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TD Focus: Phillips & Ince

Although Blackpool narrowly missed out on winning promotion to the Premier League the signs for next season are promising. This is in large part to the two wide players who excelled last season and the prospect of them staying next season gives hope to Blackpool that they will make an even stronger challenge for promotion. Those two wide men are the focus of this article, looking at their qualities and where they still need to develop.

No Doubting Thomas

Ince (20) joined Blackpool from Liverpool around the same time as Gerardo Bruna and the difference in development between the two could not be further apart. Ince has grown with each game and is now one of Blackpool’s key attacking weapons, whilst Bruna mopes around Bloomfield Road like a man who really doesn’t love the game anymore.

First impressions of Ince were of a young player with pace and a trick, but perhaps running too much with his head down, narrowing his field of vision. Taking his place as one of the two wide forwards, normally as an inverted winger on the right, he appears to have developed with the game time he has had. His first touch is solid, but inconsistent, his passing also lacks consistency, both in range and execution.

However, he has good acceleration and sustains his pace well to beat men. His tricks are a little readable and could do with adding more subtlety and disguise to elevate his one v one play. On the evidence of his goals (particularly against Doncaster at home) he can hit powerful shots and allied to that his delivery from wide free kicks and corners can be useful. He could do with developing more variety to his delivery and perhaps developing his pace of delivery and craft to move the ball with more bias towards the end of its flight.

It appears that he is mentally strong and doesn’t appear to lose his composure the closer he gets to the opposition goal. He appears to need to increase his field of vision to appreciate his options earlier which will also help with his decision-making. Overall, his development is on an upward trajectory increasing more than any other Blackpool player and if he keep developing at this rate he will outgrow this Blackpool side should they fail to gain promotion next season. He is assisted by the fact Ian Holloway knows how to develop talent and he suits the system that Blackpool play. In addition to settling in to either wide forward position and has even dropped deeper and centrally at times and realistically he could also be deployed as a very effective attacking left back. However, there’s no reason why over time he couldn’t develop in to a central role, but all the signs are that he is a potentially dangerous attacking wide player.

One area of his game that can be detrimental to his development and the flow of his team is the upon receiving the ball. He has a habit of turning back away from goal in order to protect the ball from the opponent. On the face of it this isn’t necessarily a bad move, however, it appears totally instinctive. What makes it worse is that he does this even when not being marked, leading to attacks slowing down and removing his vision from the field of play that he is being asked to attack. This may well be a consequence of being deployed as an inverted winger and not being comfortable letting the ball run across his body on to his weaker right foot, however, it’s something that he needs to use with more discretion. In doing so, he will become a little more direct in his attacking play and cause even more stress for the opposition.

Where he goes from here will be interesting. He appears ambitious and will want to move on at the earliest opportunity, however, his long-term career may well be best served with at least another season by the seaside under Ian Holloway.

Express Yourself

Phillips (21) started the season being touted as ‘one to watch’ in the Championship and in terms of development appeared to be some way ahead of Ince. He ended the season as a player elected in to the Championship team of the season and being capped by Scotland. However, his development hasn’t been as evident as that of Ince, but that may be more to do with the fact that his skill set was in a more advanced state after an excellent schooling at Wycombe as well as a season in the Premier League behind him.

There’s no point in delaying the key observation about Phillips’ main weakness as it has been, and will be, very critical to where his career path leads. If he conquers it, then there really is no limit to where he can be in three years time, fail to do so and he may sparkle in fits and fade more often. Quite simply it appears that Phillips has issues with confidence or belief in himself which affects his game play from time to time. Whilst not being overly dominant at this stage of his career, it is likely to affect him more and more should he fail to develop the mental side to his game. This emanates less so in his tendency to ‘drop his head’, but more so in the way that he tries to force things in order to prove that he can do the almost impossible. He was surprisingly loaned out to Sheffield United earlier in the season after a poor start to the season, when he was being closely monitored by the opposition and not really getting involved in games. The loan spell served to get him in to a quality League One side where he could flourish in games where he was clearly above the level of the opponent he faced. He scored five goals and came back to Blackpool with complete belief in himself that he could do anything. In the ‘afterburn’ of that loan spell he scored a further twelve goals, before settling in to a greater level of consistency in the end of season run in.

If a team lets Phillips impose himself on a game, then he will, however, he is tested to the limits of his belief when those margins are squeezed. Let him turn and give him five or ten yards and he will hurt most defences in any English league. He can score and create from anywhere in the final third. When he starts, he lines up in the wide left forward position and seeks to cut inside to get his shot away. Very few players will beat him for pace, he is also strong and tricky. His step overs can be a little readable and he does have a tendency to sit back on his heels as he does this, which doesn’t give him a dynamic body position in which to drive forward in to a darting run taking away that vital split second needed in to advanced attacking areas where space is tight.

He can be stopped a little too easily when teams get tight to him, stop him from turning and he has little in his skill set to be able to effectively turn and beat a man. Should he be able to develop attacks when under such close attention then this will form a critical part of his next development stage. This needs to be aided by an improvement in his first touch. To the casual observer his touch may not be questioned, however, he has a noticeable flaw under closer scrutiny. In wanting to keep his head up he doesn’t always watch the ball on to his foot, which in itself isn’t a major issue, top players don’t need to watch the ball on to their foot, but they must use their all round sense and technique to keep the ball under control. Quite often the ball will bounce upwards upon Phillips’ first touch leading to him needed a further touch to full control the ball before executing his next move. This is critical when being closely marked, but also when he gets space it can interrupt his flow. Should he polish up this first touch then defences will need to be on full alert as he will be up to full speed earlier, or getting his powerful shot away earlier. Or as seen in the playoff final delivering a defence splitting through ball from the middle third.

Whilst he is generally deployed as the wide left forward, he can play wide right too, as well as right wing and right back. However, his future may well lie in the central striking role. He hardly occupies that central space at the moment, but when he has he has shown that his hold up play is developing. Again the skills his may seek to develop his wide play may also benefit his future as a central striker.

Good things come….

Blackpool may only need to recruit three players this summer, however, that number may flex if a team comes up with the cash to force a sale for either of these young players. At this stage it is unlikely to happen, although dynamics away from Blackpool are hard to control and agents don’t always act with the players best interests in mind. Starting the new season at Blackpool should be the way to go for these two excellent young players. Do so and it’s highly likely that they’ll be playing Premier League football with Blackpool or some other team.

What is the golden rule?

Before the recent 2-0 win over Ipswich Ian Holloway stated that he had laid down a golden rule for his centre backs Ian Evatt and Craig Cathcart to follow. This post will take a speculative look at trying to establish what that rule is.

Evatt knows the golden rule now!

Golden rule

What exactly did Holloway state before the Ipswich game that has prompted this post? Here are some of his quotes from the Blackpool Gazette when he had said he studied the goal that was conceded against Crystal Palace in the previous match;

“ I’ve looked at it and come up with something I think is really relevant from a coaching point of view.

“I have explained it and I think it is a golden rule both my centre-halves will have in their brains now.

“I don’t think they’ll ever forget it and I’m hoping it will make it easier for them to be centre-halves.”

Rewind and review

As Holloway came up with this rule after watching the goal that was conceded against Palace, this post will take a look back at that concession and lay down what happened, before coming up with ideas about the ‘golden rule’.

The goal was scored by Glenn Murray running on to a cross ball from the left wing. Murray met the ball at the near post finishing smartly in the small space to Matt Gilks’ right hand side. Here’s a step by step summary;

Step 1 – The ball is played out to Dean Moxey on the left wing. He has Brett Ormerod (marked in red in the picture below) covering him moderately, but he has enough space to swing a foot at the ball to cross it.

Step 2 – As the ball is played Alex Baptiste (blue) is positioned in behind Ormerod, but the ball evades him and enters the box.

Ormerod highlighted as red, Baptiste in blue and Cathcart in the centre in pink.

Step 3 – Ian Evatt (yellow) starts to track the run that Murray has started to make to the front post. Craig Cathcart (pink)  is positioned in behind Baptiste as the ball heads towards the six yard box.

The run that Evatt (yellow) makes to track Murray is highlighted in yellow

Step 4 – Murray finishes neatly as Evatt lunges to make a tackle ending up in a heap near the front post.

Evatt (yellow) did all he could and Cathcart (pink) watches the ball ripple the net.

That was the goal that was, step by step. On the face of it a good run by Murray, but clearly a poor goal for Blackpool to concede. Why poor though? Firstly, Moxey was given too much time to cross, the ball wasn’t cut out by the first man, nor was it cut out at the second time of asking and finally an unsuccessful challenge for the ball before the goal was scored. All in all Blackpool missed four chances to stop the goal. However, what can be learnt here when searching for the golden rule?

Elimination

First and foremost the job that Ormerod did can be discarded as he isn’t a centre back. The same goes for Baptiste as in this game as he lined up at right back. That leaves just Cathcart and Evatt and their roles in the concession. Before the steps to the goal above, both centre backs were reasonably well positioned, Cathcart however, ends up spare as his man drops off him he stands facing the ball on the left and watches the ball being crossed, evading Baptiste and turns and virtually stands to watch the ball roll in behind him and in to the six yard box. Evatt on the other hand realises that Murray is making a run across him and follows the run remaining active all the time. It would be very easy just from this basic review to blame Cathcart for ball watching. However, Holloway is clearly stressing that this rule applies to both centre backs and they should work as a team. So what could this rule be?

Goal-den ruling

The rule could be many things, however, for Holloway to be so forthright it must be something he has had to think about in detail, so right away it surely cannot be, ‘don’t ball watch’. That is too simple and it is an assumed defensive duty of any player. Add to that, ‘ensure your striker doesn’t get his shot away’, or ‘stay on your feet’. It might be, ‘ensure the first man cuts out the cross ball’. However, given that Baptiste was the first man, that can’t apply here.

With the aid of a diagram, let’s consider the shape of the centre backs and their movement during this goal. It is this which will hold the key for the rule.

The positions of Evatt (yellow) and Cathcart (pink) and their movements.

The first observation to make is that Cathcart’s position as the ball is crossed is poor. He isn’t in line with Baptiste, in fact he is in front of him. He is also in front of Evatt. This is of interest as he has effectively removed himself from being able to defend the type of cross which is played. This leads on to the first attempt at defining the golden rule. Could it be; ‘Keep your full back positioned in front or level with you at all times’?

The second observation to make is the positions of both centre backs after the goal has been scored. Evatt ends up as the right-sided centre back and Cathcart to his left. Their movement crosses over each other and which might mean the golden rule is defined as; ‘Never cross over’. This is a little more complex than the first rule as it involves better communications between the centre backs to pass over the marking duties from one to another. Given this goal was so close to the goal line and at speed, it would be excessive to expect marking to be passed in that situation and entirely reasonable for Evatt to track his man.

This gives us two potential ideas of what the golden rule is, with the first being the most simple and the easiest for them to follow. The second may well be possible, but further from the goal. Effectively that would be zonal marking with neither defender straying too far in to each other’s zone and therefore never-ending up crossing over.

However, the first rule may be more to the point. As it is, it’s overly simplistic and needs to be developed. The key could be that in combination with keeping position in relation to the full back they should also position themselves in relation to the goal when a cross is coming from the wing. So Cathcart by the terms of the first rule should be positioned deeper, however, Holloway may want him more in line with the front post as well to defend that position better. This gives him more time to adjust to the cross and in addition to being deeper he can see the cross coming in to the box with the ball being in front of him. Also, it removes the space that the striker can attack with a run to the front post.

The Rule

In conclusion, the rule will only ever be known within the Blackpool team and management, but surely it must be a rule about positioning and especially in relation to a cross ball. Effectively Cathcart was out of the game in the process of the goal being scored and that rule must ensure that both centre backs are able to defend at any point a cross is made. Yes, ball watching is unforgivable as was the case with Cathcart, but it is his ball watching in relation to his colleagues, the ball and the pitch which is the problem. Every player ball watches, but he must be in the correct position to watch and then act. Therefore, it’s possible that Ian Holloway will have set down the rule of

‘When defending a cross never be in front of your full back and if the cross comes from your side of the pitch stand in line with the front post’.

This would ensure that the centre back sees the ball coming in front of him and can deal with the danger and should an opponent attack the ball, then he will be covering the goal at the front post and it would take something special to make a goal.

That’s that

So in all, it’s not a catchy rule, it’s certainly common sense, but it may also not even be right. Whatever the rule is, it must be about positioning as everything else seems too simple. However, sometimes the simple things are the most effective, but whatever it is Blackpool kept a clean sheet against Ipswich and if more clean sheets start to appear then the golden rule will be worth its weight in gold.

 

If you have your theories about the golden rule then use the comments section below to share them.