The lads put in another dominant display tonight to leap up from 16th to 12th in the league, whilst still harvesting more games in hand than most. It was a comfortable 2-0 victory against the visitors Northampton, who had to travel up north once again; 2 weeks after making the over 350-mile round trip before being told the game would not go ahead due to a waterlogged pitch. Early signs in the day had some fans worried, waking up to snowfall and on and off rain throughout the day, though this time, referee James Oldham was happy for the game to go ahead, and it has to be said, the pitch looked fantastic.
Pool had more players at our disposal tonight from recent weeks with several first team regulars returning from their Covid isolation. The team sheet reflected this with a strong looking line-up and we were not left disappointed with the performance. With the quality in depth we possess over most areas of the pitch, you could actually argue, who nowadays is actually regarded as a first team regular? Here, we look at five positives and five negatives from the game.
On the piss with Jerry Yates.
I’d like to start with a shout out to Yates, who, for me is definitely one of the first names on the team sheet.
Underrated by Rotherham United & their fans alike for years; their loss is certainly our gain. Funnily enough, it was his mum who put the nail in the coffin to the striker with their fanbase after 6 years at the club, taking it upon herself to publicly slate Rotherham’s “hoof ball” style of play following his recall from Swindon in January 2020. And she was right – he suits our style of play much better!
He’s never been short on confidence, but in my eyes, was trying too hard to impress at the start of his time here at Blackpool. Yates is certainly a quick learner and has dialled in on who and when to close down and is now more often than not finding himself in the right position at the right time. This by no means is a coincidence and he has been rewarded for his hard work and development by notching 10 goals in his last 18 games.
Not a striker to judge solely on goals however & granted, unlikely to be the type who is going to bag us 30 a season, but what he does bring to the team is invaluable. His work rate and link up play is sensational. And at a double figure goal tally at the half way mark, he’s on course to hit 20.
Funnily enough he wasn’t at his very best against Northampton for much of the game and maybe missed Madine’s presence & their ever-flourishing partnership – but what about that goal?! What an absolute beauty! Great vision and execution on the throw by Maxwell & Yates being Yates – still willing to drive forward before turning numerous defenders inside out, skipping past the keeper and calmly slotting home. Unbelievable. I for one, am actually gutted we weren’t inside the stadium to witness that goal and can only imagine the scenes in the North.
I think we would all forgive Jerry for having a pint or two tonight after that – as long as he keeps his shirt on of course… Though, saying that, as long as he keeps giving his all for the shirt, keeping his mum off of twitter and banging in goals like that, he can do what the hell he wants.
Strength in depth at centre half
From the beginning of the season to now, what a transformation this has been! I have to say I’m absolutely delighted to see Jordan Thorniley grasping his opportunity with both hands. From being told he is free to leave a month ago, to putting in these recent performances speaks volumes for his attitude and character. Relatively hyped when he signed from Sheffield Wednesday in January 2020, it’s fair to say his pool career was hanging by a thread, but again he has shown us and Critchley what he is all about & I thought he was faultless tonight (bar his early miss)!
This gives us nice problem to have; a head scratching decision on what our best centre half pairing actually is? – Ekpiteta is irreplaceable for me in his current form and just keeps on improving and impressing. He’s been an absolute rock recently & has now turned into a natural finisher firing two in his last two! That leaves Thorniley, Grétarsson & Ballard fighting out the final spot and you could make a solid case for each of them.
Dougall / Stewart partnership
It was nice to get a look at what the Pool’s future midfield could look like. On paper it looks a force to be reckoned with and more of a Championship pairing than League One to be honest. Both play like they would die for the cause – which, come to think of it, seems to be a common denominator in a Neil Critchley Blackpool side. Stewart seemed to play with more freedom and attacking intent than Dougall which allowed Kenny to sit back and break up the play for which he is a natural at. Stewart wasn’t shy to take a long shot either, which we have been missing for most of the season. We will skim over Stewart’s miss (when he hit the post) and put it down to being on his weak foot and rust from lack of game time. I’m sure in the moment most were cursing on how it wasn’t put away or slipped into Virtue for a tap in, but we’re keen to move on and watch him bury it next time.
From elaborate celebrations and Ric Flair WOOO’s, there still seems to be a feel-good factor buzzing around an empty Bloomfield Road. This is somewhat surprising to see – considering the number of new faces that have come and gone over the last 18 months. The confidence that exudes from the team does not seem to be just in their style of play but in their mental state too. I really get the impression the players know and truly believe that they can go and beat anyone in this league and this is filtering down to the fans. I for one go into any upcoming game believing the lads can walk away with the three points, and that seems to be how the squad and manager feel too. This is a fantastic mindset the players seem to have and will be pivotal to any success now and down the line. Critchley and the background staff must take credit for this, certainly considering how we were struggling to win ‘ugly’ earlier in the season.
Big Ben Burgess
Enjoyed listening to Burgess tonight. I found him very comical and brutally honest – it was a breath of fresh air having him on the mic and interesting to hear his insight and opinion into the current pool side.. He wasn’t shy in correcting Ian Chisnall’s mistaken identities or pronunciation attempts either – music to our ears.
Lack of killer instinct
It’s almost controversial to write this considering our last two league games have been arguably the most comfortable of the season and the only time since Swindon (on the second game of the season) we have beat a team by more than one goal. But let’s be honest, this game should have been over by 60 minutes. Northampton offered little going forward and it is no surprise to see they’re the league’s lowest scorers but there was always that lingering element that they could have snatched something from that game, especially between the 80th – 90th minute when they were willing to throw more bodies forward. That would have been, quite frankly devastating…
Obviously, it was a relief to see us seal the victory and considering how defensively sound we are, in truth, I was expecting a clean sheet. It just wouldn’t surprise me if this was something being talked about behind the scenes and would stop the need to watch games between fingers.
I cheated a bit with this one, as it’s certainly not a negative for us, but we did not have to be anywhere near our best in the final third to get something from tonight’s game. It certainly tickled Big Ben Burgess who had a good laugh and described it as ‘comical & awful’ and he wasn’t wrong, especially for that first goal. In fairness to Northampton the movement of Ellis Simms was excellent tonight and would have given any centre half a torrid time – it’s certainly no surprise to see that they’ve conceded 1.6 goals per game so far this season and they look bereft of confidence when trying to play out from the back. They’ll need to be more defensively sound if they plan on surviving league 1.
I’m primarily talking about corner kicks and I’m going to rant here – it’s an absolute pet hate of mine when we don’t beat the first man and it happens far too often, particularly when Luke Garbutt is not on the pitch. Why certain players (and I’ll be kind by not mentioning names) are still being allowed the opportunity to take them is doing my head in and this needs to be looked into ASAP. How any professional footballer can’t put it in the danger zone or even beat the first man regularly is beyond me. I’m hearing that Elliot Emberton is a set-piece specialist, so hopefully he’s the answer.
I don’t want to bash him too much and obviously want all Pool players to succeed, but for me Kaikai is regressing. On his day he can be a game changer but these seem few and far between. I’m struggling to pinpoint what the actual problem is – whether he’s just not over his injury problems or if he’s just lacking confidence? Or maybe he just doesn’t quite fit into our system? I don’t know. With our current situation in the final third he may continue to get chances to impress, but for me he’s going to have to step up a gear or two to be a first team regular down the line. His contract is up in the summer and the club will have a decision to make when considering triggering his optional one-year extension.
Yep – there are bigger worries and devastation happening in the world at present than not being able to attend a football game, granted, yet it’s still feels gutting not to be able cheer the Mighty on from inside the stadium. With our current form and how finely poised the league is, it could be a blockbuster season and one to remember for all the right reasons. Positively, it is very satisfying to witness how strong the bond is within the BFC community and with the players over social media all whilst watching from the safety of our homes. It was also nice to read the praise that Ekpiteta gave to us, the fans, for their kind words and the confidence we have installed into him. I just hope we’re all safely allowed to return sooner rather than later.
Another solid team performance and three more much-needed points in our bid to close the gap on the playoffs. This is now Pool’s fifth win in our previous six home league games. Even more satisfying is that five of our last six have also ended in a clean sheet.
We roll onto Saturday where we face tougher competition in Ipswich away. There may be more incentive as we owe them one after their 1-4 humiliation of us in the reverse fixture back in October. It is however, safe to say, Pool are in much better form this time around, where the opposite can be said for Ipswich. In fact, from a solid start to their campaign they’re in free-fall and have lost 6 of their previous 7 home league games, with no clean sheet in their previous 9 home league games. Not to curse it, but I’m optimistic of a good result to keep our run of form going. One thing is for sure, it’s going to be an action packed February!
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