Blackpool will look to build on a resilient performance against AFC Wimbledon without two key men as they face bottom of the league Burton Albion at Pirelli Stadium. The Seasiders go into the game in 18th place in the League One table on seven points, whilst the Brewers are one behind on six. Bolstered by a new addition to the coaching staff in the form of Colin Calderwood who was today announced as our new Assistant Manager, Neil Critchley will be hoping to come away victorious as the pressure continues to mount following a slow start to the season.
Reflecting upon the performance against AFC Wimbledon on Tuesday night there were definitely positives to take, not least that for the first time you really saw a team that, on the whole, want to play for Critchley – even with nine on the pitch. They were dogged and fought against adversity, particularly following the second sending off, and should really have got something from the game in the end. Although it begs the question – where was that level of performance when the playing level was even to be able to pick up a victory? Either way, a lot of the time a team has to face adversity to really show what it is made of and Critchley will have learned a lot about his players in that sense from the midweek defeat at Loftus Road.
Good cop, bad cop
Having said that, I did not see any real progress from the start of the season to the point we are at now and I felt perhaps Critchley’s days were looking increasingly numbered. Colin Calderwood’s appointment has allayed many of my fears in this sense.
The appointment comes at a time when there seems to be a real naivety in this side. We lack that real streetwise nature that you need in a league like ours, whether that be knowing when to tackle, being able to anticipate the right time to press as a unit, or most importantly knowing your limitations as a player and not continuing to make those same mistakes.
I feel we are guilty as a side at not knowing individual limitations. For example, Demetri Mitchell is a player that clearly offers a lot going forward, however defensively his positional sense is really not up to scratch at this level just yet. But in recent games we have been forced to play him at full back because of injuries and suspensions for Luke Garbutt and James Husband respectively. With that in mind, when we know that Mitchell is going to be caught out positionally, we need to rely on two things to avert from dangerous goal scoring opportunities.
One of which is for the left winger to offer more defensive support than they usually would, allowing Mitchell to sit more narrow in defensive phases and closer to his centre halves rather than being isolated one on one on the wing. Secondly, when Mitchell is forced to stretch the defensive line in order to combat against an opposition winger’s advances into dangerous territory, we need either a defensive midfielder or a centre half to shuttle into the half space. This is so, if Mitchell is beaten by the winger, they can clean up play and recycle possession rather than, for example in midweek against Wimbledon, the winger having a clear run into the box ending with them not being engaged defensively before they are able to take a shot at goal.
That’s just one example of quite a few in the side and I feel lessons aren’t being learned. Now it’s actually a positive reason why I think lessons aren’t being learned to some extent; I think Critchley likes that players are aggressive and take risks and that making mistakes is part of the process in developing the player. The problem is there needs to be a balance struck if we are wanting to see progress not only in a developmental sense but more importantly with our results before the task becomes unassailable.
This is where Calderwood comes in. First of all, we have no idea if this appointment was Critchley’s idea or whether the club brought him in themselves, or indeed a joint decision. Either way it will be a benefit to the side and it’s a clear message from the board that they are backing Critchley to turn it around – but also that it’s not currently working.
Calderwood is a man of great experience – both at this level having managed Northampton Town and Nottingham Forest – as well as higher having worked with Chris Hughton for Birmingham, Norwich and Brighton, and later Steve Bruce at Aston Villa. He is very much a man who prides himself on defensive organisation and adapting to opponents on a week by week basis. He is also a taskmaster and someone who thrives off being a real authority figure in the dressing room. This is the perfect good cop, bad cop situation that I feel some in the Blackpool dressing room need. Critchley himself will be gaining that member of staff who will question him when it’s needed, which is invaluable to his development if he sees himself as a first team manager for years to come.
Calderwood spent two years in charge at Cambridge United from 2018 until January this year, and I spoke to TV Presenter and Cambridge fan Max Rushden for my University assignment, about the appointment.
He said: “We drew a lot of games 0-0, if Critchley is going to play the attacking, fluid style that we saw from his Liverpool side and you need someone to shore you up defensively and bring more organisation then it could be beautiful.”
“He came across quite authoritative in the press and if that’s anything to go by in the dressing room then you could be on to something.”
Stop getting sent off!
We have certainly been unlucky when it has come to injuries and more importantly suspensions this season so far. With Dan Ballard and Ethan Robson both now serving three-match bans following their red cards in midweek, unless these are latterly appealed, then it leaves us again stringing together a new defensive lineup and a new midfield pairing – a theme of the season so far. If there’s one thing you need when you’re trying to build things up again after a time of struggle, it’s stability.
Dan Ballard has been imperious at the back in his small sample size of appearances for us so far and you can’t help but worry that without him we won’t be as assured in our defensive duties as we have looked since he came in. Now, James Husband will be back in the squad as his suspension has been served and, as long as he doesn’t decide to karate kick a pensioner or something in the first minute, I expect him to be straight in for Ballard. That’s unless of course our mysterious Icelandic man Daniel Gretarsson makes his first appearance on grass!
Against Burton I actually think Husband will offer enough assurance to see us through defensively although they do offer a sense of attacking danger despite their lowly position with Kane Hemmings and Lukas Akins both being good goal scoring options at this level. Having said that, I would prefer us to take the risk and throw the Icelandic man in at centre half so James Husband can take up the left back berth to offer more stability in the wide areas over Mitchell, as mentioned earlier.
Missing Ethan Robson’s combativeness and drive in midfield I feel will offer another worry for Critchley, particularly when Keshi Anderson is still unavailable through injury. I think Burton’s laboured, slow approach in the midfield areas will suit Grant Ward down to the ground, being able to show for the ball and pick up the tempo with quick transitions into the final third will be something Ward will thrive in doing.
Pace, pace, pace
For me pace is the key against Burton. It’s safe to say speed is not the forte of this Albion side, particularly with ageing figures in the defensive unit. We have a lot of options to really drive at Burton and, as long as the tempo in our passing matches the tempo in our counter attacking pace I think we could finally see everything click on Saturday.
I have been banging the Gary Madine drum for our recent games but I think Saturday is a game for Jerry Yates. He offers that raw pace and, with him always looking to run in behind, he will offer that direct outlet to stretch and disorganise the Burton defence. Pair that with CJ Hamilton on the right and Sullay Kaikai on the left (if he fancies being a real direct outlet this week) and you can really do a job on a side that is even lower on confidence than we currently are.
Despite the doom and gloom of recent weeks, particularly on my part, I am actually looking forward to the game against Burton. It really has all the makings of us finally clicking as a unit and, with the addition of Colin Calderwood, we will have someone who will help us manage the game should it be a close affair in the latter stages.
We have to press as a unit and look to not just hang individuals out to dry for their misgivings, instead looking to provide that cover as a collective to provide that extra support where we feel we could be stretched. This is a massive game for Neil Critchley and, coming up against a side who have started the league so poorly, we have to fancy our chances to pick up all three points – our first on the road in over 12 months. It’s evident that the board are going to back Critchley so there is no point grumbling over whether or not we feel things are going to be any different in a couple of months’ time. We have to be optimistic and I feel like this is a good chance to turn the tide.
Neil Critchley is willing to alter his methods for the benefit of the club, particularly with the appointment of Colin Calderwood, so it is right that we see where this takes us.
Sean’s Lineup for Burton
Sean’s Prediction: Burton Albion 1-3 Blackpool (Yates, Hamilton, Woodburn)
Key Player: Grant Ward
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Image: Derby Telegraph