Blackpool left the Keepmoat Stadium frustrated after a second half collapse allowed Doncaster Rovers to come from 2-0 down to win 3-2. Two goals in a superb first half display saw the Seasiders cruising heading into the break. However, two goals in four minutes early in the second half saw the Yorkshire side draw level before a 76th minute controversial penalty gave Donny all three points.
What a frustrating night that was. The first half saw Blackpool’s best performance of the season. Our organisation defensively was impeccable and each and every player looked full of confidence with a real trust in the way we were playing. I don’t think anyone could have predicted such a collapse in the second half and yet here we are empty handed.
What changed in the second half?
That’s the big question coming out of tonight’s game. We simply did not show up in that second half, the organisation went wayward for the remainder of the game after those early second half Doncaster goals. Our reaction to those setbacks I think in part came from the controversial nature of their first goal with Cameron John looking to have come from an offside position in the initial phase of play.
The winner for Doncaster came from a controversial penalty decision too. Kenny Dougall looks to have won the ball with a sliding tackle, before Marvin Ekpiteta came in with a similar tackle – the Donny player fell to the ground easily and the referee was more than keen to blow the whistle. The reaction from our side was not acceptable if we want to be hitting the top of the division. Having said that, without a pretty incompetent officiating performance, which culminated with a blatant handball in injury time being waved away, we would be talking about another massive three points.
But we aren’t and Neil Critchley cut an angry and frustrated figure in his post-match interview, bemoaning the second half performance because he sees us fighting at the top of the table. Now, this performance isn’t the end of the world but I think it’s important that we are critical of our downfalls. Critchley wants to hold the side to a much higher standard and if we want to be up there at the end of the season, so should we.
It was a flawless first half display from both Marvin Ekpiteta and Daniel Gretarsson. Both were gliding through the lines to be aggressive on an attacking front and showed an intelligence to pen in and isolate Fejiri Okenibihrie on a number of occasions. Yet, second half they looked like the disjointed backline that we soldiered on with during the initial games of the season.
I think Critchley will perhaps look back on the game and feel that he should have made a couple of substitutions sooner. Daniel Ballard would have perhaps made a difference in terms of stability, but actually we steadied quite well on that front and were unlucky to concede the penalty. It was more a lack of closing the lines like we did in the first half which allowed Donny freedom to create opportunities with more ease.
We also struggled to control the tempo like we did in the first half. We made Doncaster stagnant in the first half, we were compact in the middle third and their flair players struggled to feed into a dangerous position, only getting in behind once through a top drawer James Coppinger pass. Yet, in the second half the tempo of the game grew immensely, we couldn’t slow Donny’s build up play and they became much more direct. Our success comes from frustrating the opposition and then breaking with pace, without that frustration we add a lot more pressure on our backline on a purely defensive front and there are still some questions to be asked when it comes to their pure defensive duties.
Finally, I think something we struggled with was our wingers being uncertain in their judgement in their defensive duties. In the first half, they sat in a compact midfield bank because they entrust in their pace to enable them to still counter dangerously. When Doncaster started to feed in between the lines, we needed our wingers to drop that extra yard to narrow up again, but I think we saw that as a big detriment to being able to counter. Ultimately it’s a hard thing to balance but it’s something that is important in terms of game management.
Whilst these elements need to be improved upon, we actually played well for most of the second half. The 15 minutes of madness passed and we got ourselves back in control of the game. We were the better side for 75 minutes of the game but if we have ambitions of being promoted, you don’t get a chance to be off it for 15.
Back to the positives
It would be easy to suddenly do a 360 on the positive momentum we have been building but realistically across the 90 minutes we deserved to win that football match. As long as lessons are learned in terms of our composure when the opposition begin to break our midfield lines, then we can move on from this quickly.
We created more than Doncaster and, as the above xG shows, we did enough to win the game. I myself needed time to remember just how good a side Doncaster are so to see us outperform them when a few weeks back I was wondering if we could compete in a relegation scrap. This pays testament to the improvements Neil Critchley has made.
CJ Hamilton put in a superb performance in the first half, three key passes and four duels won saw him dominate the right flank. Sullay Kaikai similarly had a good first half showing, he needs to be much more consistent in showing those levels of performance if he can truly stake a claim to being one of the best at the club. His set pieces left a lot to be desired however.
Kenny Dougall was Kenny Dougall. Elegantly feeding the ball from right to left with pace and ease. When in full flight like he was in that first half and for a lot of the second half too, he is for me one of the best midfielders in the league. But he did tire towards the end and is surely likely to have a weekend off as we visit Harrogate in the FA Cup.
No need to panic. We are fifth in the form table in the League (see above), we have a good opportunity to bounce back against Harrogate and then a tough home game against Portsmouth where we can implement the lessons we’ve learned from this game. What is being built is very positive and the relationships between players like we saw in the glorious second Blackpool goal, are only going to flourish further.
Neil Critchley showed in his post match interview that he holds very high standards and won’t accept a dip in performance. With that mentality we are well on the way to upholding those high standards. There are definitely flaws in the side that have crept up a couple of times this season so we shouldn’t sit here and just blame the officiating for that defeat. Like I mentioned previously, if the players and management have promotion aspirations, so should we and with that comes high accountability. Roll on Harrogate.
MOTM: CJ Hamilton
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Data provided by: xG_data
Image: The Guardian