Blackpool 1-1 Cardiff City – An unlikely point

Cardiff should have won this game with some considerable ease as Blackpool struggled to get any fluency in possession of the football and weren’t effective enough without it.

Setting up

Blackpool with a flatter than usual back four. Sorry, no extra 's' above in Gunnarsson.

Blackpool fielded an unchanged side in their variant of a 4-3-3 with Gary Taylor-Fletcher once again at the tip of the central midfield triangle. The actuality of the shape will be discussed later on. Cardiff dropped Robert Earnshaw, presumably for tactical reasons as Malky Mackay replicated the approach of both Derby and Ipswich by packing the midfield. He has his side man for man in the middle of the pitch setting them up in a rough 4-5-1 formation with Peter Whittingham advancing to support Kenny Millar, who acted as the lone striker.

Central focus

Again the centre of the pitch was the focus of the battle and Mackay made the right moves. For the third home game running a manager has packed the midfield. Whilst Derby packed the midfield to great effect they were opportunist in seizing their win, Ipswich did well in stifling Blackpool but appeared to have no game plan in possession. However, Cardiff both stifled Blackpool excellently, but were technically much more competent on the ball than the other two teams and were able to structure their attacks with more cohesion.

Why did Cardiff win the centre ground?

  1. Blackpool’s shape on and off the ball was inconsistent at times, on paper they matched up 3 v 3 in the centre, but when Gary Taylor-Fletcher failed to recover his off ball position this left Blackpool outnumbered in the centre. There are certainly questions about Taylor-Fletcher’s effectiveness in a midfield role. He is certainly excellent in the final third for such a role, but in tight games like this he needs to not only recover position but close out the opposition and make tackles. Is Taylor-Fletcher more effective starting deep and drifting up the pitch or starting up and drifting deep? Arguably the latter is the preferred option as it frees him from defensive duties and he is harder to track from the higher starting position, asking questions of the opposition defence and midfield as he sneaks in to space. This has the feeling of last season when Blackpool struggled in the Premier League when losing sight of their flatter midfield three and only recovering it when 3-1 down to Wigan at home. Will Holloway seek to restore the flatter shape for his midfield three or will he persist with one man advancing and Blackpool straying towards a 4-2-4.
  2. Cardiff completely outworked Blackpool in the centre. As soon as a Blackpool player received the ball a Cardiff man went to close him down immediately. They shared the work load well and Peter Whittingham put pressure on Barry Ferguson in the deep and always looked to get goal side of him. On the other hand, Blackpool’s pressing was sporadic at best and at times almost seemed to invite Cardiff to turn and attack them.
Support group
Winning the centre ground in a football match doesn’t guarantee a team anything, however, given that Cardiff were so dominant they also performed much better in other aspects. None more so than the work of Whittingham, Craig Conway and Don Cowie. As Kenny Millar performed a lone striking role they worked superbly to get forward to support him, giving him passing options and especially Cowie and Conway getting in to dangerous positions in wide areas. Added to this they were composed on the ball in and around the final third and delivered some very tricky crosses and passes that through a combination of Blackpool defending and Cardiff poor finishing ensured that they inflicted little real damage. Conway in particularly looked very dangerous picking an excellent pass in the deep which split open Blackpool’s dis-organised high defensive line as well as laying on the cross for Cowie’s goal.
An interesting observation about this match was how little Blackpool’s full backs got forward. In a number of games this season, Blackpool’s stepped up their game when Alex Baptiste progressed forward. In this match he rarely got forward, it could be assumed that this was more to the excellent play of Cardiff’s wide men ensuring that they were continually occupied. It’s likely that to be the case rather than Ian Holloway asking them to sit as that was hardly a ploy he tried in the Premier League and certainly not something that would help Blackpool. Matt Hill in addition to staying back also strayed very centrally and seemed uncomfortable in keeping his width and stepping higher up to support the midfield. The moment that Stephen Crainey came on Blackpool looked like holding on to the ball better. He understands the role and how he can influence the game from full back. Helping to support the midfield offering passing options, but also in getting the ball up to the forwards as he did in the lead up to the Blackpool equaliser.
Moving on
Cardiff have a solid looking Championship team, functional, spirited, flexible, creative and reasonably well-balanced. However, they may need to find someone more clinical to play the lone striker role when they play away from home in order secure more victories. Blackpool on the other hand may not function as poorly as this all season and win a point when defeat seemed likely. Holloway will take encouragement from his substitutions, the real question centres on his ability to deal with teams who come to Bloomfield Road to match up his midfield three. A lot of the time Blackpool will move the ball around better than this and win more games, however it is when the ball stops moving do issues become apparent. He might need to ask his players to solve these situations ‘in game’ with more effectiveness, or he may seek tactical changes to flex their approach.

What is the golden rule?

Before the recent 2-0 win over Ipswich Ian Holloway stated that he had laid down a golden rule for his centre backs Ian Evatt and Craig Cathcart to follow. This post will take a speculative look at trying to establish what that rule is.

Evatt knows the golden rule now!

Golden rule

What exactly did Holloway state before the Ipswich game that has prompted this post? Here are some of his quotes from the Blackpool Gazette when he had said he studied the goal that was conceded against Crystal Palace in the previous match;

“ I’ve looked at it and come up with something I think is really relevant from a coaching point of view.

“I have explained it and I think it is a golden rule both my centre-halves will have in their brains now.

“I don’t think they’ll ever forget it and I’m hoping it will make it easier for them to be centre-halves.”

Rewind and review

As Holloway came up with this rule after watching the goal that was conceded against Palace, this post will take a look back at that concession and lay down what happened, before coming up with ideas about the ‘golden rule’.

The goal was scored by Glenn Murray running on to a cross ball from the left wing. Murray met the ball at the near post finishing smartly in the small space to Matt Gilks’ right hand side. Here’s a step by step summary;

Step 1 – The ball is played out to Dean Moxey on the left wing. He has Brett Ormerod (marked in red in the picture below) covering him moderately, but he has enough space to swing a foot at the ball to cross it.

Step 2 – As the ball is played Alex Baptiste (blue) is positioned in behind Ormerod, but the ball evades him and enters the box.

Ormerod highlighted as red, Baptiste in blue and Cathcart in the centre in pink.

Step 3 – Ian Evatt (yellow) starts to track the run that Murray has started to make to the front post. Craig Cathcart (pink)  is positioned in behind Baptiste as the ball heads towards the six yard box.

The run that Evatt (yellow) makes to track Murray is highlighted in yellow

Step 4 – Murray finishes neatly as Evatt lunges to make a tackle ending up in a heap near the front post.

Evatt (yellow) did all he could and Cathcart (pink) watches the ball ripple the net.

That was the goal that was, step by step. On the face of it a good run by Murray, but clearly a poor goal for Blackpool to concede. Why poor though? Firstly, Moxey was given too much time to cross, the ball wasn’t cut out by the first man, nor was it cut out at the second time of asking and finally an unsuccessful challenge for the ball before the goal was scored. All in all Blackpool missed four chances to stop the goal. However, what can be learnt here when searching for the golden rule?

Elimination

First and foremost the job that Ormerod did can be discarded as he isn’t a centre back. The same goes for Baptiste as in this game as he lined up at right back. That leaves just Cathcart and Evatt and their roles in the concession. Before the steps to the goal above, both centre backs were reasonably well positioned, Cathcart however, ends up spare as his man drops off him he stands facing the ball on the left and watches the ball being crossed, evading Baptiste and turns and virtually stands to watch the ball roll in behind him and in to the six yard box. Evatt on the other hand realises that Murray is making a run across him and follows the run remaining active all the time. It would be very easy just from this basic review to blame Cathcart for ball watching. However, Holloway is clearly stressing that this rule applies to both centre backs and they should work as a team. So what could this rule be?

Goal-den ruling

The rule could be many things, however, for Holloway to be so forthright it must be something he has had to think about in detail, so right away it surely cannot be, ‘don’t ball watch’. That is too simple and it is an assumed defensive duty of any player. Add to that, ‘ensure your striker doesn’t get his shot away’, or ‘stay on your feet’. It might be, ‘ensure the first man cuts out the cross ball’. However, given that Baptiste was the first man, that can’t apply here.

With the aid of a diagram, let’s consider the shape of the centre backs and their movement during this goal. It is this which will hold the key for the rule.

The positions of Evatt (yellow) and Cathcart (pink) and their movements.

The first observation to make is that Cathcart’s position as the ball is crossed is poor. He isn’t in line with Baptiste, in fact he is in front of him. He is also in front of Evatt. This is of interest as he has effectively removed himself from being able to defend the type of cross which is played. This leads on to the first attempt at defining the golden rule. Could it be; ‘Keep your full back positioned in front or level with you at all times’?

The second observation to make is the positions of both centre backs after the goal has been scored. Evatt ends up as the right-sided centre back and Cathcart to his left. Their movement crosses over each other and which might mean the golden rule is defined as; ‘Never cross over’. This is a little more complex than the first rule as it involves better communications between the centre backs to pass over the marking duties from one to another. Given this goal was so close to the goal line and at speed, it would be excessive to expect marking to be passed in that situation and entirely reasonable for Evatt to track his man.

This gives us two potential ideas of what the golden rule is, with the first being the most simple and the easiest for them to follow. The second may well be possible, but further from the goal. Effectively that would be zonal marking with neither defender straying too far in to each other’s zone and therefore never-ending up crossing over.

However, the first rule may be more to the point. As it is, it’s overly simplistic and needs to be developed. The key could be that in combination with keeping position in relation to the full back they should also position themselves in relation to the goal when a cross is coming from the wing. So Cathcart by the terms of the first rule should be positioned deeper, however, Holloway may want him more in line with the front post as well to defend that position better. This gives him more time to adjust to the cross and in addition to being deeper he can see the cross coming in to the box with the ball being in front of him. Also, it removes the space that the striker can attack with a run to the front post.

The Rule

In conclusion, the rule will only ever be known within the Blackpool team and management, but surely it must be a rule about positioning and especially in relation to a cross ball. Effectively Cathcart was out of the game in the process of the goal being scored and that rule must ensure that both centre backs are able to defend at any point a cross is made. Yes, ball watching is unforgivable as was the case with Cathcart, but it is his ball watching in relation to his colleagues, the ball and the pitch which is the problem. Every player ball watches, but he must be in the correct position to watch and then act. Therefore, it’s possible that Ian Holloway will have set down the rule of

‘When defending a cross never be in front of your full back and if the cross comes from your side of the pitch stand in line with the front post’.

This would ensure that the centre back sees the ball coming in front of him and can deal with the danger and should an opponent attack the ball, then he will be covering the goal at the front post and it would take something special to make a goal.

That’s that

So in all, it’s not a catchy rule, it’s certainly common sense, but it may also not even be right. Whatever the rule is, it must be about positioning as everything else seems too simple. However, sometimes the simple things are the most effective, but whatever it is Blackpool kept a clean sheet against Ipswich and if more clean sheets start to appear then the golden rule will be worth its weight in gold.

 

If you have your theories about the golden rule then use the comments section below to share them.

 

Blackpool 2-0 Ipswich Town – Routine Victory

Ian Holloway will be very happy that his Blackpool side took advantage of a poor Ipswich team who after some promising early play, disintegrated as a team unit the longer the match wore on.

Lining up

Paul Jewell appeared to have watched the way that Derby set up to beat Blackpool at Bloomfield Road last month and set his team up to do something similar. By setting up in a 4-1-4-1 he tried to try to stifle the middle of the pitch and stop Blackpool from controlling that area. Blackpool on the other hand fielded Gary Taylor-Fletcher in midfield which lent itself to Blackpool becoming a more aggressive unit, fluidly changing from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-2-4 depending on the role that Taylor-Fletcher took up. The main change for Blackpool was Matt Hill replacing the injured Stephen Crainey at left back.

Congestion without the charge

Lack of clarity

As alluded to earlier, Ipswich appeared to want to work Blackpool hard in the centre of the field, Jimmy Bullard played in a deep-lying central midfield role with Lee Bowyer and Keith Andrews ahead of him. It appeared that Bullard was expected use the space he found in the deep to try to dictate play. Andrews appeared to be asked to push higher up the pitch and try to hurry up Barry Ferguson in the deep and force him in to mistakes. Whilst this carries a perfectly logical path, it appeared to be focused on how they performed off the ball and they lacked a real plan of attack when they had the ball. They made occasional moves to spread the play wide, but rarely built up any passing rhythm and started to hit hopeful long balls that rarely made any impact.

A Deep Bullard

The role of Bullard is certainly worth noting. He operated in a deep midfield position, most probably as a concession to match up numbers with Blackpool’s three central midfielders. He may have helped to stifle Blackpool in the first half by closing down the space reducing Blackpool’s options, however, for such a role to work he also needed to make tackles and interceptions to gain the ball for Ipswich. He rarely broke up the Blackpool midfield rhythm and obtained the ball to his advantage. Most of the time Blackpool would collect the ball and start again. When he did have the ball he was very deep and although he made some passes to the flanks his passing was devoid of any forward penetration. Bullard appears to enjoying breaking from midfield to receive the ball on the run in the final third and by keeping him so deep Jewell effectively removed a key threat from his team.

Keys to victory

There were a number of reasons for Blackpool’s victory.

  1. They moved the ball out to the flanks early enough to avoid getting stuck in a midfield battle.
  2. They consistently unsettled the Ipswich defence particularly in the first half, with excellent passes in to the right hand channel causing Aaron Cresswell at left back real problems on the turn.
  3. They initially lacked runners breaking from midfield in the first half which slowed their momentum, however, in the second half Ferguson and in particular Keith Southern broke forward much more regularly and Ipswich failed to cope with that added pressure.
  4. Ian Holloway singled out the impact of his defenders stepping up in the second half to create a spare man in midfield to resolve the deadlock. This gave them extra passing options and helped them to gain a greater control in the centre of the pitch.
  5. Finally, and most possibly the most vital element, was the excellent display of Taylor-Fletcher. He was active in his movement all game long making him hard to track, especially when he started centrally and moved out wide right. This had the added bonus of helping Blackpool overload Ipswich in that area. His first touches were excellent, as was his link up play and blended midfield and attack supremely well. His movement ensured that he was rarely picked up effectively by Ipswich and ended up having a lot of time to pick his passes and create openings for Blackpool.

Moving on

A display such as that from Ipswich shows clear organisational issues on the playing side, a lack of playing discipline and a lack of a game plan coming from the management. They’ll struggle to pick up points and only a strong performance from Danny Collins in the centre of defence stopped them from being over run for the duration of the match. Blackpool will not have such an easy victory all season long, but still appear to lack quality passing in the final third and an appreciation for game tempo. Arguably those last two elements are those which they lost with the departure of Charlie Adam and have yet to replace. The loan market is now open and Ian Holloway may well be seeking those ingredients from a loanee.