Well, what is there to say about that? Okay, it was only a pre-season game, but I can’t say I’ve been so entertained since our days in the Championship. From start to finish, we looked a professional outfit – both on and off the field, with the new gantry position on the East Stand showing Bloomfield Road off in all its glory.
Before the game, there was some debate on social media about whether the club should be charging fans £6 to watch. There can now surely be no doubt that it’s going to be worth every penny for entertainment under Neil Critchley if performances like this come consistently. Who can argue with a £1 per goal ratio?!
Line up: Maxwell, Turton, Nottingham, Epkiteta, Husband, Robson, Ward, Anderson, Hamilton, Kaikai, Yates
It’s hard not to make comparisons to the swashbuckling football we played under Ian Holloway with how we played, posing such creativity going forwards and yet having the odd vulnerability at the back by letting Everton back into the game. We were so comfortable on the ball, with both Michael Nottingham and Marvin Ekpiteta happy to take the ball short from goal kicks and all three of the midfield trio looking to play forwards with every pass.
Blackpool started on the front foot straight away, and within the first minute the ball was in the back of the net. Keshi Anderson played in CJ Hamilton on the left of the penalty area and the 25-year-old slotted past England’s Number One Jordan Pickford in the second minute of the game. Hamilton looks a real talent – his directness and raw pace causing panic in Everton’s back line all afternoon, and he deserved his first goal in tangerine.
Before Everton could settle into their first pre-season outing, it was two. Sullay Kaikai was played in by Jerry Yates and took his goal well, sliding round an Everton defender and into the bottom corner, giving Pickford no chance.
And the high press from the Seasiders continued to catch Everton cold. Straight from the kick-off, players in tangerine swarmed around their back line and forced a mistake. Anderson’s shot was blocked and fell to Grant Ward on the edge of the area who slammed home to make it 3-0 within 11 minutes. Ekpiteta’s reaction says it all.
It may have been the first outing for the Premier League side while it was Blackpool’s fourth game in pre-season, which to some extent explains why we may have started quicker, but it was just as much down to Blackpool’s energy, drive and – most importantly – quality, which led to the perfect start. It wasn’t just that they were poor, it was also that we were sensational and we should really have been four or five goals to the good in the opening 30 minutes.
Jerry Yates was superb in his tireless closing down and it’s clear to see why he was picked out by Neil Critchley as the ideal signing for this system. The stats on Yates suggest he’s a decent striker who’s maybe unproven at this level, having scored 13 in 31 games for Swindon Town in League Two last season. But what they don’t tell you is that he leads from the front and causes havoc with the opposition’s back line, allowing for opportunities for his teammates and we will surely see a few goals coming from mistakes who are forced into an area they’re not comfortable with from it, just like the third goal in this game.
His former teammate Keshi Anderson was deservedly selected for Man of the Match. It’s interesting that while Swindon fans were fuming to have lost out on Jerry Yates, they weren’t particularly bothered about losing Anderson. He has been Blackpool’s stand-out player throughout pre-season, playing in his favoured position in the number 10 role, linking between midfield and attack. From looking at his career highlights, Anderson has clearly bulked up and looks so powerful and composed. At 25, he’s coming into the peak of his powers and looks to have the drive to excel at this level, before surely playing higher – hopefully with us.
Ethan Robson is another who had a really impressive display. In our recent podcast with Grimsby Town fan Jonny Artis, it was suggested that Robson will play in a more attacking position, but his two appearances so far have been in front of the back four. That’s down to the system we’re playing, with three attack-minded midfielders who interchange with each other and look to play forwards with every opportunity. The departure of Jay Spearing left us short of a defensive option, but really it doesn’t seem that we need one when we have Robson and Virtue who can each play that position. Robson has a crunching tackle and boundless energy, looking to be the missing piece to the jigsaw.
It wasn’t just the new faces who impressed. Chris Maxwell was assured in goal, Ollie Turton looks a different player under Neil Critchley and who would’ve thought Michael Nottingham would become a regular for us? He didn’t really put a foot wrong and fills the void left from the departures of loanees from last year Taylor Moore and Ben Heneghan.
James Husband looked really comfortable, while Grant Ward is like a new signing in midfield. With an eye for goal, he can also take set-pieces and looks like he will be a regular this season if he can stay fit. Sullay Kaikai showed glimpses of talent last season and has almost become the forgotten man in pre-season due to the excitement of the new men. He notched his third goal in as many goals yesterday and is another one who will have a really good season if he can stay fit.
Sadly, it wasn’t all plain sailing. Everton pulled one back from a corner, Dominic Calvert-Lewin climbing highest and nodding home to give them hope. We had been defending so well up to that point, with Everton not really testing Maxwell in goal, so it was a shame to lose a goal from a set-piece when we were coasting.
Before long, it was 3-2 and game on. Calvert-Lewin had the ball in the penalty area and intelligently lured in Marvin Ekpiteta whose clumsy challenge brought him down. That’s the only real negative moment from the afternoon – the 24-year-old has played most of his career in non-league and it will be a step up for him this season. He needs to be allowed for time to learn from our fanbase in a similar way to Curtis Tilt. He will make mistakes – he’s made a couple which have led to goals in pre-season already and will need to cut them out if he wants to stay a first-team regular. That said, he is clearly strong, quick and has all the attributes to play higher in the game.
The second goal gave the visitors the initiative and they controlled much of the possession up until the half-time whistle.
Winners: Anderson, Kaikai, Hamilton, Yates
Rather than the wholesale changes we’ve been used to in pre-season, Blackpool only made two changes at the break. Matty Virtue came on for Ward, while trialist left-back Demetri Mitchell came on for Michael Nottingham with Husband shifting to centre half.
Mitchell was recently released by Manchester United, having spent last season on loan at Hearts. He looks like a player Neil Critchley will have known from youth football over the years and looked a decent prospect all afternoon, though he could’ve been sent off when bringing down Theo Walcott as last man for Everton’s equaliser. His blushes were saved by the referee who was maybe a little generous given it was only a pre-season game. Gylfi Sigurdsson whipped in the resulting free-kick with impressive power and accuracy to draw them level on 72 minutes.
Last 15 mins
Blackpool then made a further six changes – ON: Teddy Howe, Jordan Thorniley, Nathan Shaw, Oliver Sarkic, Liam Feeney and Gary Madine. OFF: Ollie Turton, Marvin Ekpiteta, Ethan Robson, CJ Hamilton, Sullay Kaikai, Jerry Yates.
Yannick Bolasie had an opportunity to score the winner for the visitors – his powerful shot testing Maxwell, while Theo Walcott should really have done better when slid in one-on-one. But in truth, we were good value and deserved at least a draw.
The game had us off our seats countless times, such was the quality and excitement on display. It was so assuring to see players so comfortable in possession and looking to play forwards on any opportunity. While we can’t take too much from a pre-season game to know how we’re going to do this season, we can at least know that Critchley is looking to build something and we’ll blow some teams away on our day if we can play like we did in this one. There are still improvements to be made and there will need to be more faces in through the door, particularly in our defensive line. If we can get organised at the back and have as many options there as we do going forwards, we will look a more complete side, capable of competing at the top end of this division. One thing’s for sure – Blackpool are back and it feels so good.
Next up is Blackburn Rovers on Tuesday, which will be another tough test, before our competitive action starts bizarrely on Saturday against Stoke City in the League Cup. Then we have two weeks before the opening game at Plymouth, though the Tuesday before that we host David Dunn’s Barrow again, this time in the Football League Trophy. Check out our full league fixtures in our latest blog.
Winners: Turton, Robson, Ward, Anderson, Kaikai, Hamilton, Yates
Losers: Ekpiteta, Mitchell (trialist)
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