Blackpool fell to a 1-0 defeat against Shrewsbury after a lacklustre performance away from home. The Seasiders were slow and passive for the majority of the game, with Daniel Udoh striking the killer blow late in the first half following an impressive string of saves from loanee Sam Walker. Neil Critchley made four substitutions late on but they failed to make an impact in one of the sides’ worst performances in recent months.
That was very poor. I am not one for the cliches of players simply not turning up but this game was that in a nutshell. Having said that, had a lot of our players still turned up, the main issues within the game would probably have persisted. We looked passive and there was a real lack of urgency, particularly in the final third where we quickly ran out of ideas with Gary Madine looking isolated.
The Plus points
Let’s go through the very few positives that were apparent in the game. First of all, I can’t speak highly enough of Sam Walker’s debut performance. To be thrown into a game like that, after the annoyance of the Boxing Day cancellation, and perform to the level that Walker did is mightily impressive. Whilst the team itself deserved to lose that game, Walker did not deserve to concede in the manner that he did after an impressive penalty save as well as a rebound save. The non-reaction of a couple of players to aid his cause after the penalty save will no doubt leave a bitter taste for him.
Alongside Walker, Marvin Ekpiteta and Dan Ballard looked impressive as always. It is strange really that having started the season with central defence probably our main concern, it is now the one area of the pitch you know will be covered every game we play. We have developed an aerial dominance and composure, with our positioning improving week on week to deal with the stereotypical lower league languid target men, but also the pacey, diminutive forward.
As you can see above, Ballard and Ekpiteta won the most aerial duels as well as the most clearances. Now obviously a lot of this is down to the sheer dominance in forward areas from Shrewsbury compared to our own, but they won everything that they needed to and looked calm and composed in the process. It was the other members of the team that were at fault for our concession and it is nice to know that even in a performance as poor as that, we tend to be well on course for a clean sheet if we ever require it.
Kaikai was anonymous in our attacking phases and culpable for the winning goal. He has been anonymous for large parts of the season, there is this clinging hope that his moments of magic, that we know he is capable of, will come more often and consistently than they do, but that hope is fading. And there is no real evidence that it will ever change. The Shrewsbury commentator highlighted his performance and made note that his 26 game spell with them, resulting in a dozen goals, is the best of his career at the age of 25. He has a decent CV in terms of the clubs he has played for but for me that comes down to his evident moments of quality being deceptive to the fact that he offers little else on a consistent basis. He is becoming a liability to the side, and it becomes even more apparent when our one real creative spark CJ Hamilton is out of the side.
Kaikai should be picking up the mantle and driving us forward, creating moments out of nothing and offering support to Madine, instead he is non-existent and out of possession he is found wanting. His positional sense in defensive phases is poor and it leaves our left full back, whoever it may be, isolated and unable to push forward in an attacking sense. I don’t like using lazy as a descriptive for players because a lot of the time it tends to be their style of play, drifting into space under the radar, but Kaikai’s foul for the penalty and his lack of desire to follow up the rebound spoke of a player who isn’t up for the fight when the chips are down. When creativity isn’t apparent, when the moments of magic aren’t apparent and when the effort isn’t apparent either, he unfortunately serves no purpose. It’s important that he starts to show the quality we all know he has on a consistent basis.
Lack of creativity
This is the main takeaway for me. It has been underlying for practically the whole season, but our incredibly clinical recent spell has masked it. When you look at our chance creation form it has continued to dip in recent weeks, and now the results are starting to catch up with it. As you can see below we again failed to register more than 1xG and it has been an alarming trend. Reinforcements in the attacking midfield area have to be the priority.
When I look towards the league as a whole, the top sides have those players in that area that can create something out of nothing when the team as a unit aren’t playing as fluidly as they would like.
Ronan Curtis at Portsmouth, Malik Wilks at Hull, Jorge Grant at Lincoln. These are the players that win you promotion and when CJ Hamilton is not in the side, we don’t have a real match winner. We are stagnant in our play in the attacking phase, with a disjointed nature to how we build up moves. What I noticed most was that our full backs could not capitalise on space in the wide areas because Kaikai and Kemp were occupying it. There needs to be a fluidity for our wingers to drag defenders in narrow to open up space for our crossing outlets in Garbutt and Gabriel.
I like Keshi Anderson but in games like this one, he is too quick to lay off short passes to the central midfielders and recycle possession too often when he should be picking up the ball and driving. Now I think this is down to a frustration in the lack of moment ahead of him and had Jerry Yates been playing it could have been a different story. Having said that, it is clear that we need another left winger and a number 10 to come in that will take games like this by the scruff of the neck. No one can drive on a team quite like an electric winger or a progressive attacking midfielder and we lack that in a fair few games. They are what bring the top teams success.
Frustration is the general feeling. I think Critchley got this one wrong, it was clear early on that Madine would be isolated and when he is isolated Sullay Kaikai is not going to be someone to pick up the slack. It seems to me that once our central midfielders are sloppy and slack in possession that runs through the whole team, as if they know they have a mountain to climb because there isn’t the extra creativity there to help out when the likes of Dougall aren’t on song. The positive is that I know Neil Critchley has a clear indication of where the problems lie and in Simon Sadler we have an owner who will give him the resources to address it. We are just missing that player that can drag us through a game.
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Image: Blackpool FC