Opinion: Review of the Season so far

We’re now at the quarter way stage of the season and, given the international break, now seems an opportune moment to review what we’ve seen so far. Each of our writers have given their view on Blackpool’s results and performances so far and how that has impacted our expectations.

Tom

Thoughts on results so far

It’s been a mixed start, which is an incredibly more positive outlook than it was 3-4 weeks ago when we seemed to wonder where our next win or clean sheet was coming from. With 17 new players in, given we’d had 10+ in each of the last two windows, and with our third permanent manager in 12 months, it was always going to be tough. We all knew it would take time, but when that thought turns into reality it’s still hard for fans to deal with and there was a lot of frustration flying around on social media. Hopefully if we go on another bad run, fans will have more patience and see the bigger picture.

On the whole, I’m fine with what’s happened so far in every game except Gillingham, Lincoln and Ipswich. The Gills game was really concerning, but we seemed to have bounced back straight away despite not playing well against Lincoln the following week. If James Husband had taken a better touch and cleared, we would’ve seen the game out and probably got more points out of the next few games too. That moment drained the team of any remaining confidence, and we have steadily been rebuilding that confidence ever since. That win against MK Dons was crucial for Critchley so early in his reign.

Thoughts on performances

We haven’t played horrifically badly in any of the games except the three mentioned above. You could see what we were trying to do, particularly in the opening couple of games against Plymouth and Swindon, then we seemed to lose our way as results took a turn. Hopefully now we are far more together as a squad as the pressure mounts again due to our tough run of fixtures between now and January. All in all, we are far better off than we have been under any other manager since Ian Holloway.

Players who have impressed

Chris Maxwell looks assured between the sticks and it’s great to have a commanding figure in goal for the first time since Matt Gilks. In front of him, Marvin Ekpiteta has looked very assured despite playing with six partners in defence already, has barely put a foot wrong. Dan Ballard has been the pick of the partners, and I also want to call out Ollie Turton at the back who has really stepped up and looks good going forwards as well as his defending.

Kenny Dougall is the best midfielder we’ve had since we dropped out of the Championship no question, and it’s unfortunate we couldn’t tie him down earlier so that he could have a full pre-season. You wouldn’t know it though as he’s played nearly every minute of his first three games. Sullay Kaikai has made a difference since he returned, while Jerry Yates seems to be getting better with every game – and how can you not mention CJ Hamilton who can scare any team at this level on his day?

The final mention is for Gary Madine, who I’m confident can make a difference for this side and have been championing all year since he joined. Hopefully he or Yates can show they can lead the line alone rather than relying on each other to bring the best out of each other.

Concerns

There has been a lot of naivety around the club over the last few months, as there’s bound to be given the level of upheaval. Too many players signed in the summer? Possibly, but most of it was also probably justified. Aside from the loanees, I struggle to think of someone who would get into our current side.

The fact that the club went out on a limb saying we wanted to achieve promotion this year increased expectation and we must now lay in the bed we’ve made. We should have been more tactful – it’s always worked for us in the past going under the radar, so why change now?

The other concern is how we haven’t really embraced the Class of 2010 in the 10 year anniversary year – a lot of that is down to Covid, but having spoken to Brett Ormerod in the 1-2 Podcast, it seems that there is still some friction between that group and the people at the top.

The handling of the Michael Nottingham situation was also poor – why did he start so many games and then disappear all of a sudden? We should never have extended his contract in the first place.

Expectations?

I’m still hopeful of us reaching the play-offs. Unfortunately we have lost too many games that we should really have drawn, which makes us real outsiders at this stage. But there is a long way to go, and if we can sprinkle some more quality into the squad in January, and continue to improve each week, then we can be right up there. Much of that will depend on the next 10 games, all against teams which will be expecting to be up amongst the promotion picture.

Dan

Thoughts on results so far

We had a slow start, it was bound to happen with such a large overhaul. The chemistry was lacking and the confidence was low. You only have to reflect on Jerry Yates with confidence vs Jerry Yates without to understand that this young Blackpool side needs that backing from the fans. It would have been interesting to see the impact of fans in the stadium and encouraging the lads when we went a goal behind in some of the games. In many games thus far we have struggled when we have conceded first goal and heads have dropped, where previously fans would have helped a new group of players through it.

Thoughts on Performances

Initially, we were incredibly poor defensively and conceding soft goals, the strikers were misfiring, and our midfield lacked the physicality to put up a fight. In recent games, we look much more assured and the acquisitions of Ballard l, Gretarsson and Dougall seem to be smart. It looks like selling Nottingham was a shrewd bit of business as the recent form of Ekpetita has been outstanding. That said, a few players have lacked consistency this season, notably Gabriel, Bez, Keshi, Ward and Yates.

Players who have impressed so far

I have always been a strong advocate for Bez and even picked him out in our League Two Super Six blog before we had signed him. He is a player who is direct and does possess quality (that outside of the boot pass on Tuesday was really something) but is another who needs confidence and game time. Currently, we don’t have that luxury but hopefully like many other players in the first team he will become more consistent and keep taking his chances.

Robson has been an excellent addition to the midfield along with the defensive duo of MJ Williams and Dougall. I actually believe that the midfield is the most improved area of our side in recent weeks and that was what was most needed in the first few games. The defence was under a lot of scrutiny but never really had that cover from the midfield. Ekpiteta has in my opinion really settled for us and is doing superbly well too.

Concerns

Striking power – this is my main concern. I love the fact that Madine and Yates are displaying some wonderful link up play, but I’m still worried that we lack the firepower to push for the play offs. We do seem to go through patches of creating nothing and then creating an abundance of chances – but will we finish them off when they do come along? This is the main concern for me. I want us to kick on and keep pushing up the league but I’m not confident we will continue to finish our chances. So far our wins have been from the lower teams in the league. We will get a better picture from the away game at Peterborough in particular.

Expectations

The board and Critch made a blip telling fans promotion was the aim this season. In reality what could they say? It’s what the Blackpool fans wanted to hear and the board wanted to know that we all share the same aspirations. However, it just doesn’t feel very well thought through with the arrival of so many new players. In a recent podcast I voiced my opinion and predicted where we will finish. I said 10th, but even if we manage to get 7th it’ll still feel like 10th or any other position in the table other than relegation, as ultimately we won’t be in the mix for promotion.

More positively, we have a football club back and my main expectation is to be back in Bloomfield Road with the fans again supporting the club I love. Whether they are placed 19th or 7th won’t bother me, it’s another year of progress and I look forward to us developing as a team.

Ben

Thoughts on results so far

This season has clearly been a tale of two halves thus far, significantly highlighting both the positives and negatives of the new playing squad, Critch’s style and the general ethos of the football club.

After a summer of 17 incomings and even more departures, there was always a feeling that it would take some time for the new players to gel and become accustomed to the style of play we all fell head over heels for during pre-season. This, unfortunately, did not carry on into early part of the season, as the style of play started to become rather more ambiguous and fans were left reeling after a string of defeats.

Steadily, as the squad was steadily completed and the likes of Woodburn, Ballard and Dougall joined, we have started to look a lot more competitive. Whilst the level of the opponents may be questionable, you can only beat what is in front of you. Home victories against MK Dons and Wigan, with an away victory at Burton, have helped begin to turn the tide on what will ultimately be a long, 46-game season, where there is still a lot of football to be played.

Thoughts on Performances

As the results would suggest, there has been a real lack of consistency so far this season. There have been multiple times Blackpool have been the better footballing side on the day and come away with nothing. The performances often left us upbeat, in particular the opening day defeat at Plymouth, where the 1-0 scoreline was incredibly unfair on the team.

These positive elements are often followed by absolute stinkers. The 4-1 defeat at home to Ipswich springs to mind here, as does the 2-0 defeat away at Gillingham.

Other than these two fixtures, on the whole, when Blackpool have had 11 players on the pitch, they have competed. And not only that, but more often than not they have been the side controlling matches with high levels of possession and chances galore. Unfortunately, or perhaps recklessly, the five red cards have undermined a lot of the good work undertaken by the coaching team and been the cause of our own undoing.

The task now is to replicate the good performances we have seen against the stronger sides in the league. The next outing at Peterborough will be a real indicator of how the outlook of the remainder of the season appears.

Players who have impressed

Kenny Dougall has been extremely impressive given the circumstance of the signing and his season’s preparation – or lack of. The Australian had only played one full match of football in 2020 prior to his start away at Burton. Whilst it can’t be solely attributed to his impact, it is no coincidence that his inclusion in the central of midfield has led to an upturn in form for the team, as well as a general improvement in performance level.

After 11 league games, a spine of the side is beginning to become apparent. Maxwell has been a sturdy performer in goal, offering consistent 8/10 performances. He is certainly one of the better keepers in the league.

In front of Maxwell, Marvin Ekpiteta has been an ever present thus far. Whilst he has had his critics, he has shown qualities to suggest he is more than comfortable at this level. Alongside him has been a different story, but you would think Ballard will return after his suspension to continue to partner Marvin at central defence.

With Dougall partnering one or two of Robson/Ward/Anderson in midfield, and Jerry/Madine up top, you feel there is a strong nucleus of the squad developing – something Critchley was not able to call on in preseason and the early games in the league. This can only help improve performances and consistency over time.

Concerns

Obviously, it has not been perfect. Whilst the #Critchleyout panic after seven league games was completely absurd, there have been some clear red flags which did highlight Neil’s naivety at this level.

The complete lack of the high pressing we’d seen in pre-season, the questionable substitutions and outright poor team selections were all completely valid arguments at the start of the season.

Then comes the Nottingham saga. Whatever your feelings on Michael Nottingham, you have to say that Critchley got this completely wrong. By starting him in every pre-season match, and then in the first three league fixtures, he was clearly part of the plans. However, after one mistake-riddled match away at Gillingham (and it was very poor), Neil decided to cut ties and shipped him off to Accrington.

Whichever way you look at this, Critch made a mistake. He has either backed the wrong horse and put his eggs in a hollow basket, or he has been too knee-jerk off the back of what was a poor showing for 55 minutes before being hauled off. Either way, it did not increase the confidence of the man in the dugout.

Every manager makes mistakes, and those in their first postings will inevitably make more. Neil must learn from these and build over time. We knew the appointment would be a journey, one that will take months rather than weeks, and as supporters we must continue to do just that. Hopefully we will reap the rewards over time.

Expectations?
At this stage I think we can all agree the pre-season transfer activity caused a lot of hype and giddiness from us fans. We were signing anybody and everybody, with the future looking infinitely brighter. And then the season arrived.

Recent weeks have provided us with reasons to be hopeful, and I do think it could be the injection of realism we all needed.

We are not the finished product. Not one element of the football club is the finished product. The players. The manager. The board. Everybody will continue to mistakes. But through hard work, patience and intelligent decision making, we still have every right to believe we are at the start of what could be the best trip in a long time (…circa 10 years).

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One thought on “Opinion: Review of the Season so far

  1. Interesting what you, and BO, say about friction between the class of 2010 and the people at the top. I wasn’t aware of this.

    There is an obvious need for a third striker in the squad although arguably Yates isn’t an out and out front man; Hardie or Nuttall I doubt would be the answer, even if they were available/not injured. Perhaps another striker wasn’t sourced due to a presumption that the 4-3-3 was going to be persevered with, and NC could work with what we have.

    I believe there has been too much churn of personnel, but who that has left, either permanently or on loan, would get anywhere near the side? Arguably only Feeney, I would suggest.

    The Nottingham saga, I believe, was initially influenced by pragmatism, with NC in effect giving the player a chance, in my view a deserved one, in light of the salary cap, potential difficulty in securing an alternative, and because Nottingham was already in situ; a free hit, as it were. It didn’t work, and whilst I have perhaps been a harsh critic of NC in my writing, a manager cannot knock over a coconut every time – mistakes will occasionally be made, some out of naivety.

    A few narrow league wins against poor opposition proved nothing, nor did routine victories over Eastbourne and Leeds. It will be the run of games between now and Boxing Day that will in my view show if NC, his modus operandi, and the squad have what it takes to grow and ultimately challenge at the top, or if Colin Calderwood is now in the setup should a seamless transition to the next manager be needed.

    Like

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