Blackpool picked up a much needed victory at home to MK Dons with Sullay Kaikai bagging the 66th minute match winner. Whilst the Seasiders put in a display that left a lot to be desired, a solid defensive display and one moment of quality was enough to put a lacklustre Dons side to the sword.
Relief. That is the key word today. Relief.
This was a game that Blackpool simply could not afford to lose and, if we wanted to carry any positive momentum into a week of winnable games, we had to win it too. Neil Critchley will be a relieved man tonight getting that much needed win under his belt. We knew before the game that tweaks needed to be made to the formation in order to get results in the short term to keep the manager in a job to develop his ideal tactical setup in the long term.
Leading from the back
Today’s display is the first occasion where I have had real trust in the centre half pairing to keep a clean sheet intact. And when you have that trust it can only breed confidence in the forward line knowing they may only need to take one opportunity to win a game.
As you can see in the stats above, all four of the back line feature on the highest clearances list, with the imperious Daniel Ballard miles ahead with a mammoth eight clearances in the game. Whilst this shows the opposition were able to bypass the midfield with some relative ease, a point I will come to later, it also shows just how dominant of the 18 yard box our back line were today.
There was no real danger and therefore an evident trust that we could allow MK Dons balls into the box knowing that Daniel Ballard in particular would be able to sweep these up without question. That is a vital change to recent weeks where the instability in the back line has had us on the back foot from the off, this will allow for less pressure on the forward players when they know that one opportunity may be enough.
And I could not pass up yet another opportunity to praise Daniel Ballard. Not only being imperious on the back foot, he also shows a real quality on the ball as well completing 33 of his 42 attempted passes. These weren’t simple balls to his partner on every occasion either. He mixed up his distribution throughout the game and was able to bypass the midfield playing dangerous balls in behind to Sullay Kaikai and CJ Hamilton on a number of occasions.
The boy is quite easily the best signing Blackpool have made this summer. Although it’s early days, it’s clear he should be playing at a level higher than League One and he has taken the place of Taylor Moore, which were big boots to fill, with relative ease.
Midfield growing into the game
It’s safe to say had the game ended on the half hour mark then I would have been tearing my hair out over the central midfield performances. Grant Ward was basically anonymous in that spell, his lack of real battling strength on the ball and ability to track back is something that we all know is the case, but when he was left sitting in the holding role, a role that normally is able to bail him out, it became even more apparent.
MJ Williams conceded the most fouls on the pitch with five and the majority of these came in that initial 30 minute spell where Grant Ward effectively left him hanging out to dry with his real lack of defensive positioning. It is clear that MJ Williams definitely favours playing alongside Ethan Robson because Robson comes as someone who can play well in the holding role whilst also driving forward and offering a progressive outlet.
Having said that, for the remainder of the game Ward really turned it on. He was always available for the ball on both the right and left hand sides and, in spells where we were really struggling to find the right ball into the wide areas, he would show up as an extra pass to piece the play together and push the ball forward. He was the link man today and, after many including myself, have questioned what exactly he brings to the side, his creative play was much improved and definitely added a calmness to the rest of the display.
Hit and miss CJ
CJ Hamilton put in a strange performance at Bloomfield Road today. From the outset he looked incredibly uncomfortable playing out on the left flank as an out and out winger. He had a complete lack of understanding with Demetri Mitchell as, on more occasions than I could count, he delayed on the ball when an overlapping pass to Mitchell was the obvious ball to make.
He appeared quite petulant and failed to press on opportunities he could have reached a few times and cut a frustrated figure quite early on. That kind of petulance is not something this system can really afford. One man not having the same intent as the rest of the attacking line when it comes to pressing basically leaves the whole idea pointless. You have to press as a team or it is quite easy to play through, as MK proved to show us in the first half, however it has to be said once he switched to the right he looked up for the game again and proved to be a good outlet for us in the second half.
One moment of quality
The goal came from a man we know is capable of providing that one moment of quality you need to win a football match in Sullay Kaikai. Throughout the game CJ in particular was providing crosses in a similar vain to that which led to the winning goal, however there was a real lack of movement from any of the other attacking options to cut back to be on the end of it. Kaikai finally checked his run early and finished well to give us the victory.
And that’s where the difference lies. It is all about movement in the final third and it is something that, when it clicks for us, will be fruitful given we are creating chances. On three separate occasions we broke free in the wide areas and played driven low crosses into the six yard box, on every occasion Jerry Yates had made a run to the back post, expecting the ball to pass three defenders before getting to him, it is unrealistic.
Yates’ movement is quite one dimensional and it leaves our wide men frustrated. Had he checked his run and pushed towards the near post for any of these three balls in, he would’ve had a clear shot on goal. Add that to the one clear cut chance he had through on goal where he didn’t even attempt to shoot and instantly looked for a teammate it is clear he is severely lacking in confidence and any real intelligence to change things up to offer something different. For me, Madine would have offered much more of a threat this afternoon.
Kemp looks lively
When we have a number of attacking options who thrive off confidence, playing within themselves or having quiet spells when things aren’t going their way, it’s exciting to see someone so fearless in Dan Kemp. He, on both occasions that I have seen him in a Blackpool shirt, has driven forward and been constantly progressive with a fearlessness of youth. He stretches back lines and more importantly he mixes up his approach in each and every attacking phase to ensure the opposition can not predict his next move. With such a lack of cutting edge still apparent, we should be looking to bring Kemp into games every week. He strikes me as the perfect recipe from the bench to offer something different when the opposition begin to tire. But, given CJ’s questionable performance, if you are wanting high standards and competition for places then I think Kemp should start on Tuesday.
A victory was the only thing that mattered today. We knew the same frailties would remain, we knew the same questions about the style of play would remain, but as long as we continue to look solid and composed at the back and are able to provide that one moment of quality to win a game, then Neil Critchley can have all the time he wants to develop and master the philosophy he is looking to implement with this group of players. He definitely tweaked things today in order to sacrifice elements of his philosophy to provide more of a likelihood of short term success and that is the one thing we had to see to have any confidence in him going forward
However, MK Dons are without doubt the worst side Blackpool have faced this season. They are similar to us in many senses, playing the ‘right’ way but providing no real quality and cutting edge to push it passed anything other than laboured possession-based football being played in front of the opposition lines of defence. A better side would have offered much more attacking threat and I doubt our full backs would have had as much freedom to get forward. The real fundamental flaws in this side remain, we remain generally laboured in possession and loose with key passes. And vitally, there is no connection between most of our attacking options, who all play individual games, but struggle to link up in any sense.
That comes with time but it also comes with intent and I don’t see much intent to try different things going forward, we are beginning to look quite one dimensional and it is up to Neil Critchley to address that.
Sean’s Man of the Match: Daniel Ballard
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Image: Sierra Leone Football
Stats provided by: Who Scored