Blackpool made it eight wins out of nine in all competitions after a stubborn defensive display gave them all three points at Highbury. Gary Madine scored the winning goal with a low header from a smartly-worked free-kick midway through the first half. From then on the Seasiders controlled the game with an organised defensive display limiting Fleetwood who finished the game without a shot on target.
Every time we think a test is coming, Neil Critchley’s men pass it with flying colours in recent weeks. This Blackpool side find different solutions and different ways to win against any level of opposition. They are the most flexible and organised side in League One right now and leading the form table shows that.
Let it be known, this is Critchley’s work. He is the architect of this dominant run. Critch has engrained a will to win through intelligent organisation and a belief that the system will do its job if everybody is 100% at their individual roles. This group of players have infinite faith in their manager to provide them with the right game plan for the right opponent and the manager has infinite faith in the players to provide the tools to complete the task. It is the perfect combination.
Disciplined and confident
That’s my main takeaway from the past two games. We are highly disciplined and we have confidence in our ability to hold out against even the very best in the division. Fleetwood, one of the highest scoring sides in the division, couldn’t get a single shot on target – unless you count the close offside call we’ll just pretend didn’t happen just before half time.
Daniel Gretarsson had his best game in a Blackpool shirt. The fact we went to Highbury without Dan Ballard and – come the full-time whistle we hadn’t missed him – says everything about the Ice Man’s performance. Seven clearances made was the highest on the park, accompanying that with five successful defensive aerials, pays testament to the dominance Gretarsson had. He looked as composed as I have seen him and right now the three centre half options for us look as good as any in the division.
And as much as the Icelandic colossus put in a fine display, Marvin Ekpiteta just about one upped him. I have never understood the criticism Ekpiteta gets on occasion, he is a top drawer player at this level. His calmness in and out of possession is essential to the type of football Neil Critchley wants to play and yet again he dominated the game. Six defensive aerials and three interceptions won sums up an imperious performance from a player who is now one of the first names on the team sheet.
The two full backs put in good shifts as well. Oli Turton is someone that I am quite critical of, mainly because I believe Jordan Gabriel can offer more to the side overall. But in a game like this where you need that solidity and composure at the back, Turton can give a lot to the team. He fed CJ Hamilton well and allowed us to get further up the park in spells where the pressure was mounting. He was brave in trying to keep a higher line generally in order to stem the left flank ability of Fleetwood as you can see in the heat map below.
James Husband offered much more of a forward presence than his counterpart Turton and also showed good aerial ability making three clearances. He again, when it was needed in spells of the game where we were riding some opposition pressure, found the right moments to push us further up the park. Two solid performances from the pair and when you consider we still have Luke Garbutt and Jordan Gabriel available on either side, our squad strength is starting to show and that’s encouraging when you consider the packed fixture schedule over the next month.
Gary Madine – goal machine
The big man was superb again. To think how low his stock was at the start of the season, we have basically signed a new player. His movement for the goal was very clever, dragging the Fleetwood centre half out before checking his run to get in front and power the ball into the ground making it difficult for the keeper to stop. That is the mark of a top striker. But he offers so much more than that to this side.
He is Mr Reliable or more importantly Mr Outball. If we ever need a relief of pressure he is there to calmly bring the ball down on his chest, hold off a centre half and release the ball into a central midfielder or wide area. The versatility of his play is evident, he can turn in behind and as he’s shown in recent weeks, he’s a skilful player and very nimble for his height. He is everything you want as a target man as his touch map shows he was absolutely everywhere when you needed him to be. He is brimming with confidence and that brings an ability to show for the ball at all times. He’s a brave player.
What a man, what a player. An absolute joy to watch, capped off by his audacious piece of skill on the left wing in added time to leave an already frustrated Fleetwood full back for dead. There is no coincidence that the upturn in form has come since Dougall’s arrival into our midfield. He makes everything tick, he is the heartbeat of the side and the very man Neil Critchley was craving. He said he had wanted Dougall throughout the window and we clearly pushed the boat out to get it done – and boy has he delivered.
Four successful tackles and two interceptions capped off an imperious display on the defensive front. But on the forward front he offered up an extra option to pass out on every occasion. He was outnumbered by a Fleetwood midfield three but the game played out as if the numbers were even because of his ability to find space. He loves playing under pressure, he thrives off being able to turn an opponent and have a real midfield battle. He loves the best of both worlds. Somehow we have managed to find a complete central midfielder player that will play in League One. He won’t be in this league for long and hopefully that’s because he’s taken us to the Championship. A touch map befitting of a top midfielder sits below.
Whenever you feel we have hit the ceiling, the team smashes through it. There are a number of tough tests to come throughout December but playing like this there is nothing this team can’t handle. Neil Critchley has the ability to tweak and alter based on opponent and the players and fans alike now have complete faith in his ability to perform another masterclass. He has made many of us, myself included, look very stupid in underestimating just how good a coach he can be. He is creating the building blocks of a Championship side and there is no reason that I can see why this Blackpool team cannot get promoted. Onwards and upwards!
Image: Dan Franks
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