Blackpool made it five wins in a row from all competitions after a superb victory against table toppers, going into the game, Peterborough at London Road. The Seasiders opened the scoring through a composed finish from Jerry Yates early in the first half. Posh fired back with five minutes of normal time remaining through a Frankie Kent header, before a late winner from Gary Madine gave Neil Critchley’s side all three points.
This game was the acid test we had all been waiting for and we well and truly delivered. By far our best performance of the season, this has given us all the hope and expectation that we can make a real run towards the upper echelons of the table. To think where we were only a few weeks ago before Colin Calderwood’s arrival compared to now is quite remarkable. We have tweaked where we have needed to and on the field partnerships have built considerably. Our strength in depth looks positive as well going forward and, having deservedly beaten one of the strongest sides in the league, there will be a huge boost in confidence for the rest of the season.
Too many names to mention
This was a real team performance. Our organisation in both attacking and defensive phases was immense. Before the game I felt we may need to change to 4-3-3 in order to put the Peterborough defensive line under intense pressure, but remarkably a front two of Yates and Madine did the work of three players in their pressing play that meant this wasn’t required. The work rate of Jerry Yates is sensational and it has been since day one in a Blackpool shirt, now he has added the quality in front of goal he is a major asset to the side and one of the best players in the league.
Looking at the expected goals (xG) and expected assists (xA) map above (Thanks to @xg_data on Twitter for providing our xG and xA data, a great source for Football League data) you can see where our real assets are. Yates and Madine have improved week on week in terms of finding themselves in the right area at the right time, perfectly shown with our late winner. CJ Hamilton was back to his best as well, providing the key pass for a number of our biggest chances in the game; his pace is that extra weapon in our arsenal that other teams just don’t have in this division.
The most interesting aspect of that map is seeing Marvin Ekpiteta as the third highest in xA. Marvin showed exactly the reason why we bought him and why, with the depth of selection of both Dan Ballard and Daniel Gretarsson, we have the makings of a really strong central defensive unit. Ekpiteta provided the spark for our ability to break with pace in transitional play, his intelligence of when to play out with the ball and feed play into Kenny Dougall or even bypass the midfield to get the ball out wide quickly has improved dramatically. As you can see below from his touch map, he was aggressive in his play driving our defensive line higher up the park to ensure we weren’t penned in by Jonson Clarke-Harris who we bossed all afternoon.
Many will say our upturn in fortunes has come with the appointment of Calderwood, others will point to Critchley tweaking his setups based on our opponents, I would argue the addition of Kenneth William Dougall is as important as either of those. He is an absolute joy to watch and is Championship quality already. He makes everything tick and he gives an aura of confidence in the defensive midfield areas that makes our defenders calmer when taking risks and also allows our attacking players the patience to stay forward and expect the play to come to them at the right time.
The man can do it all. As you can see above, he completed the most tackles on the pitch disrupting many potentially dangerous Peterborough attacking plays before they hit the final third. He was the key to making Clarke-Harris anonymous in the game, patrolling behind the lines and sweeping up any loose possession. What makes him that much scarier is his ability to turn those tackles into Blackpool counter attacks with great efficiency, a team with the pace we have needs a player like Dougall to spread the play with ease. He is the central hub of everything that is good about our side right now as you can see from his touches map below.
Our pressing unit is back
The upturn in results has seen the reemergence of the aggressive, smart press that served us with distinction in our pre-season exploits. And we have added a generally solid defensive unit to that pressing system which is the perfect combination to a successful season. In the stats there is a clear indicator to how successful our pressing play was defending from the front, Peterborough turned over possession on 12 occasions compared to just five times from ourselves as you can see below. (Peterborough are in orange on the map for some reason)
What makes this map all the more special is how well spread across the front and midfield line this is. Generally through the season turnovers from the opposition have been heavily weighted on the right hand side following pressure from CJ Hamilton. That over reliance on Hamilton was a real concern in the early parts of the season and now we look to have addressed that and look like a well drilled, organised unit.
Where our performances lie across the season now
In terms of xG we have generally been underperforming throughout this season so it’s been clear that there is another level for this Blackpool side to go to and that is still the case across the whole of the season. Realistically given our performance indicators we should be sitting 9th in the league table. We should have scored two more goals than we currently have and conceded three less as you can see above. The real other standout there is MK Dons who have been severely underperforming in terms of results given their performances. Our victory against them will look all the more impressive I imagine come the end of the season.
As you can see above, in terms of our last six games in the League, we are actually outperforming our xG. The caveat being that this includes our defeats to Wimbledon and Charlton which both brought two of our three worst performances of the season in terms of chance creation. If you take those games out of the equation then you’d have Blackpool as one of the best performing teams in the league right now from four out of our last six League games. That’s the key. These results are coming from impressive performances that have been underlying throughout the season – this isn’t a lucky run, this is Blackpool getting what they deserve based on season performances.
We are bloody good. Like really good. There is absolutely no reason why this train can’t keep rolling. There is no reason why we shouldn’t be looking towards the play off places in the coming weeks. Right now we are one of the best performing sides in the league and as long as we continue to press with intent, tailor our approach slightly based on individual opponents and make use of our increasing strength in depth, then this season has all the makings of a very successful one. Oh how things can change in such a short space of time.
MOTM: Kenny Dougall
Stats Provided by: Who Scored
xG and xA data provided by: xG_Data
Image: Dan Franks – Twitter