Blackpool’s miserable start to the season continued after a narrow 1-0 defeat at home to Charlton Athletic. The Seasiders showed promising signs again following on from an impressive performance at Crewe, even with 10 men following a red card from the increasingly unreliable James Husband in the very first minute. Yet, with just seven minutes of normal time remaining, substitute Chuks Aneke’s header left the Tangerines joint-bottom of the League One table and in an increasingly perilous position.
This one hurt. Although the results have been increasingly poor this season, after the bright sparks shown at Crewe, this has well and truly derailed any positive momentum that Neil Critchley was hoping to harbour in his Blackpool side. Yes, there were positives to take from the performance, not least how on task the team remained after such a tough blow in losing James Husband early on, but even when you are fully on board with the major project that is taking place, you still question just how many games we can go without a win before the trigger has to be pulled.
Full Back defensive issues blight the team again
Demetri Mitchell cannot defend when on the back foot. As harsh and blunt as that statement may come across it is simply what we can see in front of us. His positional sense is subpar, his anticipation to the next move from a wide player is non existent and his strength in the tackle leaves a lot to be desired. Having said that in an offensive sense Mitchell is a superb presser and through his pure determination in this sense he wins a lot of tackles higher up the park. As seen in the graphic below he actually won six of his seven attempted tackles, the highest on the pitch.
For me this game and many before have shown that Mitchell is evidently a left winger and at best he is a wing back in a back five when the centre half trio is a solid unit. He has many attributes that would do us wonders right now on the left hand side, particularly when we currently have Gary Madine playing as a target man whilst playing two inverted wingers…no me neither?
Oliver Turton put in a fantastic performance away at Crewe in a creative sense, but he was not tested enough defensively to see if he is cut out for a real battle. Charlton clearly targeted both him and Mitchell early on and it was obvious that Turton’s composure goes out the window the minute any real pressure is exerted on him. I don’t have enough fingers to count the amount of times he aimlessly fed the ball down the channel in hope that CJ Hamilton would run on to the end of one of them at some point.
Turton had a pass success rate of just 53%, the lowest in the side other than Gary Madine and Chris Maxwell, successfully completing just 18 of his 34 attempted passes. This is a complete contrast to his performance at Crewe but as mentioned it just shows how actually being pressed by a winger leaves Turton in no man’s land on too many occasions.
The Madine conundrum
This performance really highlighted that Critchley is effectively setting up in tactical limbo. Gary Madine put in a tremendous shift, his off the ball work to try and find space was much more evident than in previous weeks and he put himself about well. He did as much as you can really ask of him. With that being said, you cannot play him in a side that has no number 10 to support, alongside two inverted wingers who are looking inside to create opportunities.
As shown in the previous graphic for Oliver Turton, Madine had a pass success rate of an abysmal 39%, successfully completing just seven of his 18 attempted passes. Pair that with the graphic below that shows Madine winning just over half of his aerial duels and you can see he was very much hung out to dry.
I have come round to the fact that right now, Blackpool’s biggest attacking threat is Madine. So if results are what Neil Critchley is after in the short term then there has to be a change of tact to actually suit what will fit the ex-Cardiff man. First of all, you play an out-and-out crosser of the ball in Demetri Mitchell at left wing, yes we are very much going into Liam Feeney and Armand Gnanduillet territory. Secondly, you play someone in the number 10, whether that is Keshi Anderson when he returns or whether that is Ben Woodburn or Oliver Sarkic; someone that can feed off Madine’s hold up ball and flick ons to drive into the final third.
Following on from the points above regarding Madine, the introduction of Jerry Yates was initially met with positive reactions. It was a different option to really try and stretch the Charlton back line, and although unfortunately Ben Woodburn had to go off soon after so we didn’t really get to see how the Yates, Woodburn, Hamilton trio would fare, I was expecting a real intent.
Yet, after watching Madine struggle to win defensive duels against the commanding Charlton centre half pairing, particularly aerially, the last thing you expected was for us to continue to play these awkward aerials into a smaller man who is not in anyway a target man. However, that is what we did. Yates, as seen from the graphic below, won one aerial duel out of the seven that he competed.
It was blatantly obvious that we could not keep feeding balls aerially into the central striker and that we had to change our tact to in order to play the ball into the final third and link up with the attacking trio through advancing our central midfielders into the half space. The stats below really hit home just how dominant Charlton’s centre half pairing of Ryan Inniss and Akin Famewo was and the fact we continued to persist with that approach at all, let alone with Madine off the field, is something that worries me.
Is Critchley built for compromise?
When we have invested so much as a club into the long term strategy and identity that Neil Critchley is looking to build, it would be increasingly difficult so early in the season to put that to one side in some senses to ensure that results in the learning stage do not become irreparable. However, I think it needs to be done.
This is a real test of what kind of football manager Neil Critchley is. Even the very best at the top of the game know when and how to adapt when required, without losing sight of what the long term ambitions are. We could quite easily tweak the style of play and formation as I mentioned above to suit around a target man figure in Madine and it would more than likely see an upturn in results, especially as Blackpool have already created the most chances in the League.
As noted below, Blackpool have created the most chances in the league this year, yet don’t actually look dangerous in the attacking third at the moment.
There is no doubt that the long term strategy is something we can all get behind but it is something that is built over a couple of years. If Critchley can adapt now to bring results and then slowly bring the side round to his philosophy over a 24-month period, that surely is the more sensible way of doing things before this season becomes irredeemable. However, if he decides to be stubborn in a willingly blind belief that this group of players – in such an early stage of their playing career together – can play to the standard required to play out his perfect tactical ideal, then he will be out of the door before Christmas.
Critchley needs to remember we are not Liverpool’s youth team. This is not a free hit where you can lose six games on the trot, playing out your progressive tactical ideas without consequence. A continuation of this winless streak will have lasting consequences for our football club and as much as we would all love to give the team a season to play how they wish in order to tweak and perfect this philosophy, we all know if we are sat at the bottom of the division at Christmas we will all be wanting it to end.
Critchley deserves time and I see him as the long-term manager of Blackpool Football Club but only if he understands that small compromises go a long way.
Finally, a top class loanee
I’m sure Daniel Ballard will have wanted his first appearance for the side to come under better circumstances. Having to come on just four minutes into the game it was very much a baptism of fire for the Arsenal loanee, however he dealt with it superbly. His anticipation was top class, reading pretty much anything that came in front of him, as shown in the graphic below which shows Ballard had the most interceptions in the Blackpool side.
In a position where we have really been lacking that commanding presence and someone that you can trust to organise and lead by example, the Northern Ireland international comes in the mould we have been crying out for. Even more so when James Husband has decided he doesn’t fancy playing anymore with the complete naivety and quite frankly pathetic recent rash decisions that for me deserve to have him completely bombed from the first team setup.
CJ is too one dimensional
CJ Hamilton had a superb opening spell to the game, single handedly causing Ben Purrington to get sent off for Charlton with two yellow cards in quick succession. Purrington could not handle Hamilton’s pure direct pace and drive at all in the first half, and although he did not create much off the back of these runs, mainly down to the lack of any Blackpool presence around him when he countered, he showed the real intent we saw earlier in the season.
Having said that, Charlton brought on Ian Maatsen at left back following their sending off and from that moment CJ Hamilton did not have a sniff. The problem is that Maatsen very early on showed he could match Hamilton for pace, and when that happens, CJ does not have the strength or balance to be able to win a 50/50 battle – he needs to bulk up. As shown in the graphic below Maatsen won eight interceptions, miles ahead of anyone else on the pitch which is a key indicator as to his dominance.
Blackpool find ourselves 23rd in the League One table with just one win this season. The real worry is that any momentum picked up from the positive performance at Crewe will be dying off after a loss straight after, even when generally there were again a lot of positives to take from this performance against a much higher calibre of opposition in Charlton. Having said that, there is a lot of naivety in this side, whether it be through tactical setup, lack of anticipation of when to press, and in James Husband’s case, down right stupidity.
The upcoming MK Dons game is absolutely huge in determining just how long Neil Critchley remains Blackpool manager. He either has to stick or twist with his tactical setup and not remain in this Gary Madine-filled limbo. He can choose one approach that can compromise slightly on his long-term playing style in order to seek an upturn in results, or he can be stubborn and demand standards from his players that quite simply they will not achieve for months to come. It is all in his hands and if he wants his long term project to work, he has to choose compromise.
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Stats Provided by: Who Scored