When he was interviewed on Saturday night Ian Holloway cut a desolate figure. The color drained from his face. You have to question whether it had dawned on him that his early season high flyers Blackpool are now very much entrenched in a relegation scrap.
In stark similarity to Hull from two seasons ago, they shocked the league with performances above all expectations with a talismanic midfielder grabbing all the headlines. The problem now is much like Geovanni from that Hull side, nullifying Charlie Adam has become the standard tactic for teams facing the Tangerines.
Lacking in pace Adam, like a lot of midfield schemer’s such as Juan Riquelme, requires time and space to pick out the pass that splits a defence. By closing him down quickly and limiting his space he quickly shifts from key player to potential liability.
As some of the goals Blackpool have recently conceded show, if Adam gets caught in possession in the middle of the park the opposition’s shift from defence to attack can be all too quick, especially for a midfield bereft of real pace such as Blackpool’s.
Of course it would be wrong to lay all of the blame at the foot of Adam as he has been fantastic this season. It seems obvious to say but when your first choice centre back pairing has such little Premier League experience between them, a high goals against column would seem consequential. Many may even say that for Craig Cathcart, formerly of Manchester United, and Ian Evatt have performed well above expectation and that they are just suffering the mental strain of a tough season.
In a regression to the Kevin Keegan mantra of ‘You score 3, we score 4,’ the eventual flaw in the plan has reared it’s ugly head, Blackpool aren’t scoring enough. What will leave Blackpool fans even more frustrated is the fact they are actually the 2nd highest scorers outside of the top four with 47. This is of course offset by a frightening stat that they are the worst defence in the division having conceded 69 goals. So in truth when I say they aren’t scoring enough, it’s not a goal drought, they just aren’t scoring enough to counter balance such defensive frailties.
The final few games of this campaign could also easily dictate the next few seasons for Blackpool Football Club. Should they survive there is potential to grow and improve. As survivors of the relegation cull you become a slightly more attractive proposition to certain players. Those who wouldn’t return your calls are now leaving you voicemail.
It does have its drawbacks as well because those clubs higher up now circle your team looking to dissect you and take your best players. Holding on to them is also difficult, as proven with the pursuits of Andy Carroll and Charlie Adam, the latter of whom will no doubt be hoping for a move come the summer.
If they do succumb to the drop and go back into the Championship then it is very much a coin toss as to where they may end up. They have used their money wisely in the long term, choosing investing in the club over the playing staff. Even still with players like Matt Philips, Frenchman Elliot Grandin and the aforementioned Cathcart, all good young players, they will provide a solid base with which to build a promotion challenging side next season.
Unlike most relegated sides you would also believe those in charge will not decide to dispense with Ian Holloway’s services. The Bristolian affectionately known as ‘Olly’ has done great things for the club, when you consider many tipped them to match the Derby side of a few years previous in terms of points total, he has done a fantastic job to have them with something to play for in the final 5 games.
I do question whether he’s able to mount another lower league title challenge however. Much like this season his strength has been the element of surprise. As the saying goes ‘Once bitten twice shy.’ Clubs will and have wised up to Blackpool. They know they like to commit bodies forward and play a scarily high line.
Take the Manchester United game as a case study. At 2-0 up most teams would like to slow the game down and draw the time out. Blackpool’s insistence on attack opened up gaps and Manchester United’s clinical finishing earned them three points.
One thing that is harder to counteract is Bloomfield Road. The ground, much like Scunthorpe’s Glanford Park, is very compact which can make it a daunting prospect. After all, last year’s Championship winners Newcastle only lost 3 games all season but failed to come away with points from the Blackpool away fixture despite many expecting a victory prior to the game.
That may possibly make for a good omen with Newcastle the next visitors to Blackpool on Saturday in what is vital game for the home side. In many ways one would imagine that with three of their last five fixtures at home, the atmosphere at Bloomfield Road could decide what patch is ironed onto the sleeves of Blackpool’s shirts next season.