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.

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.

The Execution – Blackpool 0-1 Derby County

Having a clear strategy and executing it is absolutely crucial in football. In this match Nigel Clough came to Blackpool with a clear strategy, his players clearly understood what was expected of them and they carried out the strategy perfectly to record a deserved victory.

Setting up

Derby worked hard to pack the midfield and sit men in behind the ball.

Blackpool set up with three up front and three in midfield with Elliot Grandin again pushing quite high up the field. Derby matched Blackpool’s three men in the centre of the pitch, played a lone striker and two wide men who tried to support their striker as best as possible, but asked to sit in behind the ball when they didn’t have the ball.

Strategy

Derby came with a simple, but very effective defensive strategy to try to stop Blackpool playing and hoping to break at speed to steal something on the break. In possession their wide men made runs to support the striker as did Craig Bryson. When they gained field position towards the Blackpool defensive third their full backs stepped up, in particularly John Brayford from right back.

It’s all in the execution

First and foremost all bar one of Derby’s players appeared to be instructed to sit in behind the ball to form a bank for four players and a bank of five players, filling in the spaces afforded to Blackpool which made it hard for Blackpool to pass through them. However, the roles of two players were pivotal in executing their strategy.

Firstly, Craig Bryson played a slightly more advanced role than the other central midfielders and it appeared that his brief was to apply pressure to Barry Ferguson in the deep to hurry him in to moving the ball and hopefully breaking Blackpool down high up the pitch. He worked tirelessly off the ball and his work rate doubled in possession as he advanced to support the striker when they gained possession.

Secondly, Jamie Ward on the right side of midfield appeared to be asked to sit in behind the ball and most importantly to track the runs of Alex Baptiste to support Kevin Kilbane at left back. In doing this he enabled Derby to control the threat of Baptiste, who in the first two games of the season has been excellent moving forward and had been the catalyst for Blackpool asserting dominance in those games. Not so here as Baptiste had his element of surprise taken from him and although he did ok when advancing, Derby clearly knew what to expect.

Variety is the spice of life

Blackpool gained some good field position for large periods of the game, but couldn’t get the Derby defence to break down or even on the turn with any kind of regularity. This was largely due to the Derby defensive approach, but also the dominant performance of Jason Shackell who was rarely beaten in the air or on the ground. However, Blackpool’s endeavours were hindered quite considerably by their own approach. They failed to turn good possession in to chances and goals for a couple of key reasons. Firstly, as they advanced in the final third their movement of the ball was slow and predictable and rarely saw ball cut in to the channels and behind the defence. Secondly, only on rare occasions did they have players willing to make off the ball runs to get beyond the Derby defensive line.

Throughout the Premier League season very few teams came to Bloomfield Road happy for a draw, however, this season this situation may well become the norm. It will be important that Blackpool add variety to their point of attack and gain a better awareness of when their passing and movement becomes a little one-paced. This needs players with a good sense of tempo and on the evidence of this match alone, Gary Taylor-Fletcher was really the only player to consistently understand that the pace of pass and movement had to be increased. Added to this, Blackpool had few players in this match to create and try through balls behind the defence. Again Taylor-Fletcher is important here, but so was Elliot Grandin, who attempted to cut balls, but appears to fall short when adding the required weight to the pass.

Moving on

On the evidence of this game alone Blackpool may be short of a creator in midfield and a striker to dominate a defence. Or perhaps they need to work less on passing and movement patterns in training and more towards gaining an appreciation of when to change both game plans and game tempo. Or both? Whatever path they take this game will be important in the context of their season as it marks a clear shift of attitude towards the Tangerines from opposition teams. A failure to find a way forward will seriously harm any chances they have for promotion. Derby on the other hand will be delighted with a perfectly executed game plan and if every game panned out in the same fashion then they’d be a dominant force in the Championship. However, football is rarely that predictable and as the season progresses they’ll hope that such execution remains from game to game as player performance and selection inevitably vary.

Blackpool 2 – 1 Peterborough United

Approaching the game

Both sides made little concession for each other tactically, both set up to play attacking football and stick to their principles. This made for an open game with plenty of chances, but for all the excellent ability on the ball and build up play, it was the mistakes made by either team that tended to present the better opportunities.

Setting up

The middle of the pitch became very congested

The key point of interest about the way that each team set up was their most advanced midfielder.

For Blackpool, Elliot Grandin was aggressive in his positioning, receiving the ball higher up the pitch than he was last week and at times this made Blackpool have four forward players in a 4-2-4 shape. However, he stayed too high up the pitch at times when Blackpool were out of possession. When this happened, Peterborough enjoyed success as they outnumbered Blackpool three to two in the centre.

George Boyd on the other hand, played at the tip of the Peterborough midfield diamond, but he wasn’t fixed in that position. At times he dropped deeper then pushed up high which meant that Peterborough’s formation flexed from a flattish 4-4-2 out of possession and to a 4-3-3 in possession.

Fluid problems

Peterborough attacked at speed with quick one touch passing and swapping positions. Their positional interchanges seemed to cause Blackpool problems who struggled to track runners coming from unexpected areas of the pitch. However good this interchanging was from an attacking point, it was also their downfall defensively. When teams have a fluid approach to positional play it is essential that they regain their shape when off the ball. Too often Peterborough made mistakes to give possession to Blackpool and they struggled to get their shape back, becoming exposed at the back.

Moving around

Blackpool seemed happy to keep the ball and managed to move the ball around the back line easily before moving it out to Barry Ferguson who had plenty of options. Generally Elliot Grandin would be the receiver from Ferguson and when this happened there was a good flow to Blackpool’s passing. However, as with the Hull game last week, Blackpool really start to break a team down when a defender steps higher up the pitch. Last week it was Alex Baptiste and this week it was Ian Evatt and Baptiste. Both advanced well in to the final third at times with Baptiste effectively joining the attack, adding great variety to Blackpool’s play and an element of surprise.

The game seemed to swing towards Peterborough when Elliot Grandin was substituted, so much of Blackpool’s positive play centered on him and his removal seemed to stunt Blackpool as their passing options seemed closed off and possession started to be surrendered too easily.

High and dry again

Again Ian Holloway had his defensive line playing high up the pitch and again they looked susceptible to a surprise ball over the top. It was vital in the context of this game that Matt Gilks was alive to the threat and make some great saves in one on ones. Gilks’ anticipation may well be the key element in this line working better for Blackpool given that their defence will be turned and their centre backs don’t have enough pace to recover.

Crossing the divide

The clearest difference between the two sides defensively was Peterborough’s inability to deal with a cross ball. In the first half Blackpool had a series of corners, all poorly defended by Peterborough. Also, Blackpool found some great crossing positions in open play and again Peterborough struggled to deal with them effectively. The first Blackpool goal was a perfect example of that with Kevin Phillips not even having to jump to head the ball in at the back post from a deep out-swinging cross.

Moving on

Ian Holloway will be happy with that performance, however, he may reflect on his timing of his substitutions, especially against such an attacking team as Peterborough who will seize on any initiative you give to them. Peterborough on the other hand were excellent moving forward, but their transition from attack to defence leaves them wide open and easy to pick apart. However, even if that is accepted as a weakness it is imperative that they reduce their defensive errors which left them exposed all too often in this match.

Keep dreaming……

There’s little point in conducting a detailed post-mortem on the game at Old Trafford, by now everyone knows the outcome, everyone knows the consequences of that outcome. Blackpool fans worldwide are cycling through the emotions that hit us all in times of heartbreak and despair. Hearts are broken but dreams were made and our dreams will never die. The dreaming continues and the pain will subside, the sadness fades with each passing hour and hours become days, weeks become months and soon the optimism will return. The tide has gone out by the seaside, but it will soon return and a fresh patch of wet sand will emerge and the footprints on that sand will be of the next generation of Blackpool players to take this club on to its next chapter.

Tangerines, still dreaming!

The game at Old Trafford summed up the season that Blackpool had, excellent on the ball, chances being created, goals being scored. Drive, determination, passion and commitment graced that pitch, however, the defensive frailty that has been apparent all season long came back to kill them off. Manchester United eased up a gear or two and with that the Blackpool defensive line was pulled back to front and side to side, twisted and turned inside out, till the pressure became too much to bear.

As predicted the game was open, even if the line ups were too hard to call given the pressures that the hosts had elsewhere. Blackpool may well have broken the deadlock early on, decisive passing and drive first put Keith Southern and then Gary Taylor-Fletcher within yards of the goal, only for composure to evaporate in front of the Stretford End.

The first Manchester United goal was picked out in the preview, Berbatov pulling out to the wide right to latch on to a ball from the deep. Park Ji-Sung finishing superbly after being given a yard by Ian Evatt. Give a yard to a footballer at this level and you might as well give him ten. Blackpool responded, in truth Manchester United looked happy to let them have the ball and Blackpool were happy to have it, caressing it about the pitch, working it along their back line and in to midfield. However, as they stepped in to the final third the Manchester back line snapped at the Blackpool heels and refused to let them turn on goal.

Blackpool did get chances, but they had to work ridiculously hard for them. Their midfield three took it in turns to step higher up the pitch to pressurise Scholes in the deep and Fletcher roaming free. The goals came from familiar routes for Blackpool, a set piece and then a deft passing move. Charlie Adam and Gary Taylor-Fletcher getting the goals, the former drawing plaudits all season long, but really it’s the latter whom encapsulates what has been so good about Blackpool this season. Taylor-Fletcher when standing next to the athletic physiques of a Premier League footballer looks like your average bloke, but his mind is razor sharp and he plays strongly with an imagination that many a footballer just can never possess.

As the game wore on Sir Alex Ferguson made a few changes bringing on talent that showed he is a winner and his team are winners too and that is what happened. Stephen Crainey had pushed Nani back and away from goal, and stopped him from running at him in a one on one situation. However, Ferguson switching his wide men proved to cause enough doubt in the mind of Neil Eardley at times, forgetting his assignment and affording too much space to a critical attacking threat. Which added to Eardley’s cheap concession of the ball assisted in the pressure being ratcheted up to a notch that caused the defensive line to buckle and the game was lost.

Great season. Great players. Great memories.

Having a final game against Manchester United was perfect in so many ways, a contrast on many levels and in so many ways (too many for this post). After the Blackpool squad trudged with dejection towards the tunnel, the preparations for a party were just beginning and not long after, came the procession. It was led by a celebration of the Manchester United backroom staff and after all twenty-something of their coaches came on to the pitch it was apparent that football at this level needs structures around the first team that nurtures and supports each player week in week out. Before the season started Ian Holloway had an assistant, a physio and a part time goalkeeping coach. Last minute shuffling and recruitment upped those numbers marginally so that another coach came in, someone could offer guidance around fitness, analyse performance and train goalkeepers on a full time basis. It was breathtaking to see Manchester United’s troupe of coaches walking out on to the pitch, to the casual observer you’d have thought it was their first team. They were professional and they were bristling with pride, content and satisfied with a season of work. It’s a testament to the work that Ferguson puts in, team talks and tactics are a fraction of what he has built and listening to Holloway’s press conference afterwards, you can see that he has aspirations to build Blackpool back up, but build them as a club to sustain Premier League football.

This has come too soon for a club of Blackpool’s size, they weren’t supposed to get promoted, the club officials didn’t expect a manager to bond and blend a side together and turn them from potential League One material to a side who could grace the biggest stages in the land. Some teams prepare ‘projects’ designed to get in to the Premier League, they invest in fat fees and salaries and park up at a freshly built stadium complete with sponsorship from multinationals and backed with the drive and commitment of a board intent on breaking in to a market or the Premier League as it is also known.

Now Blackpool’s return to the Football League has been confirmed you’ll note that this blog post has changed somewhat, it might be more (or less) fluent and less focused on the rational. There may be a little more narrative, a little opinion or two. That is a conscious choice, perhaps an acknowledgement that to ‘chalkboard’ this match is a little futile. I could probably back up my earlier observations if I had the energy, in fact you might have noticed that I’ve slipped in to the first person for the first time on the blog. I hope you’ll allow me to do that for now. I hope you have enjoyed what I’ve tried to do on the blog this season, I’ve enjoyed every minute of doing this and every single minute of the season. Each season comes and goes, but this one was that little bit special. Going to those grounds you normally see on tv, hearing those familiar voices talk about your club, your players.

I’d normally take in a couple of Premier League games with my regulation Blackpool medicine and I was always fascinated with the speed and technical precision of the game at the highest level. I once saw Arsenal draw 1-1 with Liverpool at Anfield, I remember seeing Cesc Fabregas dominate the game with supreme passing, movement and awareness of tempo. In the same game I remember thinking that Kolo Toure was carrying a lot of timber for a footballer but still shifted at a rate of knots that left me gawping. A game at Bloomfield wasn’t like this. We’d marvel at the maverick genius of Wesley Hoolahan or roll on a Nolan (never sure which one) at the start of a season for a comedic kick off. The hope would come once a year that we might play Liverpool or Manchester United in a cup game, occasionally we drew a big club and the fever swept the coast. However, in the back of my mind I could never imagine our players trotting out at Anfield, they weren’t good enough, strong enough, quick enough or big enough. Our shirts weren’t tailored the same, not made by Adidas or Nike, we didn’t have drinks crates on the side lines. All those seemingly silly things stood out as a contrast, the Premier League was about supreme talent in stadiums rich with tradition and history.

I never seriously thought I’d be here after a season of seeing my team in the Premier League and I never thought I’d feel so sad about leaving it. At the start of the season I was happy to have a good season and return to the Championship. However, we football supporters become consumed in anything that we are doing in the moment and those moments captivated me and I realised that our team was capable of playing Premier League football, they were as good, were as fast as other teams and when they shot at goal they could swerve it and move the ball in the air. With all that was the realisation that I cared, I cared because I wanted another season and another season in this league. Why? One reason, the gap isn’t that far, these footballers aren’t on another planet. They are beatable, they are humans, they just work in the confines of greater structures and have been exposed to different levels of conditioning. Sat this season in Anfield, not far from where I saw that Liverpool v Arsenal game I saw my team turn in a near faultless first half to put Liverpool behind by two goals. It was unreal, surreal, but yet reading the results and watching it later made it real and it was real. We deserved that game, we deserved every game we won with the exception of one (Spurs at home), we played on the front foot, we attacked. We lost more than we won, but the sadness lingers around those results that we couldn’t close out from winning positions. Holloway tried a plan B, but for a plan B it helps if you have a deep squad and another mind or two to assist you with the strategy and another mind or two to help practice that.

However, right now I feel sad that we couldn’t achieve the impossible. We gave it everything, but it wasn’t quite enough. This world doesn’t always reward the aesthetic or the cultured aspect of humanity, life is tough, life is nasty, brutish and short (thanks Hobbes). I believe in the good of this life, the beauty of this world, for purity and joy. For art and for science. Cynicism and treachery hold no place in my soul. Being upfront and passionate are integral, bullying and physicality are traits best rid out of the world. For Blackpool, we tried to do things differently, perhaps we have set a precedent, perhaps clubs will learn from what we did. Looking at Swansea then perhaps there has already been a shift in the way clubs are thinking. Hopefully, more clubs will come up and try and cultivate footballers rather than athletes and try to string patterns of play together that see the ball hug the grass. Perhaps not, as a Premier League season is nasty, it can be brutish and for Blackpool it was short.

Gone, but never forgotten. True footballers.

I’m sad that this signals the end of an era. Of the starting eleven yesterday, eight of the players were brought to the club prior to Ian Holloway’s arrival. We’ve seen those players flourish under his tutelage and become ‘proper’ footballers like what you see on the telly an’ all. It’s sad that I’ll never see David Vaughan do his pre-match shuttle runs, or chase a lost cause or exchange passes with Charlie Adam whilst in a tangerine shirt. Sad for the loss of all the players, whilst knowing that they have brilliant chances to further their careers elsewhere.

I hope you’ve kept reading this post as it wandered down the page from match report to quasi diary entry with flickered notes of emotion, stifled by the rawness of this moment and the lack of ability on my behalf to write as lucidly as a more seasoned author might. I hope you’ve enjoyed all I’ve tried to do on this blog and I hope you enjoy the posts that come in the next couple of weeks as I put forward my highlights of the season and review from a tactical and statistical point of view where things went right and wrong for Blackpool. I may wake from this dream soon, but only briefly before I close my eyes again and dream once more.

Goodnight,

John.

Blackpool v Bolton Match Analysis

Earlier in the season Bolton had produced a rousing come back to take a point from the encounter with Blackpool. This time out Ian Holloway narrowly got the better of Owen Coyle in a pulsating encounter.

Setting up


Ian Holloway set Blackpool up as he has for the last few games, with the flatter midfield three and brought in Jason Puncheon up front in place of Sergei Kornilenko. Owen Coyle brought Ricardo Gardner in to central midfield for the injured Johan Elmander.

Opening up

Coyle opted to set up in his usual 4-4-2 that saw his players sit narrow both on and off the ball, most noticeably Matthew Taylor sitting in narrow off the left flank and relatively high up the pitch. This seemed to be a ploy by Coyle to increase numerical superiority in attack to feed off their more direct approach. However, by lining up like this they conceded clear numerical advantage to Blackpool in the centre. Often in the first half David Vaughan found himself as the spare man in midfield.

Holloway ensured that his players attacked from the beginning with his side swarming all over Bolton from the start.

Advantage ‘Pool

Blackpool’s numerical advantage in midfield counted for a lot in the first half as they dominated Bolton’s midfield two and Bolton as a result struggled to gain any kind of foothold in the game. Bolton’s best chances came from direct balls over the top of the midfield, from set pieces and more so from poor defensive positioning from the Blackpool back line. As an illustration of how Bolton struggled in the first half, their pass completion was a lowly 55%. They really struggled to get their wide men in to the game and really couldn’t sustain any periods of pressure. The dominance that Blackpool gained in the centre gave them excellent passing options and combined with the movement of their forwards, they played some excellent balls in to the channels and in behind Bolton to really test the mobility of their back line.

Cohen-hesive

Coyle addressed his midfield shortcomings by withdrawing Fabrice Muamba on 50 minutes and his replacement Tamir Cohen seemed to invigorate Bolton. Clearly after the break Coyle had asked his team to work harder from front to back to deny Blackpool as much time and space on the ball, and they were much better on it. Cohen himself expanding the play with a couple of quality passes and Bolton’s full backs were more assured on the ball and less wasteful. In the first half forward pressure on Paul Robinson forced him in to some poor passes and his pass completion was 50%, however, his better use of the ball in the second half meant that Bolton built their attacks more from the back and his pass completion went up to 77%.

Considered passing from the back brought players like Chung-Yong Lee more in to the action and he had an impact.

Overall Bolton’s pass completion went up to 66% and they had 71 more passes. At this stage, although Blackpool had the lead, Bolton were starting to move Blackpool around more, trying to drag them out of shape, but they also broke much better on the counter.

Linking up

It might be an obvious statement to make, but when the Blackpool forward line combines their movement, pace and finishing ability, Blackpool can score against any defence in this league. Games such as Wolves and Fulham away were characterised by static forward play and Blackpool failed to score. This match saw DJ Campbell drop deep, wide and in behind the Bolton defence to register two goals. The chalkboard below illustrates how he received the ball in the deep, before breaking in to the box to receive the ball where he’s at his most dangerous.

Setting up plays in deep and breaking in to the box.

However, the roles of Jason Puncheon and Gary Taylor-Fletcher were crucial in the goals that Blackpool scored. Puncheon was composed on the ball, understood where he should be making his runs and combined well with the midfield to build some excellent attacks. Taylor-Fletcher, whilst not as efficient on the ball was incisive when needed to be and chipped in with two assists. His role is less about making the right runs, but more about the sleight of hand and the risk to make a pass. You can see his chalkboard below and notice how his unsuccessful passes tend to be around the box, but the key is that he is attempting those passes and only Charlie Adam has made more key passes per game than him this season.

Battle of the Chesterfield old boys

As highlighted in the preview the performance of Kevin Davies and Ian Evatt were central to this game. Davies struggled to link up play in the first half, but his ability in the air to win duels all game long was good, winning 10 of 17. In the second half, he played some excellent short passes and brought team mates in to the game and acted as a fulcrum for building counter attacks. On the other hand Ian Evatt continued his excellent recent form with a strong performance at the back. He won 7 of his 9 duels, even though at times the Blackpool back line lost their shape leaving their goal exposed. Therefore, whilst Evatt performed steadily all match long Davies was at the centre of the good things that Bolton did all match long, but grew in importance to Bolton as the match progressed and when he was withdrawn Bolton didn’t appear nearly as effective. For reference, they only managed two off target shots once he had departed on 83 minutes.

Moving on

With poor defending by both sides the goals might have continued to flow, however, credit must got to Coyle for motivating his side at the break to come out as strong as they did. Blackpool and Ian Holloway will again take heart from this superb win and a four game unbeaten streak and hope to cap off this crazy season with an unlikely three points at Old Trafford

Spurs 1 – 1 Blackpool – White van man

Neither side came in to this game in good form, but both sides put together a lively encounter which either team could have won. The game dynamic changed three times due to the deployment of Rafael van der Vaart with a final twist to the game coming as Blackpool tried to close out the game.

Van der right

Ian Holloway made one change from the Stoke game, dropping Matthew Phillips to the bench to be replaced by Sergei Kornilenko. Harry Redknapp made bold selections in his starting eleven, with Danny Rose coming in at left back so that he could keep Gareth Bale in the more advanced position down the left. Aaron Lennon was dropped to the bench and van der Vaart started on the right flank. The early passages of Spurs’ play tended to gravitate to the right and Younes Kaboul overlapped a number of times as van der Vaart drifted inside. The Dutchman didn’t play as an orthodox winger and seemed to have a free-ish role. However, only once play started to break for Spurs down their left did they genuinely seem to threaten Blackpool. Other than that Spurs appeared to try to catch out Blackpool’s high line with occasional through balls down the middle, but Blackpool anticipated well and they enjoyed little success.

Luka Modric  was at the heart of some good periods of play for Spurs by keeping the ball moving quickly and from flank to flank to avoid the centre where Spurs where outnumbered 3 v 2. As the half went on Blackpool’s midfield pressed hard (mainly through Keith Southern), passed better and tried to break at speed. However, the first touch of the Blackpool forward line, especially Kornilenko was poor and attacks broke down more often than not.

Van der middle

By bringing on Aaron Lennon in the second half  Spurs had fast and direct attacking options on both flanks and this meant that van der Vaart was pushed centrally. He started to go untracked through the middle and found himself in an excellent position only for his touch to let him down under pressure. Spurs found a good rhythm and created seven chances in the first fifteen minutes of the second half compared to the 10 in the whole of the first half. Modric started to break more from midfield as he had van der Vaart dropping back to cover. Modric dominated the game and was outstanding, not only with his passing but consistently found space and took men out of the game with deft flicks and dribbles. Added to this Lennon gave more incision down the right and the balance to Spurs’ attacks was excellent, giving them options and variety which Blackpool had to defend well in order to shut them out.

Playing out alongside this Ian Holloway had sought to resolve his side’s attacking problems by introducing Jason Puncheon at half time for Kornilenko and he appeared to have a better awareness on and off the ball. Added to this his first touch was more reliable and Blackpool’s attacks became more fluid.

Van der left

The injury that Gareth Bale sustained meant that Redknapp decided to move van der Vaart to the left whilst Peter Crouch came on as Spurs moulded back in to their 4-4-2. This appeared to stunt Spurs’ midfield play, there were left with more 2 v 3 situations in the centre as van der Vaart moved wide and he really struggled to assert any quality on the game from that position. Blackpool gained their own foothold in the game, again their midfield were working really hard to close Spurs’ down and trying to break at speed and as their forwards looked more cohesive off the ball and confident on it, they started to carve out more chances.

Parking the van

Once Blackpool had scored, the final part of the game played out with Spurs throwing everything at Blackpool and in doing so the game broke down in to a final scrap van der Vaart wasn’t involved in the game as much now as Spurs’ best chances came from Lennon and Modric creating or from Peter Crouch knock downs. Ian Holloway made a strange substitution in bringing on Craig Cathcart and moving Neil Eardley to right wing in to almost a 4-5-1, but once the Spurs’ goal went in and realising the aerial danger of Peter Crouch, he seemed to try to counter that by bringing James Beattie on for the sole purpose of marking Crouch at pieces and for high balls in to the box.

Moving on

Tottenham controlled a lot of this game and had Blackpool not defended well and broke as purposefully as they did then the pressure may have been too much for them. However, for Harry Redknapp the utilisation of van der Vaart appears to be strange given his quality through the centre of the pitch and keeping him there in this game may have proved to be decisive. At times Blackpool sparked in to life and fizzed the ball in their passing movements once again. Heading in to the Bolton game on Saturday they will hope to sustain the movement from the forwards in the second half in addition to good midfield combinations to push Bolton very hard. Should they do that then they may be within a point from safety come their final game at Old Trafford.

For an excellent review of this match then you must head over to the match review by Zonal Marking here >> Spurs 1 – 1 Blackpool

An Even Affair – Blackpool 0 – 0 Stoke

A fair result at Bloomfield Road as both teams enjoyed a period of domination, but neither could take the chances handed to them. Stoke had the better of the chances, Blackpool better of the ball, but by the final whilst both teams will see it as a point gained.

Line ups

4-3-3 v 4-4-2

This was a straightforward battle between a 4-3-3 and a 4-4-2 giving Blackpool the numerical advantage in the centre of the pitch. From a tactical point of view the pattern for the first half was set early on, Blackpool passed the ball around in midfield, Stoke looking to pressure Blackpool on the ball. Blackpool looked to get the ball wide and in to the channels, whilst Stoke looked for territorial gains, using Kenwyne Jones’ aerial ability to set up attacking moves.

Scrappy

The first half saw Blackpool dominate the passing game, even though Stoke had the better chances. It is interesting to see how Blackpool’s passing dropped off in the second half as Stoke worked harder to pressurise Blackpool who then struggled to put passes together and started to hit longer passes instead of building play. You can see from the graph below how Blackpool’s players has less passes in the first half compared to the second, as a team they managed 123 less passes.

Every player with the exception of Keith Southern made less passes in the 2nd half.

Having less passes in the second half isn’t a sign of anything really, other than the opposition must be seeing more of the ball, however, Blackpool’s passing quality declined as well in the second half as they failed to find team mates more often, through sloppy play, rushed passes and longer, less controlled passing. You can see below how each player had a lower pass completion in the second half.

Across the team Blackpool's pass completion dropped.

Just as a final illustration of how Blackpool stopped playing out from the back, take a look at Matthew Gilk’s distribution from the first to the second half. In the first period, he made shorter passes, but in to the second he did that only once. If this was a clear change of game plan by Ian Holloway then it was a tweak that failed to show measurable reward.

Getting longer by the minute.

Case for the defence

Stoke countered everything that Blackpool could do in the first half, particularly with hard work and resilience in their defence. You can see below how many more interceptions they had the first half.

Working hard in the first half to stifle Blackpool's dominance.

More importantly, Stoke excelled on the ground when it came to standing up to Blackpool. You can see below how they lost only one tackle on the ground in the first half, well away from danger as they frustrated Blackpool before setting up their stronger second half.

Near perfect in the tackle to stop Blackpool in the first half.

Scrappy

In the second half Stoke worked harder to deny Blackpool time on the ball and when they got the ball they used it well, stretching the play wide, making high balls from back to front and generally forcing Blackpool backwards. You can see how Stoke’s aerial duels changed in nature from one half to the next.

One aerial duel in the Blackpool box in the first half.

The aerial duels Stoke contested in the first half could be considered ‘set ups’ and not direct attacking threats, however, look how in the second half the aerial contest shifts to the Blackpool box as Stoke applied their pressure.

Pushing Blackpool deeper.

Break free

Back in December Charlie Adam was afforded a lot space and created several penetrating passes in to the Stoke box, in this match under much more pressure from the Stoke midfield (particularly Glenn Whelan) he couldn’t get his passing together and he and Blackpool failed to make telling passing in to the heart of the Stoke box. Stoke must take great credit for having such an organised and resilient defensive unit.

Charlie Adam couldn't complete passes in to key areas.

Long gone

Blackpool had a clear plan last time out as a counter measure to the long throws made by Stoke, essentially the back four remained in position whilst Charlie Adam and Luke Varney picked up the aerial threats, leaving the back four in place to deal with the fall out. In this match, that approached remained, but it appeared that Adam dropped in to the back four as Ian Evatt stepped out to man mark Jones. In truth Blackpool handled the threat well, out of 12 long throws, Blackpool won 9.

3 out of 12 long throws were successful

Moving on

Both teams deserve credit for working hard when a stern wind was whipping across and around Bloomfield Road, Blackpool have gone 180 minutes against Stoke without conceding which they will take great heart from, whilst Stoke are working towards their FA cup final. Blackpool head to White Hart Lane and will hope to attack Spurs in order to try to build confidence ahead of their final home game of the season against Bolton. The Bolton match will most probably decide where the Tangerines will be playing their football next season.

Narrow Margins – Blackpool 1 – 1 Newcastle

A much improved Blackpool team worked hard and dominated Newcastle for large parts of the game as the Tangerines gained another Premier League point. An early strike by Peter Lovenkrands was cancelled out by a DJ Campbell flick, but in truth Blackpool had the better chances and would’ve hoped to have converted again to secure the three points.

Line Ups

Newcastle's 4-4-2 with Barton sitting in narrow matching up against Blackpool's 4-3-3.

This match saw Blackpool’s 4-3-3 go up against Newcastle’s 4-4-2, but as will be noted later on, it wasn’t a straight forward 4-4-2. Ian Holloway brought Matthew Phillips in to his attack and David Vaughan returned in to the centre of midfield, whilst Alex Baptiste took over from Craig Cathcart in the centre of defence. Although DJ Campbell started on the left of the attack, as usual the front three interchanged positions throughout the game, Campbell generally being better through the middle. Newcastle brought Kevin Nolan in to the centre of midfield after his suspension. Earlier in the season Blackpool had enjoyed good success against teams playing regular 4-4-2 as Elliot Grandin as the central midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 was able to drift in to the space between the opposition midfield and defence. Here Ian Holloway rolled out his Championship midfield triumvirate who appear to hold a much flatter field position, but subtly rotate attacking and defensive roles. It was a fluidity that perplexed many Championship teams last year and in this match it appeared to spark in to life again.

Modifications

Newcastle on the other hand covered the space in front of their defence that Blackpool like to exploit by getting Cheik Tiote to sit deeper than Kevin Nolan in the centre of midfield. Jonas Gutierrez was told to stretch the width of the pitch on the left-wing, whilst Joey Barton sat much narrower in-field on the right, presumably to deny the space afforded to Blackpool’s midfield in order to help Newcastle control that area of the pitch. In truth this never seemed to work as Barton appeared to be off the pace of the game and was physically dominated at times by Keith Southern and Charlie Adam. This also left plenty of space wide on the left that allowed Stephen Crainey to attack from left back and put in a couple of dangerous crosses and passes in the final third.

Signal left

Newcastle defended deep but in truth Blackpool did dominate the possession in the game. When in possession it appeared that Newcastle either by design or by consequence of their own strength focused their play down their left. Other recent Blackpool opponents have taken the same approach deliberately, as a key perceived weakness of Blackpool is the right back area. You can see below where Newcastle attempted the majority of their duels, notice how many they lost wide left and in the middle and final third.

The string of red dots on the left wing showed that if Newcastle did target that area, then they enjoyed little success.

In fact Newcastle lost the battle of duels only winning 22 out of 62 challenges. This proved pivotal as Blackpool were strong on the ground and in the air winning 16 more challenges to clock up 38 out of 61 successes. This will have been from the fielding of the flatter midfield three in combination with the relentless pressing that Blackpool applied to keep Newcastle under pressure. In recent weeks Blackpool triangulated midfield has been thwarted by stern opposition midfield, but also by poor play by Elliot Grandin. It is vital in the triangular version of Blackpool’s system that the player at the tip of the triangle moves effectively to find space and then is efficient with his distribution to link up with the forward line. When this fails to happen the player becomes isolated and effectively Blackpool become a two-man central midfield.

Re-Vaughan

Having David Vaughan back in the side, not only gave Blackpool more passing stability and reliability, but he came back tackling as tenacious as ever and made surging runs from deep midfield that Newcastle on occasion found difficult to track. Should he remain fit for the last four games then Blackpool will take this relegation battle down to the wire. You can see below how his steady passing was complimented by him winning 6 out of 6 of his duels.

All round midfield performance from David Vaughan.

Back to front

Blackpool’s defence has been inconsistent all season long, however, at the heart of that defence is Ian Evatt, who turned in a solid defensive display yesterday. However, it was his timed runs from defence as well as his passing that really caught the eye. By breaking from the back Newcastle (already struggling against numerical weakness) were overloaded and Evatt drove in to the final third and triggered moves that led to chances for Blackpool. Look at his passing chalkboard below and you can see how he progresses right in to the final third.

Another dimension to Blackpool's play as Ian Evatt steps out of defence.

Held up

Even though Newcastle at times struggled to gain a foothold in this game, they did carry a threat going forward when they had the ball. Enrique and Gutierrez were direct with their running and worked hard to get the ball in to the right areas for their forwards. However, it was Ameobi who struggled to find his feet, quite literally early in the game as he inexplicably lost his footing when a scoring opportunity beckoned. Aerially he performed solidly, but when acting as a platform for Newcastle to build attacks on, all too often he failed to link up with a team-mate. You can see how many mis-placed passes there are on his chalkboard below.

Linking the play was a trouble for Ameobi with too many red streaks here leading to plays breaking down.

Moving on

Newcastle seemed content with seeing out the game as the last ten minutes came on the clock, they are safe for another season of Premier League football and that might have showed a little. Moving in to next season they clearly have a stable base on which to build. Cheik Tiote provides a lovely balance for their midfield and Enrique breaks with purpose from the back. However, the holding and link up play up front will need to be much better should Alan Pardew stick with the same system. Ian Holloway on the other hand will be much happier to see his ‘old’ midfield trio find their feet for the first time in a Premier League match and should they progress and dominate other midfields like they did here then maybe Blackpool will defy the odds and stay up.

Error Prone – Blackpool 1 – 3 Wigan

Wigan took the points as they turned in a composed performance, taking advantage of chances handed to them by Blackpool. Blackpool on the other hand will want to forget this error strewn match as Ian Holloway continues his search for a settled first eleven.

Setting up

Overloading the apparent weakness.

The team selection for Blackpool centred on the return of Matt Gilks in goal and the restoration of Neil Eardley at right back with Elliot Grandin coming in to the midfield. For Blackpool the problem from the Arsenal game remained how to compensate for the loss of David Vaughan. In truth no one really covered his position providing Blackpool with the same gap in their balance that caused them problems against Arsenal i.e. there’s not enough cover for the defence nor disruption of the opposition midfield. Wigan were somewhere between a 4-1-4-1 and a 4-5-1, with Steve Gohouri coming in for the suspended Maynor Figueroa. Roberto Martinez asked Ben Watson and James McCarthy to sit deeper than Mohamed Diame who appeared to be asked to play higher up the pitch. Presumably to apply pressure to Charlie Adam in the deep.

Plain speaking

Tactically the game itself was pretty plain from Blackpool’s perspective. Presumably the individual errors took away and coherency from their play and didn’t allow them to execute their game plan. One element that was clearly not apparent, which seemed obvious, was to target the left back Steve Gohouri who may have found an appearance at left back somewhat uncomfortable.

However, it was Martinez who made the most distinctive tactical moves. Firstly, as mentioned above, stationing Diame higher up the pitch to pressurise Charlie Adam and deny him the space that he thrives on. The other tactical element that Martinez appeared to bring to the game was to focus Wigan’s play down their left flank. Blackpool’s right back area is one of concern for Ian Holloway and his constant switching between Eardley and Alex Baptiste shows his doubt about the position. Whilst Wigan didn’t really get a lot of joy down the left, they were confident on passing the ball about in that zone of the pitch, Tom Cleverley, N’Zogbia and Diame all focused their passing and running in to that area and that can be seen in the high concentration of passes on the chalkboard below.

Left, left, left, right, left (repeat to fade)

Back to three

The major piece of tactical intrigue from Ian Holloway came when the game was dead, therefore the value of his change must be tempered by that fact, however, it is well worth noting what he tried. After his triple substitution failed to change the game within his normal framework he pushed Neil Eardley in to central midfield turning Blackpool in to a 3-5-2. Arguably Blackpool’s system has been exposed in recent weeks as the player at the tip of the midfield triangle has either been squeezed out of play by the opposition or the player hasn’t played well. If either of these or both happen then Blackpool’s system becomes more predictable. The shift to a 3-5-3 flattened the midfield three bringing in Eardley who is more competent on the ball in to the area of the pitch that Blackpool had surrendered to Wigan through poor displays from Keith Southern and Charlie Adam. The shift to this system gave Blackpool more control and composure in the centre. Whether this system would work elsewhere isn’t clear, what is clear is that Neil Eardley could well play more games in the centre of midfield and this is something that has been toyed with for a while as Holloway tried him in central midfield during pre-season.

Watson in control

Another point to note is that while Charlie Adam is heading to the PFA Awards he will be left to reflect on a game where he was outplayed by Ben Watson. Watson dominated the centre of the pitch winning all 9 of his duels, passing efficiently and breaking up play with 4 interceptions.

Wigan gained control of the centre through Ben Watson.

All too often since the turn of the year has Charlie Adam been wasteful in possession which could be through his own drop in performance, opposition pressure or lack of cohesion from his team mates taking away the platform which he usually performs well upon. From the chalkboard below the red streaks of failed passes dominate as his pass completion drop to 53%

Keeping it simple

Charlie Adam was wasteful and Ben Watson showed how to retain possession and stringing his side together. However, as individual performances go Tom Cleveley was safe in possession and Charles N’Zogbia showed the direct running and link up play that make him a very dangerous player when he wants to be.

No bite

The final point to make is that without David Vaughan Blackpool are even weaker in defensive passages of play and struggle to break up the opposition. Wigan were superb in their passing, but also superb in breaking up Blackpool’s play with 19 interceptions. Blackpool’s error will have contributed to this, but Blackpool had no answer to this only being able to make 9 interceptions themselves.

No contest. A fine smattering versus a splutter.

Moving on

Blackpool need to be much better off and on the ball in their final few games working harder to disrupt teams as well as cutting out errors and recovering better from those that they make. Wigan will be happy with three points, but they will have harder tests than this and will need Ben Watson, Charles N’Zogbia and Tom Cleverley to keep building play in the final third order to threaten better teams.