Blackpool eased by Harrogate Town in a convincing display in West Yorkshire to book their place in the third round of the FA Cup. The Seasiders opened the scoring when a Luke Garbutt free kick went straight in, before Grant Ward fired in a second. An impressive performance from Jordan Gabriel was capped off with a goal, whilst Dan Kemp sealed the deal with a fourth.
A really professional performance today from the lads. Going into the game I knew we would have to remain patient and stick to our game to break down a stubborn Harrogate, and that’s exactly what we did. We wore them down with a high tempo and constant switching of the play to disrupt the organisation and this led to Town tiring quite early into the second half as our quality showed.
It was another impressive game for Jordan Gabriel who looked like a real threat down the right hand side. Having the ability to overload the right, given how much CJ Hamilton already disrupts defenders there, gives us a real chance to dismantle any side in League One going forwards.
What really stands out with Gabriel is that, as games bring confidence, his intelligence in the game builds. He wasn’t aimless with his forward runs, he knew when to adjust his positioning in order to fall into a defensive shape when required and defended well against a good talent in Calvin Miller. For much of the game, he penned Miller in his own half through his aggressive pressing and attacking play. For me he has to start on Tuesday against Portsmouth – he offers so much more to the side than Oli Turton and it’s vital we pen back Pompey’s attacking options.
Dan Ballard came back into the fold and I would be very surprised if he doesn’t start every key game from here on out. He is simply a level above anyone in this Blackpool squad. His all-round ability is frightening, he is such a commanding presence in the air even against a physical, combative side like Harrogate. But the key is that he can combined that with a composed, aggressive passing style that broke the lines on a number of occasions and brings us on the front foot as a team when he leads from the back.
Gary Madine put in yet another tireless performance. He shocks me every time he plays because he looks a completely different player to the one we’ve seen in any of his previous seasons for the club. The last minute of the game summed it up for me, he was high pressing the Town goalkeeper and looking like he could do the whole 90 minutes again at the final whistle.
I imagine Madine feels he is in the best shape both on and off the ball that he has been in years and it shows. It’s easy to forget most of us, including myself, were expecting him to be one of the first to go when Critchley came in. He’s on a decent wage at the club and he’s played his way into being one of the first names on the team sheet.
Given we were playing a 4-3-3, it was important that we got men in and around Madine, something that we struggled with earlier in the season playing that way. Keshi Anderson provided just that. He was certainly rusty in front of goal and in his final ball but he showed in his positional play that he is a real asset to the squad and it was great to see him back.
It offers Critchley a real option to switch up the formation at will which in the latter stages of the season is something we are going to need. Once Keshi gets back into playing more regularly I have no doubt his final ball will return and he will be one of the most talented players in the side.
This is our strongest back four
I have called for Jordan Gabriel to take Oli Turton’s place for a few weeks now and this performance only cemented that view. As previously mentioned the threat he offers on the attacking front alongside his ever improving defensive positioning gives us the modern wing back Critchley wants.
Big Marv has his critics but I believe he is coming into his own as the season goes on. He takes risks, sometimes too many, but that is a central defender I want in my side if I’m wanting to play on the front foot. Always looking forward for the ball that will break the lines, aggressive in his press and aerially too, he offers the perfect partner to Dan Ballard. He will learn from Ballard too, he seems to play within the ability of the man beside him.
Early in the season Ekpiteta was playing within himself. He clearly had no confidence to play the way he really wanted to and I think a lot of that had to do with covering Michael Nottingham. Since Ballard and Gretarsson have come in he has looked like the player we signed. I’m slightly biased in the sense that I love an aggressive, risk taking centre half but he offers something different and he’s a joy to watch at times.
Dan Ballard is obviously our best player so no more needs to be said on that front. What I would say though is that he needs to be playing every game from now until the end of his loan in January if we want a chance at an extension. His performances on the international stage will already have higher interest than us and Arsenal aren’t going to let his development stagnate on the bench, especially when he missed a season through injury at Swindon. He’s a promotion winning centre half.
It was great to see Luke Garbutt back in the side too. How I see it he is the perfect balance between the good points of James Husband and the good points of Demetri Mitchell. He’s well versed in this division and is one of our most experienced players. For me he offers that balance between the left and right side that we tend to lack against better sides.
This game will give us a lot of confidence. Before the game I thought us showing we can break down a low block when we play teams of lesser quality, whilst already showing we can sit and counter against better opposition, will bring that confidence and I stand by that. We’ve shown we can give the best of both worlds on our day and that is a real asset going forward.
Pompey will be a big test of our backline but, given they are prone to conceding chances, if we are on our game then there is no reason why we can’t put down a real marker. Harrogate was the perfect bounce back from Doncaster and the performance showed we weren’t rocked by that 3-2 defeat. The momentum has remained.
MOTM: Jordan Gabriel
xG: Harrogate Town 0.99 – 2.35 Blackpool
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Image: Harrogate Advertiser