Critchley in or Critchley out? After nine league games and six defeats, momentum is gathering with calls for the manager to be sacked after yet another lacklustre display and no sign of things improving quickly. But does a new manager solve the problem, or simply add to the issues Simon Sadler has taken on in his ownership of the club?
It’s certainly a topic which is splitting the fanbase. It’s also split our opinions at utmp – you may have read Sean’s blog following the defeat to Wimbledon suggested Critchley’s time was up.
I agree that it doesn’t look good at the moment. Six defeats in nine games, and only two wins – one of which was unconvincing against MK Dons at the weekend. It’s not as if we are being outdone by teams with real quality who will be up there in the division this season either. Ipswich and Charlton both have good squads and made us look ordinary, but we tend to do that ourselves through individual errors, collectively poor defending and seemingly a lack of fight, endeavour or leadership across the field. At the moment, we are good across 80% of the pitch but absolutely unforgivably bad in both boxes. Teams will be rubbing their hands together at the prospect of playing against us – let us have the ball, flatter to deceive and create minimal attacking threat, then take the game away from us by capitalising on our mistakes and defensive fragilities.
Why give him more time?
Let’s consider the fact that we have 17 new players for a start. Of the players who played against AFC Wimbledon, only Ollie Turton (103) and Sullay Kaikai (25) have played more than 20 times in tangerine. Chris Maxwell (17) and Gary Madine (15) are next, followed by Marvin Ekpiteta (9). Daniel Ballard was making his third start for us, whereas Oliver Sarkic was making his league debut.
How can we expect a new group of players to come together and buy into a manager – himself only in his 11th league game – and his philosophy immediately, all sing from the same hymn sheet and everything to be great? In reality, it’s clear that there is a lack of chemistry across the squad, nobody really seems to know their role and we are quick to throw in the towel when we go a goal behind. That’s all natural when you bring together a group of 20-somethings in an empty stadium and ask them to start playing together.
The transfer window closed just 10 days ago, with the signings of Ben Woodburn and Kenny Dougall on deadline day, while Jordan Gabriel and Daniel Ballard came in at the start of this month. Surely even the very best of coaches in the game can’t do much in 10 days to integrate new players? It’s not an excuse, and things need to improve – and fast. The players need to realise where we are in the table, trust the process and work hard for each other.
Add to the upheaval of players, the fact that we now have a whole new coaching team and are on our third manager under Sadler, following the almost immediate departure of Terry McPhillips and the disastrous spell of Simon Grayson last year. The club and its culture has been reshaped from top to bottom – which needed to happen – and there is certainly an air of naivety around the club so far this season.
So as soon as we hit a poor run of form, we change manager and go and get 10 more new players in January? Surely that cannot be the answer.
Where do we go from here?
The fact that we aren’t able to get into Bloomfield Road at the moment and show our support may be magnifying the situation somewhat – opinions on social media are far less balanced and it’s either one extreme or the other. It seems that given how we now tend to have access to everything instantly, the thought of ‘this isn’t good enough’ tends to be confused with ‘the manager needs to go’. The two lines are blurred – of course, it cannot be underestimated how the feel and performance of a club can change simply with one change, but it’s not always the answer on the first sign of things not working.
People have called for Paul Cook to come in. If you were Cook, or indeed any good manager at this level, would you come and work for a chairman who is looking for his fifth manager in 15 months? I’m not suggesting by any means that Sadler is a trigger-happy chairman, but that’s certainly how it would look from the outside looking in if we pull the cord too quickly with Critchley. The club has opted to go down this route, with an unproven manager who will need time and patience to allow for mistakes. We are on that path now, and it should not be a surprise to anyone that things haven’t clicked straight away.
We have bought into a young manager who is in his first job in management, so we always knew he would be learning on the job to an extent and we all knew it would take time at the start of the season. In our transfer dealings over the summer – while a little sceptical over the number of incomings and outgoings – I was guilty myself of being overly ambitious and expecting that we’d immediately be competing towards the top of the division. That was caused by the terrific performances against Everton and Liverpool, where this swashbuckling style of football was suggesting we had chemistry all over the field, and that Critchley’s coaching was already bringing the best out of the players.
But we all accepted that this process may not happen overnight and – following the dour football we were subjected to last season – we accepted that it was worth the initial shortcomings. That’s where we’re at now, and people’s arses are starting to twitch.
Since Sadler took over, mistakes have been made – there is no doubting that. While he was already the best chairman we’ve had in decades simply by walking through the door, he’ll be the first to admit it hasn’t gone to plan so far. The recruitment last summer was nothing short of disastrous, followed by a fairly heavy investment in Grayson in January resulted in the expensive signings of Gary Madine and Jordan Thorniley, then the sacking of the manager just three league games after the window had shut. Should we have backed him or sacked him? Surely it’s one or the other and not both.
While I definitely feel it’s too early to be calling for Critchley’s head, the pressure is certainly on at the moment. After the draw at Crewe, we needed to build something. The loss to Charlton was a sucker punch. Then MK Dons was really a must-win game, which we did. Last night, playing with nine men was always going to be tough.
There are problems aplenty for Critchley too. Jerry Yates is still looking for his first goal in tangerine and Gary Madine hasn’t really filled the void either. We’re overly reliant on CJ Hamilton. Keshi Anderson has been patchy with form and fitness. Bez Lubala looks unfit and seems to lack confidence, while Jordan Gabriel, Oliver Sarkic and Ben Woodburn are yet to hit the ground running. We look very fragile at the back having shuffled personnel around countless times and never settled on a back four. So there are problems to be addressed and time is running out.
Where has the high press from those performances against Premier League opposition gone? With Yates short of confidence, having not struck from open play yet and been moved initially out wide and then onto the bench in recent games, he was the one with all of the energy and passion leading from the front. CJ Hamilton’s form was always going to be inconsistent as it was for Mansfield too. We seem to have abandoned some of the principles we initially had in terms of the pressing from the front and intensity in midfield. Perhaps that comes down to confidence and self-doubt from the players?
The performances and results haven’t been good enough all season and Critchley will be the first to admit that. He will clearly be hurting just as much as any Blackpool fan and it’s up to him to come up with the solution. Next up are bottom of the league Burton Albion away, before Wigan at home next Tuesday. We are at the point where if we lose both of those, then Sadler will have two weeks before our next league game to consider whether he believes in the process or if he’s seen enough of this experiment. But it’s not too late for Critchley to turn things around by any means.
Sadler has tried the trusted approach of Grayson, someone who has been there and done it at this level, then clearly wanted a different tact this time round. If Critchley isn’t the man, then it will be surely someone of his ilk – someone who can come in and work under the existing setup and philosophy, and to coach the existing squad into better footballers and a winning side. I would love a Paul Cook in the dugout at Bloomfield Road, but we’re past that stage now and by ripping up all of the plans from the last six months up and starting again would simply add to the heap of problems on Sadler’s plate at the moment.
With utmp, you’re going to get varying opinions. Sean’s blog following the defeat to Wimbledon suggested Critchley’s time was up, whereas I feel he needs at least a few more games. Which one do you agree with? Let us know in the comments below.
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