Blackpool sit just above the relegation zone, having only one point from nine and having lost two consecutive home games. Isaac Selley discusses why the start of the season been so underwhelming and why we should feel positive moving forward.
As I stood in the North stand after the final whistle blew on our defeat to Coventry, I was torn. Like many fans, I was split between the idea that we could go down without a fight and my optimism that we will be fine and only need time to adjust to the new division. With time to reflect on the defeat and re-watching the match, as well as listening to Critchley and Co’s reactions, I still believe this is going to be a season where we pull through and achieve the ultimate aim this season: survival!
Last October, we were sat in League One’s relegation zone. The team was written off by pundits and fans alike, and even some Blackpool fans said if we didn’t get rid of Critchley, we would get relegated. Seven months later Kenny Dougall scored twice as we beat Lincoln at Wembley.
The parallels to today are obvious. Today, we sit 21st in the table and have been written off by popular podcasts like The Second Tier. Some Blackpool fans are losing faith again, talking as if our current squad is a shoe-in for relegation. While there are issues to be addressed, there were many last year and I trust that Critchley will be able to turn these around like he did then. What are the key issues that need fixing going forward?
Recruitment is an area that has already been heavily criticised, especially in the right-back position. After 3 games, our signings have already been labelled “League One” standard, despite a couple of the signings showing they can meet Championship standards already, while the rest have the potential to develop into Championship players. Neil Critchley has constantly positioned the club as a place that not only attracts players, but also helps improve players.
At the end of last season, we lost two strong right back options in Ollie Turton on a free and Jordan Gabriel, who’s loan expired. Ollie Turton came as a shock to many, but he was still on an Oyston-era contract and had a young family and a good offer from another Championship club. It should be no surprise he decided to take it.
Gabriel was always going to be tough since he was on loan. Forest did sign a new right back on loan, however it looked like they wanted to keep Gabriel as a back-up, especially with current injuries. They have now been linked with a new right-back on a permanent contract, which would likely leave Gabriel free to leave. Getting him back is still a possibility – especially after his red card against Rovers – with Forest fans now calling for him to be sold.
The club are also still looking at an attacker or two, as Alan Nixon reports. While it is now getting towards the end of the window, Critchley will know who he wants and won’t deviate from his list of targets, whether primary or secondary. There is still a lot of time and scope for the club to improve.
The centre back partnership has also generated a lot of attention. Many have questioned whether Richard Keogh and James Husband anchoring the back four is good enough, as neither are the fastest and Husband is out of position. Both have shown glimpses of their qualities, but both have also shown significant weaknesses in the first three league games.
Keogh, who arrived on a free transfer this summer, was getting a large amount of praise after surpassing expectations against Bristol City. He faced a more mixed reaction after Cardiff – where his defending was questionable for Cardiff’s second goal. He was much deeper than any of his team mates and loosely marked Moore who scored from the cross. He was chasing shadows against Coventry, with striker Viktor Gyökeres constantly running in behind him and getting past him. Husband also hasn’t yet shown the same level of quality this season as he did last year
In addition to their individual flaws, they don’t combine well. Keogh tries to read the game and steps up with his man, leaving space in behind. In contrast, Husband is more passive and drops off, trying to stop runs into the space behind. This can lead to an easy run in for attackers behind Keogh, while they are being played onside by Husband. When both men stepped up, they left space in behind for the opposition wide men to exploit. One solution could be playing Marvin Ekpiteta and Oliver Casey, who seemed to have formed a strong partnership over pre-season and looked strong against Middlesbrough in the Carabao Cup. We also have Daniel Gretarsson returning from his shoulder injury. The centre of defence can (and likely will) improve.
The midfield is another reason to be optimistic. While it has seemed anonymous at times, the important thing to remember is that main players are missing or unfit. Dougall is still not 100% fit after his injury, and we still have Kevin Stewart to come back. Stewart has been one of the most important parts in the way we play, and with us being more patient this season, his value to the side will only increase. He is an elegant player with an impressive passing range. The way he scans over his shoulders while receiving the ball facing his own goal is incredible, and it is clear to see why Hull paid four million for him just a couple of years ago. With him and a fully fit Dougall, we will be able to play how we want to play so much more comfortably. With Ward and James, we have two players who are both talented and hard working individuals, who give a lot for the team. However, we look a better side with a fit Dougall and Stewart in the middle.
Going forward, a solution may be to try a 4-3-3 again; making sure we win that battle in the middle and improve our transition from defence into attack. Especially against Coventry, it seemed at times as if we didn’t have a midfield, with our back line hoofing it up to Lavery and Yates, neither of which have the size to compete aerially. When we play through the lines, using our midfield, we look a much better side. If we can add another body into there, with Ward or James, we will be able to open the game up and increase our options while still protecting the defence.
We also haven’t had much luck in the games with officiating decisions. While there is debate about whether the ball went in off Gyökeres arm or off his face, he should have been called offside regardless. The ball was played forward and he was in front of any defender. There were also other little decisions that went against us. Against both Cardiff and Coventry, Lavery and Bowler respectively were running into the final third beyond the defence they were hacked down without punishment. Against Cardiff, the ball struck Flint’s hand in the box, and they immediately countered to double their lead. Without these errors, we could be on 3 points from 3 games. These decisions don’t keep going against you for the entire season, and our fortunes may begin to improve.
The centre of defence and midfield is where we struggled in the first half against Coventry. We created chances, but didn’t begin controlling the game until the second half. If we maintain the energy shown in that half, we won’t struggle to pick up wins, points, and stay up. Critchley, like he did last year, needs to figure out what works best at this level and apply it. Once we have key players back in certain positions and a final squad after transfer market activity, we will keep growing, progressing, and getting better. With the coach and squad we have, I’m confident we will learn from every game and we will get the points needed this season to stay in the second division.
Enjoying our content? Make sure you check out UTMP’s latest podcasts too!
Don’t forget to turn on notifications on Twitter and Instagram to see our latest content first. Please help us out by commenting, liking and retweeting our posts to spread the word across the Blackpool fans. Up the mighty Pool.