward areas when introduced but an out-and-out target man is clearly missing. Colin Doyle looked like a solid enough pair of hands in goal, so it was unfortunate to see him go off with an injury. Brad Potts seems to have an eye for a pass too, even if his attempted through balls didn’t always come off.

It also shouldn’t be forgotten that this is simply matchday one of 46. As is typical in opening day reviews I’ve written in years gone by, the majority of the above is merely a snap judgement, and so its validity can certainly be questioned. Those who had a tough afternoon have plenty of time to turn it around, while those who impressed at Colchester can equally go on to disappoint for the remainder of the season.

Although Colchester are among the favourites for relegation after narrowly escaping the same fate last time out, some will see an away point as a good point, including the manager. Indeed, fans’ expectations, including my own, have been programmed to be so low that a point is more than many of us expected. I think it’s safe to say that despite the ongoing mess at our club, League One will be more forgiving than the Championship.

Relegation is still a very real prospect, but getting cut adrift by the huge margin we did last season is much less likely. Relatively speaking, we will be more competitive and survival is eminently achievable. In no way does that make it an acceptable state of affairs though. This club deserves better, but that is no secret.

4. The future of Measured Progress

This is the first post on this site for close to six months, but it does not necessarily indicate a return to regular activity. The reasons for the lack of posts should be obvious to all, given the dangers of writing about our club in these troubling times. At various times, I have been close to closing down the site altogether, or at least not contributing any new material. For now, the site will remain active but posts, at best, will be sporadic.

Thanks for your continued support.