Blackpool started pre-season with what felt like an almost complete squad in comparison to previous seasons. This one was a bit different with fans only able to watch on a pixelated, motion heavy screen which made the reunion so much harder to watch. One thing that did remain the same however, was the inclusion of ‘Trialist’ on the teamsheet! We reviewed the action on offer where there were plenty of positive signs.
This year’s first trialist was in the form of a young goalkeeper, who’s identity is rumoured to be ex Manchester United U23 Alex Fojtíček. Alex didn’t have much to do in the first half although did command his box well.
In the second 45 minutes the next trialist goalkeeper was rumoured to be ex-York and Middlesbrough goalkeeper Harry Flatters. Again he didn’t have much to do with many of Southport’s efforts, which were high and wide of the target. One thing the trialist did seem to lack was confidence with the ball at his feet.
He played an under-hit pass in the early stages of the game which clearly impacted his confidence with the ball at his feet throughout. To his credit, the distribution was much better from his hands and he often set the tempo from the back. If he does become a permanent signing, you would expect Critchley and his goalkeeping coaches to address this side of his game.
First Half: Going Forward
Unfortunately, in the first half, the front three of Gary Madine, Joe Nuttall and CJ Hamilton looked a little toothless. A few balls went amiss after poor control, which slowed the game down. However, the passing and build up play was excellent and the immediate observation was that Neil Critchley has been at work with his possession based philosophy.
The goal came from the impressive Grant Ward who fired home an individual effort. Ward tried another effort close to half-time having determined he’d have better luck on his own rather than relying on the front three.
At the Back
There wasn’t much to comment on the first half in terms of Pool’s defending. Southport’s lack of attacking threat ensured most of the game was played in their own half. One standout moment was Marvin Ekpiteta’s change in pace, something that is impressive for someone of his size and will no doubt come in handy for the upcoming season. Another note was James Husbands shift to centre back – potentially an indication to suggest another left-back is incoming to challenge McDonald.
The final say on the first half viewings is the midfield and in particular how Cameron Antwi performed. He was physical, passed the ball well and looked strong. When compared to Ben Garrity, we thought he did much better and he may have an impact on the first team this season following his permanent move from Fulham.
Matty Virtue also did himself no harm in the central role, almost scoring before half time. It’ll be interesting to see which options Critch selects in midfield for the next game.
The second half was much more positive, showcasing the attacking football we were promised. That’s not to put too much of a downer on the first 45 minutes, as the ball was recycled and retained well.
The sharpness in the final third arrived after the break when a new eleven were introduced and it became one-way traffic throughout, with Pool mounting attack after attack. Nathan Shaw had a solid game in midfield, providing a cross in which Jerry Yates produced an athletic left footed shot on the turn. The keeper could only parry this into Sullay Kaikai’s path for him to slot home our second goal.
It was plain to see the attributes that Jerry Yates will bring to the team with his continuous running and desire for the ball.
The third goal followed after good advantage play by the referee, with Keshi picking up a loose ball and producing a neat finish from a reasonably tight angle.
Garrity’s performance, whilst also showing his strengths, highlighted the work he needs to do in order to become a regular squad member. He made a few needless fouls and sometimes misplaced a basic pass.
In other areas he did well – he moved the ball forwards and to the wide areas effectively. He was also unfortunate to not get himself on the scoresheet after a rebounded effort was blocked. But there’s still a way to go yet before he brings himself up to the quality of League One, as demonstrated by his failure to find a pass into Jerry Yates’ run late on in the second half. He had the idea and knew what he wanted to do, which is encouraging, but he needs to start executing this is if he wants to be considered for first team football.
The third goal was from the spot. After the penalty was won, Yates stepped up and slotted it in the corner out of reach of the keeper. It’s an encouraging sign seeing a player full of confidence take the ball, after Keshi earned the penalty and say ‘I’m having this’ before finishing it off too. Madine may well struggle to break in the first team due to Yates and let’s hope he embraces the challenge.
Questions on Defence and Midfield
The main areas we felt needed work were the central positions of the midfield and defence – no suprise as these are the two areas we haven’t really strengthened so far this summer. Liam Feeney didn’t suit the central role today and we lost the immaculate crossing that he produces. At the moment, it’s the case of round pegs and square holes – Adi Yussef at leftback speaks for itself and clearly didn’t work. He was often wasteful in possession. Jordan Thorniley still has some work to do too and is looking a bit unsure at the back too, with a few mistimed clearances that put the defence under further pressure. More positively, Ollie Turton looked the most comfortable and captained the side well.
It’s a case of ‘work in progress’ at the moment and there were certainly plenty of positive sides from our first run-out in pre-season. The early signs are so much more encouraging than last year and today’s display was impressive – even though it was only against Southport. The passing and attacking brand of football that we associate with Blackpool is back and hopefully here to stay!
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