With 11 matches of the season played, and an international break just gone in which to consider the season so far, the Measured Progress team cast their eye over some of the key themes from the early part of the campaign.
As well as the all-important three points, this win will give Holloway and his players huge belief having gone for so long without winning a game – and they’re sure going to need a lot of belief if they are to pull off a result at Old Trafford. What happens now is unclear – the odds are heavily stacked against the Seasiders if the bookies are to be believed – but 10 league wins and 39 points is an achievement beyond what many, myself included, had predicted for the Seasiders. If ‘Pool are to go down, they can take enormous pride out of the last few weeks to have turned things around and in doing so giving them a chance to survive on the last day. Will it be the end of Blackpool’s dream, or merely the beginning? I can’t wait to find out.
In terms of how the match was played, it was reminiscent of many a Blackpool match so far this season – end-to-end action, lots of chances for both sides and a very open game. Zonal Marking covered the game at some length, although in contrast to their formation diagram, I’d argue the Seasiders’ midfield three played a lot flatter, and that Sergei Kornilenko began through the middle, with DJ Campbell occupying the left front role. The decision to bring the Belarussian into the side was an odd one, and to be honest didn’t really work. Since his impressive debut against Spurs in the reverse fixture at Bloomfield Road, Kornilenko has not been able to replicate those early promising signs. The chalkboard below shows his lack of a goal threat.
One final observation I’d like to make about Saturday’s game is the tighter looking defence, with Ian Evatt being particularly deserving of some credit. Aside from a strange exclusion in the home game against West Ham, Evatt has started every game for the Seasiders this season and has adapted well to life in the top flight. He has had off-days, but by and large he’s been a reliable performer. The chalkboard below shows how Evatt won all seven of his duels in the Blackpool half, snuffing out the threat posed by Roman Pavlyuchenko and Jermain Defoe.
Being churlish you would say that ‘Pool sacrificed two vital points in their relegation battle. That would take away from an excellent performance however, in an entertaining game that showed Blackpool can compete at this level on their day, even with such slender resources. It’s inconceivable to think that anything other than a win against Bolton next week can keep Blackpool up, but to even be in this position in a fantastic achievement. All ‘Pool fans should have that in their minds as we enter the final two weeks. The dream is still attainable, and that should be applauded. Up the ‘Pool!
Joey Barton and Jonas Gutierrez were below their best and, despite being suspended midweek, a fresh Kevin Nolan did not have his usual impact. As ‘Pool pressed for the elusive winner in the second half, Alan Pardew appeared to be settling for a point to virtually assure Newcastle’s Premier League status for 2011/12, taking off the goalscorer and replacing him with Stephen Ireland. This change saw the Magpies adopt a more defensive 4-5-1 formation, with Nolan and Ireland taking it in turns to support Ameobi going forward. This change helped stifle Holloway’s charges and the visitors saw out the last 10-15 minutes without too much trouble when a home onslaught may have been expected.
In singling out another individual, I would like to praise the contribution of Neal Eardley who had one of his best outings in a tangerine shirt. Eardley was sacrificed in the middle of Blackpool’s slump, presumably in a bid to shore up the team’s leaky defence by replacing him with the more defensively-minded Alex Baptiste. This change didn’t stop the goals pouring in, and it can be argued it limited the Seasiders in an attacking sense. Yesterday Eardley did well to both receive the ball quickly from Gilks, and support Phillips going forward down the right flank, as the chalkboard below illustrates.
In addition to the attacking dimension provided by Eardley, and Crainey on the other flank, the former Oldham man also ably marshalled Gutierrez, restricting the Argentinian and the usually excellent Jose Enrique behind him to very few successful crosses. Craig Cathcart has made a significant impact at Bloomfield Road this season and the young Northern Irish international is sure to have a big future, but him being left out is probably overdue, and may have happened sooner if Holloway had more options at the back – Dekel Keinan’s departure still seems strange. That argument is for the end of the season however, and for the last four games you would expect Holloway to stick with the current back four, barring any injuries or suspensions.
Like many others, I went into this game thinking nothing less than a win would suffice, but as it happened, the other results on Saturday helped Blackpool climb out of the relegation zone on goal difference. It was not perhaps a great result, but every point matters at this stage. A win against Stoke next week would pile the pressure on our relegation rivals who all have tricky fixtures, but it’s now becoming clear this fight will go right to the wire. The display at Bloomfield Road yesterday showed me the players have the spirit for the battle – now all they need is Lady Luck to swing their way.
Adam did manage to complete a few of his searching long diagonals, but when he did the players on the receiving end were offered little support, often being forced back and losing the forward momentum. It was noticeable how languid Blackpool’s attacks were, and goes against what Holloway supposedly learned on his Spanish jaunt.
It’s easy to criticise team selection in hindsight, but Ian Holloway must surely rue not playing to his own team’s strengths. Leaving out Puncheon and Varney handed the initiative to Fulham and ‘Pool never really recovered from Beattie’s mistake which handed the hosts the lead. Keeping the ball is all well and good, but it’s important to hurt sides when you have it. Barcelona’s domination of possession is accentuated by the way they keep the ball in the opposing half and keep the other team pegged back. Blackpool gave the ball away cheaply in these advanced areas and never really threatened a well-drilled defensive unit.
With four consecutive home games to come, it is to be hoped Blackpool return to a high pressure approach, and pace in forward areas is key to this. DJ Campbell will be back after suspension and is a player the Seasiders have missed sorely. Now is not the time for Blackpool fans to feel sorry for themselves. While the home record is often dismissed, it is rare that ‘Pool have not put up a good show in front of their own fans (only the West Ham, Sunderland and Birmingham games spring to mind). An attacking approach against Arsenal, Wigan, Newcastle and Stoke over the course of the next month can yield positive results – it’s time to keep the faith in that approach.
Traditionally set-pieces have never been all that productive for Blackpool. Down the years, Blackpool’s free-kicks and corners have normally been wasted, yet other teams always seemed to score against ‘Pool from dead ball situations. You would have to go back to the early ’90s when David Eyres took the corners to remember a time when you thought ‘Pool had a genuine chance of grabbing a goal. Not any longer.
Out of nowhere, Blackpool have established themselves as the Premier League’s most dangerous team from corner kicks. Going into the home game against Aston Villa, Blackpool had the record of scoring the most goals from corners – 10 – while their opponents had the worst record in terms of conceding from corner situations. True to form, ‘Pool scored their 11th goal of the season from a corner, Elliot Grandin chipping in with his first goal in English football with a near post header.
Corners in the Premier League
How exactly do Blackpool’s corner statistics stack up against the rest of the Premier League then? As already stated, ‘Pool are top of the pile, but how close are the other sides to their goal tally from corner kicks?
Blackpool’s 11 goals from corners edges out current Premier League leaders Manchester United by one, but some teams have scored as few as one goal from corner situations. Roberto Martinez’s Wigan will be unhappy of a return of just one goal from corners while if any proof were needed of Bolton’s style changing from the days of Sam Allardyce, this is surely it. In total 109 goals have been scored from corner situations in the top flight, an average of 5.45 per team. Blackpool therefore have managed more than twice the league average, an impressive feat.
Having scored from the most goals from corners, you’d expect the number of corner-kicks taken by ‘Pool to among the highest in the division. The graph below does not illustrate this however.
Taking all of this information into account, there are a few key points to consider.
- Even the Premier League has its weaknesses
- The oft-touted ‘best league in the world’ likes to paint the image of superiority over its European rivals, yet even at this top level, so many teams fall down to the simple corner. What makes this even more incredible is that Blackpool are hardly built to succeed in this area. Holloway’s team is largely founded with an emphasis on slick passing, not the hustle-and-bustle of physicality of other more agricultural Premier League sides. Despite this, ‘Pool have been able to exploit teams defensively from corner kicks to notch up 11 goals in this manner, proving that some of these teams aren’t quite as perfect as is made out.
- Corners allow Charlie Adam to demonstrate his value
- Adam has won plaudits from many pundits outside Blackpool for his performances this season, but those closer to the club will acknowledge some disappointment at his lack of goals, in particular goals from open play – his first coming in February at Goodison Park. From corner kicks however, he has contributed towards eight goals, with one memorable direct strike against West Ham. In the aftermath of the 3-2 home defeat to Man Utd, Sir Alex Ferguson famously claimed Adam’s corners alone are worth £10m – and if Adam can provide more assists from this area in the coming weeks to help keep Blackpool up, it would be hard to argue with him.
- It might be wise to make more use of the short corner
- A higher success rate from short corners would appear to encourage taking them more often. However, short corners are often a cause of circumstance – slack marking for instance – and may not be appropriate in all cases. When the opposing team is alert and doubles up on the short corners, an opportunity to get the ball into the box can be lost when going down this route. Nevertheless, it is food for thought and may persuade Blackpool to look for short corner opportunities more regularly.
- Corners could be the key to survival
- OK, so this is a bold claim. 11 goals is not insignificant though, and represents over 28% of all the Seasiders’ goals this season. If Blackpool had only scored from a league average five or six corners, then the current goal difference advantage would be wiped out, as well as taking off crucial points. If ‘Pool can continue their good form from corners, combined with the goals coming from open play, avoiding the drop will be a lot more realistic.
Whether Blackpool’s success from corner kicks will continue is as yet unclear. If nothing else though, it should spark a sense of excitement when a corner is won. Going back to the start of this article, I cited David Eyres as a deadly corner taker. In my formative days following Blackpool, an early memory is being sat in the West Stand with Eyres standing over a corner. Such was the expectation that something might happen, fans in the seats would stamp their feet, shaking the old wooden stands to their core. An old tradition, but one that should perhaps return when Charlie Adam steps up to swing his trusty left boot from the corner spot.
Sincere thanks must go to the helpful team at Sidan Media, who run the scientific predictions site KickOff.co.uk. Sidan provided much of the data used in this article and without their help this post would have been nowhere near as comprehensive. Follow them on Twitter at @kickoffcouk.