A reserve Blackpool side lost out to Fleetwood on penalties to bow out of the EFL Trophy. Neil Critchley’s side were impressive in the first half but tailed off in the second as Joey Barton brought on more first team players as the game went on.
There were a lot of positives to take from this game, particularly in the first half. We pressed with a real aggression and intent from the off and made a point of bypassing the midfield lines with our passes. Our defence created a lot of our attacking moves through these line-splitting balls that allowed our midfielders to have more of a freedom to roam. Ethan Robson sat in a deeper role and dictated the tempo of the game which allowed us to keep up a high tempo at all times.
Lubala’s confidence seems to be improving game on game. He is a real asset to the side because he can stretch a defence and drag players out of position well. This is something we should look to utilise more in the dying embers of a game. His trickery and pace are big features to his game but more importantly his intelligence of when to use them, rather than the aimless runs of his earlier games, is improving.
He was quieter in the second half but I think that came down to a general slackness in our play, hindering our ability to break the lines and give Lubala space and time on the ball. That being said, it was another promising performance from the former Crawley man and I would be surprised if he doesn’t begin to feature more prominently as the fixture list becomes more draining.
I really enjoy watching Kemp. He is nimble and cute in his play, constantly moving to find an extra yard in the half space and in behind the midfield line. He is an intelligent player who can read the game ahead of most other players on the pitch. His drive and purpose to be aggressive in attacking play really suits what Neil Critchley wants from his forward players.
Again, like most of the team, he began to tail off in the second half, mainly through no fault of his own, but he is another one who will no doubt make more of an impact on the first team as games come thick and fast. It is great to see that our attacking options are growing because an injury to a key first team player will not be as demoralising knowing the likes of Lubala and Kemp can come in.
In terms of our final attacking option, Sarkic failed to have much of an impact on proceedings. There is no doubt there is skill in Sarkic, elements of his play look great at times, particularly when it comes to his ball control and reading of the game. Unfortunately, this is very sporadic and he just does not show that he has what it takes to perform consistently to a level that will see him make a dent on the first team.
He shows flashes of a good attacking midfielder and it’s obvious Critchley sees something in him, but I would be shipping Sarkic out in January. We can’t afford to carry excess wages when we could bring in another striker who could give Madine and Yates a support option as we head into the run in.
Sims is similar to Sarkic really in terms of showing glimpses but overall not having the desired quality to make an impact on the first team. He has shown in previous games that generally he can be fairly solid as a shot-stopper, however he put in a pretty sub-par performance against Fleetwood.
His distribution is lacking, probably because I’m marking it against Maxwell who holds distribution as a real strength. We lost that efficiency in counter attacks because the distribution wasn’t there. His command of the area is relatively poor but as a young lad that is to be expected and something that can be improved on, and he was poor in the shootout. There’s no doubt Sims will make a good go of his career but I’m not sure that career will be at the level we are reaching for.
Finally on to my boy Jordan Gabriel. I’ve been championing Gabriel for a while now and yet again he put in a very impressive performance, particularly in the first half. One thing of real importance is that his defensive game seems to be improving and he looks a lot more comfortable when players are driving at him. His positional sense has come on a lot and we already knew just how much he can offer in an attacking sense.
He put in a number of top class deliveries into the box and had there been an out-and-out striker on the pitch I imagine they would have got on the end of one of them. There’s a real power about his game, with his aggressive drive pinning back whoever the opposition winger is. That is a skill that Critchley will want to see with us defending from the front. For me, it’s natural that Gabriel will take Ollie Turton’s full back spot by the end of the season and hopefully we will enquire about the possibility of taking him on a permanent basis.
Overall this was another good workout for the reserves and it is unfortunate that it has come to an end. A lot of the players will miss the real competitive game time they got and it was a good tool for Critchley to assess where they are at in terms of making a push for first team action, given there’s no reserve football at the moment. I think we’ve seen that our strength in depth is there and it’s inevitable that a number of these players will make a dent on the first team in the coming months. Out of this competition but we have bigger fish to fry apparently unlike our Cod counterparts.
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