Neil Critchley’s Blackpool side will hope to pick up their first win in five games as we host Lee Bowyer’s Charlton Athletic. The Addicks come to Bloomfield Road sitting 15th in the League One table and will be hoping to pick up their first away win of the season. The Seasiders will be bolstered by the arrival of deadline day additions Ben Woodburn and Kenny Dougall, with Daniel Ballard and Daniel Grétarsson also in line for a potential debut for the club.
After positive signs at Gresty Road on Saturday, we will be going into this game in a more optimistic mood than that of a game or two ago. The side looked to play at a much higher tempo than that of previous weeks and, although the cutting edge was still lacking, we looked to dominate the key areas of the field, particularly in the transitional areas.
A License to Roam
Finally, in gameweek 6 of the League One campaign, we were able to play Ethan Robson to his strengths. The addition of MJ Williams in the starting line up was much maligned pre-kick off but it was clear that, in his sitting defensive midfield role, he offered the cool, efficient recycling of possession and extra pass in midfield. This allowed Robson to push forward and trust in MJ’s capabilities to sweep up, in order for the ex-Sunderland man to be more positively aggressive and combative in his approach.
In new signing Kenny Dougall I feel that, judging by accounts from his time at Barnsley, we have found the long term solution in the defensive midfield berth. Having a player in that position who can distribute possession under pressure, anticipate when to press and challenge well and organise the midfield in a defensive phase in order to provide as much first line protection as possible to stop attacks before they develop is something Blackpool sorely need. He’s already been promoted from this level with the Tykes too, so will add know-how and experience to a midfield which has been a little too passive at times this campaign.
It gives the other two central midfielders the license to remain advanced and trust in the process. We would be so much more efficient in getting the ball from back to front if the advanced midfielders could trust in their defensive counterparts to progress the ball when required. Keshi Anderson, Grant Ward and Robson have all been guilty of a lack of trust in the defensive midfield areas, dropping deep to pick up the ball, allowing the opposition time to regroup and set a defensive block that we have struggled to progress through.
Mixing it up in the attacking areas
Gary Madine is an interesting one. He clearly offers something to a League One side. Winning the vast majority of his aerial duels and holding the ball up fairly well, he looks to bring the number 10, usually Keshi Anderson, into play where possible. One problem with this approach, we didn’t have a number 10 on Saturday! And I’ve come to realise my criticism of Madine is more a criticism of Neil Critchley and our current side. Madine would work well in a strike partnership, with us playing direct long balls for him to knock down or hold up for an attacking midfielder to run on to and either shoot themselves, or play it wide in order for a winger to hit the box with a cross for Madine. But Simon Grayson is no longer Blackpool manager and that is not the way we are looking to play under Critchley.
So why is Gary Madine leading the line in a side that he so clearly does not suit?
It could be a case that Critchley, being concerned about the lack of goals, is looking for a temporary change of outlet purely to get over that initial hurdle before reverting back to what he knows best once that pressure is gone. Perhaps Critchley is concerned that his style of play is something that many League One clubs can combat purely through sitting off and playing a low block, allowing us to play in front of them before aimlessly crossing into a non-existent target, whereas Madine provides that target.
Either way, whilst Madine can be a double-figure goalscorer when you play to his strengths, you end up sacrificing much more in terms of attractive style of play and longer term ambition in a playing sense by reverting back to what is expected of a League One side. That is where patience comes in to allow the side to gel and fully understand the way the club is looking to work for years to come; sometimes you have to resist the temptation to play restrictive results-driven football to bring shorter-term success in favour of a longer term strategy that will build our foundations under Simon Sadler.
What to expect against Charlton
First of all, I don’t think there should be many changes to the lineup. We put in a brilliant performance against Crewe, we just lacked the cutting edge and it’s important to reinforce that performing like that on a consistent basis will easily bring a much bigger upturn in results.
However, the changes I do expect are new faces. In the buildup to the game Neil Critchley told The Gazette how new loanee Ben Woodburn brings that “little bit of quality and creativity in the final third,” and with that in mind I would fully expect him to be thrown into the starting lineup tonight. What position he ends up playing is another question. Personally, I would drop Madine and play Woodburn as a false nine, drawing defenders out of shape which would allow Jerry Yates and CJ Hamilton to run in behind in a more narrow running pattern. The forward three could interchange and keep defenders guessing, rather than being able to second-guess what we are likely to do. As showcased in our Pass Map below, we were heavily reliant on CJ Hamilton on Saturday and it’s important that we find another option amongst the forward positions.
With Luke Garbutt’s absence it’s important that the Seasiders play Demetri Mitchell in his place to ensure there is speed and tempo in the wide areas, with a constant forward-looking out ball available for the rest of the side to make use of. This ability to quickly transition play from right to left really disrupted Crewe’s organisation and it will definitely do the same to Charlton if we keep that high tempo up.
Sometimes you just have to have a bit of luck and it certainly has not come Jerry Yates’ way so far. However, I believe we have to persist with him because he offers a lot off the ball for the side and when he gets in the right areas he looks dangerous. He, alongside a front three of Woodburn and CJ, would allow us to mix up where we send possession in order to stop Charlton from being able to double up on Hamilton. The minute we get either Hamilton or Yates free is where we will start to score goals, and Woodburn will be much more of a nuisance for defences than Madine would be. Simply because Woodburn has the ability to hold up the ball but also run in behind, Madine only offers for the former and the former allows the low block to remain, to the detriment of the team as a whole.
My lineup for the game would be as follows:
Now as you can see I have put in the aforementioned Woodburn false nine role with Yates and Hamilton coming in narrow after overlaps from Mitchell and Turton respectively. Charlton tend to play a narrow midfield so the key is ensuring Mitchell and Turton continue to push high in order to pull the narrow wide midfielders of Charlton back to track their runs. This in turn will disrupt their central organisation allowing Robson and Ward to find gaps in the half space to open up as an extra passing option in an attacking phase. This only works if the entire team is aggressive and presses with a purpose, something which Neil Critchley will be desiring.
Daniel Ballard comes with a high calibre and against much stronger opposition than Crewe were, it is important that we are organised and commanding at the back to allow us to remain on the front foot and release our wing backs up the park as much as possible. With that in mind I feel Ballard will offer a much more safer pair of hands than Marvin Ekpiteta, without compromising on our ability to play out from the back.
Whilst, as mentioned, I think Dougall will be the longer term option at defensive midfield, MJ put in a solid performance last time out at Crewe and as such keeping as much stability as possible is vital, particularly after such a good performance. He deserves to be rewarded until he gives us a reason not to and it aids competition in the side to set higher standards for each other across the season.
Charlton clearly offer a much higher calibre of opposition than that of many sides we have faced this season. They are especially strong in the central midfield areas so it is vital we are calm and composed in our possession and Ethan Robson most importantly knows when to press. Anticipation is key in this battle against a side with the quality that the Addicks have. I think this is the game that could potentially turn the tide for Blackpool, but only if the new signings can hit the ground running. If they don’t, vitally in the form of Ben Woodburn, then I believe I will be coming back here to talk again about a lack of cutting edge.
Sean’s Prediction: Blackpool 2-1 Charlton (Yates, Woodburn) Key Player: Ethan Robson
What are your thoughts going into the game? Let us know in the comments below.
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