Review – Blackpool 0-0 Oxford

A frustrating afternoon at Bloomfield Road left Blackpool settling for a point against Oxford United. Two efforts from CJ Hamilton were denied by the woodwork in a largely dominant display from Neil Critchley’s side, with a Chris Maxwell wonder save in injury time keeping the scores level.

Well that was a frustrating one. We dominated for the majority of the game and whilst some chances were created and we were unfortunate on a few occasions, we failed to really cut open Oxford’s backline. Our passing between the lines was quite slack for spells of the game and that, along with an aerially-proficient Oxford backline, left our attacking play fairly stagnant.

Not a classic

As you can see above, the chance creation from both sides was pretty limited. Our main attempts with CJ Hamilton’s fine strike and the deflected effort both sprung up out of nowhere, rather than by breaking the lines and having a clear cut chance. I think a lot of this was down to Oxford’s aerial dominance at the back which left Madine struggling with his hold up play, leaving him isolated for a lot of the play.

Our form actually shows that, since the real upturn in results, we’ve actually created less clear goal scoring opportunities than we did in our poor run. Now, the caveat is that the quality of opposition we have faced recently has been higher and therefore chances are going to be generally more limited. However, it shows that we have been fairly clinical when opportunities have arisen, albeit the xG rate against Oxford was one of if not the lowest of the season.

We were bound to come unstuck at some point as you can’t expect Hamilton, Kaikai, Madine and co to break through and come up with a moment of magic every week – if they could do that, they would be playing at a higher level. What I will say is that it’s great to see that when we aren’t having the most successful time in front of goal, we are able to keep a clean sheet at the other end.

The frustration of this result for me is a bit of an overreaction if taken in isolation. Had our form in recent weeks been the case throughout the season, we would’ve happily accepted a 0-0 here. It is more the fact that the poor form at the start of the season has left us in catch-up mode and any slip leaves us lagging behind. I myself am not particularly frustrated by this one and don’t think there’s much concern there as we controlled large spells, there are other aspects that were a frustration though.

Substitutions were unnecessary

Neil Critchley has always shown faith in his players to bring about an upturn in results and they repaid that faith in recent weeks. However, it seemed like Critchley was a bit too erratic in his changes in this one. We were on top of the play, well in control and although we weren’t largely creating any real clear cut opportunities, we were coming closer as Oxford continued to tire. With that in mind, it would have been a good time to switch to the tried and tested 4-4-2 and bring Jerry Yates into the fold for a subpar Ben Woodburn. Bringing in another forward to stretch the lines and offer more of a link up for Madine, I think would’ve been the perfect recipe to break the deadlock.

The triple substitution when we were in control seemed silly. An argument could be made for fresh legs bringing more energy but, really, energy wasn’t an issue and the changes slowed the pace of the game and disrupted the patterns of attacking play we had started to create. It sucked the life out of our intent and moving Hamilton out to the left basically took him out of the game. It was a strange one for me and I would’ve expected more patience and trust from Critchley in the side that were on the pitch at the time.

Ben Woodburn

It is safe to say he didn’t take his opportunity to impress. Now I don’t actually think he was as bad as what is being made out by some, the slackness in our build up play certainly didn’t help in taking advantage of his movement into decent positions. However, his first touch was off at important moments and he seemed indecisive in his playmaking.

As you can see from his touch map, he was picking up the ball in deeper areas, which was leaving Madine isolated further up the field and more importantly, he was quite regressive in his passing. He reminded me of Keshi Anderson in the early parts of the season where he didn’t have much trust in his deeper midfielders to find him in the right areas. He didn’t get the ball enough either with the second lowest touches in the side behind Madine.

Full backs were impressive

James Husband put in a great performance; for me one of his best in a Blackpool shirt. His decision making when the Oxford keeper came rushing out in the first half could have been better but generally he has looked solid in recent games. As someone who has seemed quite untrustworthy this season, it is nice to see that our left back options are a strong point of the side at the moment, considering Demitri Mitchell is third choice. His four successful tackles out of four attempted, as shown above, made him joint-top for Blackpool with Kenny Dougall.

Jordan Gabriel is someone I’ve been banging the drum for in recent times and he showed exactly why. He was a little shaky in the early stages but grew stronger and stronger in the game as it went on. What we are seeing now is a real balance with our attacking play, it allows us more space on both wings when opponents can’t target one defensively, without compromising the other.

Two key passes for Gabriel showed how much of an impact he had on our attacking play. Something that I also noticed was that Oxford initially doubled up on Hamilton, however Gabriel’s presence on the overlap, whether inside or outside, left CJ with more space to work in and allowed him to isolate Ruffels in a few occasions. This is something we can really take advantage of as the season goes on.

Final thoughts

It was a relatively uninspiring fixture but the positive for me is that, when chance creation is pretty low, we are still maintaining control over a game against a good level of opposition and looking defensively stable. That is invaluable when you are having an off day in front of goal and something that we were punished for throughout the early parts of the season. Critchley implored us to have faith in his players and backed his style to come good – which it has – but he needs to make sure he shows that same faith and not be erratic in his substitutions when patience is required. I am positive going into the Hull game that we will be able to get back to our chance creating best. It’s five clean sheets in a row for the tangerines.

Stats provided by: xG Data & Who Scored

Image: OUFC

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