Blackpool achieved successive victories for the first time this season after beating Wigan Athletic 1-0 at Bloomfield Road. Sullay Kaikai was the second half match winner with an instinctive finish in what was a relatively comfortable night for the Seasiders. The Latics came into the game more in the second half as Neil Critchley’s side sat off into a defensive shape, but the Tangerines managed the game well and made it nine points out of a possible twelve in the League over the last 16 days.
Is my ‘Critchley might not be the man for the job’ shout going to bite me on the backside? It’s not for me to say but yes…yes it is. At least I hope it does! This was another performance where we looked well organised and professional in a defensive structure and were streetwise in our approach playing a much more direct game and stretching the play out in the wide areas.
It is really pleasing to see us mix up our approach in order to gain results, something that was my main concern with Critchley – especially after the Wimbledon game. There are going to be times when the opposition drag you down to their level and it is about how we react to that and being able to use the ball well as well as being able to create chances directly that will see us through.
Let’s hear it for Jordan Gabriel
What a performance from the young man!
Gabriel’s first appearance for us against Ipswich saw him look incredibly naïve in his defensive positioning, nervous and tentative on the ball and lacking any real differing ideas to mix up his outlets. Against Wigan, albeit a lower standard of opposition, he looked like a seasoned professional, streetwise in his defensive approach. On at least three occasions, he went to ground to win free kicks after shielding the ball when under pressure – he was lacking that game sense in his debut and it is clearly something he has worked on.
Encouragingly, he offered so much more variety in his play than what I have seen from Oliver Turton this season. It opened our game up to another level when finding space in the attacking third because we were much less predictable. There was no longer the aimless punt to CJ Hamilton on every occasion like we tend to see from Turton. I knew Gabriel clearly offered something in an attacking sense because he looked lively in his previous appearance but it really shone through against Wigan.
As you can see below he produced three key passes, the highest number for the Seasiders, which for a full back is superb to see. It shows he was dynamic, really effective in enabling us to stretch the play and allow Hamilton to overload the full back on a number of occasions which is where we got must of our success, as shown in our goal.
And as I mentioned in a defensive sense he was just as good, as you can see below, producing the most clearances in our side with six. He completely ran the right hand side and I cannot wait to see how he copes against tougher opposition because if he can produce this sort of performance consistently, he is a massive asset to our side. This is what Critchley wants and needs from his full backs, he needs that fearless intent to drive forward to stretch the play in this new adapted system. Most importantly, when he is able to get results playing the actual way he wants to play, Gabriel playing this way will be just as vital.
I have rambled on about Gabriel but I really want to hit home just how good his performance was. He was absolutely everywhere and had the second most touches in the side, behind his full back counterpart James Husband, with 72 as you can see below. And what is key about the touch map below is the variety in where the touches happen. That kind of work rate, which left him dead on his feet come added time, is what you want to see from your full backs in a progressive side.
He is without doubt my Man of the Match.
Stretching the play
This is something we saw against Burton but we took it to a next level against Wigan. We are playing to our strengths at the moment. We are adapting the style of play to be more direct and effective because, without sounding too down on the league itself, the standard is poor in this division and setting up to be well organised, stretching the play and getting quality players into the right areas will give you success. The way Critchley was initially trying to play left us losing battles against dogged sides. Stretching the play, being direct and efficient at getting the ball into the final third, bypasses the need to be dragged down to the opposition’s level. It’s extremely promising to see us realise this.
Obviously I have made reference to how well this worked with Jordan Gabriel’s performance and James Husband really hit home how effective this style of play will be for our side. He completed the most touches on the pitch with 86, the majority of which saw him hug the touch line, dominating the entire left flank. Both full backs dominated their flanks, sitting back when they needed to but ensuring they stretched the play at every opportunity. This is certainly something we didn’t see him to much under Simon Grayson, as Husband became renowned for never going over the half-way line.
Full backs getting forwards enables our forward four to mix up their runs and, most importantly, allows both Kaikai and Hamilton to sit in the half space ready to overload the opposition full backs at any given opportunity. The constant interchanging of positions, particularly between Jerry Yates and Kaikai helped us to disorganise the Wigan back line and leave space for Gary Madine to hold up the ball and play it off with much more ease than he would normally.
Madine won the most aerial challenges in our side with seven as you can see below and it was clear that this was his most comfortable game in a Blackpool shirt. This is a system that plays to his strengths and, in Sullay Kaikai, he has found a partner who will feed off his hold up play superbly well. They seem to have a great understanding in the early stages.
Some slight concerns
It wouldn’t be one of my reviews if I couldn’t moan a little bit, but to be fair they are only slight concerns so I won’t touch on them too much.
First off, Daníel Grétarsson looked unsure in the air and struggles to anticipate play when defending set pieces, which to be fair could be said for a lot of the team. Set pieces are definitely an area we need to work on but that comes with time.
As seen below, Grétarsson won just five of his twelve competed aerials leaving him with a success rate of just 42%. In comparison, his impressive centre half partner Marvin Ekpiteta won four out of his five aerial duels. It’s clear Wigan saw Grétarsson was struggling in the air early on because he competed in a lot more duels than anyone else, Wigan liked to stand the ball up to Joe Garner fancying his chances against the Ice Man and Garner won the most aerials on the pitch so it showed. It’s something he can definitely work on over time but it is a slight concern against much more clinical sides.
It’s also becoming abundantly clear that Hamilton’s final ball leaves a lot to be desired. That was my only other concern and it is something that all Blackpool fans have become accustomed to. However, he is still worth having on the field simply because of how good he is at getting into dangerous areas. By law of averages, if you’re getting into dangerous areas much more than anyone else, even if you create something in one of those four opportunities, you’re still creating that key chance more than most attacking players in this division.
This setup of stretching the play in the wide areas and feeding into the double team of Madine and Yates is something we can work on and really master as the season goes on. I will again stress, like I did against Burton, the opposition wasn’t up to much but if they were I think we would have stemmed them much more effectively than we have in the past.
We must not get carried away at beating the bottom two teams in the division, and the real acid tests are table-toppers Peterborough, as well as a tough trip to Doncaster, to see just how far this side can go. But in the meantime, in Eastbourne and Leeds U21’s, we have a real chance to bring the confidence up to peak levels before we face Posh -that can only leave us in a good shape going into that fixture.
Do you think Neil Critchley is on to a winner with this setup? Let us know in the comments below.
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Image: Wigan Today
Stats provided: Who Scored