Preview – AFC Wimbledon vs Blackpool

Blackpool will be looking to get back to back victories for the first time this season as we face AFC Wimbledon who are a place above us in the table. Neil Critchley’s side were able to end their winless streak against MK Dons on Saturday and, with a much more solid defensive display under their belts, will hoping this feeds confidence going into the tie at QPR’s Kiyan Prince stadium (Loftus Road) whilst the new Plough Lane is under development.

The team will be looking forward to this game I imagine. Whilst the MK Dons performance left a lot to be desired, our defensive display was solid, though the opposition rarely tested our resolve. That defensive stability is the first building block in the foundations and can only breath confidence into our players to be more expressive on the ball, be more aggressive in their pressing and take more risks knowing that there is a defensive unit, particularly the centre half pairing, there that can sweep up when required.

Yates or Madine?

This is one of the key decisions Neil Critchley has to make with this Blackpool side and it is the debate amongst many supporters in the build up to the game. Jerry Yates really flattered to deceive on Saturday. He is becoming quite one-dimensional in his movement, as I alluded to in the review of the MK Dons victory, tending to make runs to the back post which, when our wingers tend to play in low driven crosses, is simply not going to bring positive results over the piece.

Whilst his energy and work rate can not be questioned, when he is continuing to show a lack of ability to mix things up in a forward line that already has a real lack of cutting edge, then you have to try something different. That is why I would personally start Gary Madine against Wimbledon.

Madine offers that different option that can mix things up and more importantly bring more attacking options into play in the final third giving us much more of an opportunity to finish the chances that we have been creating. First of all, Madine has far greater hold up play than Yates and when the manager has finally decided to play a number ten, as Ben Woodburn featured in that position on Saturday, it is vital that you have a striker that can bring the ten into play in dangerous areas.

Allowing Madine to link up with Woodburn offers one option, it also offers the ability to have a real presence aerially in the box, whether that be on set plays or in attacking phases of open play. Madine also tends to drift to the near post with his movement in the final third, with that in mind given our tendency, as previously mentioned, to play in low driven crosses through CJ Hamilton (although I would, controversially, drop him for this game too), Madine drifting to the near post area will bring greater finishing success because he gets himself in the right areas.

Getting rid of predictability

CJ Hamilton is without doubt one of – if not the – best Blackpool player. He offers a direct creativity that makes him one of the finer talents in the league. With that being said we and the opposition know that. We are incredibly over-reliant on Hamilton to create something out of nothing and, particularly when Oliver Turton is playing, we lazily play the ball over the top for Hamilton to try and do something with, or we aimlessly hit that side of the field.

Notwithstanding the fact that the majority of oppositions are now doubling up on Hamilton because they know of his threat, we play straight into their hands because we aren’t willing to mix things up, not trusting the other attacking options in the side. That isn’t good enough. Because when CJ is off the boil, like in his petulant first half display on the left against MK Dons, we quickly run out of ideas in a creative sense because there’s a lack of trust.

Dan Kemp may offer something different for the Wimbledon game. There is only one way to build trust in the team and that is to force them to find different options. I think in a strange sense CJ limits our creativity despite being our most creative player because of the over reliance we begin to hold over him.

Kemp has looked lively in his substitute appearances and clearly offers something different to this Blackpool side, he plays with more fluidity than CJ and definitely mixes up his approach in each and every attacking play. CJ is weak in the tackle also and when he is quite one dimensional, once he has lost that individual battle, he looks quite lost, looking at Ian Maatsen’s fantastic performance for Charlton against him as one example.

We need to learn to use the different options and be more fluid in our play and I think we will benefit as a collective from Hamilton being out the side.

Winning the midfield battle

AFC Wimbledon are very much a bog standard lower league side who will look to win the central midfield battle with a dogged approach, whilst having defensive players who will look to hit direct early. This is where we need to up our physicality and aggression in the press to exploit the opposition. We need to press high and more importantly as a unit, especially given every performance this season we have been disjointed in the press with most teams playing around it quite easily. Wimbledon are not going to be great on the ball at the back and putting them under intense pressure will force mistakes and bring opportunities.

Also, the central midfield being stronger in the tackle and better with their anticipation is key to winning the game. MJ Williams’ anticipation in the tackle was poor against MK Dons, with five fouls in total. He needs to be smarter and more streetwise in this sense, he knows he isn’t the quickest player so it is all the more important for him to read the play a half second before anyone else does to be able to stem any attacking threat from Wimbledon.

Grant Ward is definitely not a battler, he drifts out of games quite easily and, although he put in probably his best performance of the season against MK Dons, they were a weak side and similar to us in many senses, Wimbledon will be a different story. I can see Ward being forced out of the game for most of it, not being able to compete in dogged midfield battles and drifting early, not getting his foot on the ball and driving either as, when oppositions in the past have been aggressive in their approach towards him, he has put in laboured performances going into his shell.

So I would also drop Ward for Ethan Robson, with the latter offering that more aggressive, driving play to force us forward into oppositions territory. We win that central midfield battle then the game is ours for the taking as I feel like Wimbledon have the capability to crumble under an intense pressing game towards their back line.

Tough decisions

As you can see I have been quite cutthroat in the decisions I would make. Now dropping a player who put in a good performance last time out isn’t something I am particularly keen on doing, but we have to be smart about mixing up our approach when different oppositions come calling. Critchley did this to relative success against MK Dons, although it allowed us to play a style that he prides himself on anyway, it’s whether he is prepared to mix it up and play a slightly more unconventional gameplay to what he is used to in order to get a result and move on.

Final thoughts

This is a game that we should and quite frankly must win. Whilst Wimbledon are a physical, well organised, resolute opposition, they do not have much real quality to test what I believe is a solid centre half pairing in Marvin Ekpiteta and Dan Ballard. That being said we should not take this lightly, we need to be much more organised and disciplined in an aggressive, team-led press to really put their back line under pressure and we need to mix up our attacking play, not being overly reliant on one position to create something. The confidence should come from a fluid system working, not from an individual players quality to make something out of nothing.

Sean’s team to play AFC Wimbledon (4-2-3-1):

Sean’s Prediction: AFC Wimbledon 0-2 Blackpool (Madine, Kaikai)

Key player: Ethan Robson

What are your thoughts heading into the game? Let us know in the comments below.

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Image: AFC Wimbledon

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