Fan’s View 23/24 – No.35: Blackpool Away

Article by Paul Beasley Tuesday, February 13th, 2024  

FAN’S VIEW 23/24 – NO.35: BLACKPOOL AWAY

BLACKPOOL 1 OXFORD UNITED 1

This was a game I nearly didn’t attend. With our reliable fairly regular driver staying away in the area for the weekend I’d volunteered to drive taking two passengers, so three of us. Then down to two due to family commitments. Then covid struck leaving just me. The decision then was do I go on my own or do the unthinkable and give it a miss? I can’t remember the last time I failed to attend other than for a wedding or if I was ill (yes, covid). Then I thought of a plan B – the London Road Club coach. I’ve not used that method of transport for a long time and had not joined for 23/24 travel.

I rang the club to discover the last coach ticket had been sold a couple of hours earlier. Did I want to leave my phone number in case anyone cancels? Yes please. And someone did pull out and I did go to the football.

So I joined a handful of supporters who jumped on board at Kidlington and up north we went.

Every time I use it I have to say that the LRC provides an excellent service for our fans, particularly those who don’t want to arrive too early and have to hang around before kick-off.

We arrived at the ground at 13:30 but a steward wouldn’t let us alight because we were in the wrong car park. Ten minutes later we were where we needed to be the other side of the ground and allowed to run free. Valuable drinking time lost but I still managed to make it to the No.10 Bar and Kitchen which, despite its name, is a micro pub, for a pint and a half. My first drink was waiting as I walked in. For the size of the place Blackpool is disappointing when it comes to quality pubs and quality ale. For some it works though. It’s a cheap place. Lager at under two quid a pint apparently. People in the hotels pissed out of their heads well before mid-day. Even at that time bars with loud music and sexist DJs as if stuck in some kind of 70s time warp. Well that’s what I was told. Fair to say that Blackpool is run down and suffering from a chronic lack of investment. In 2019 eight of the 10 most deprived neighbourhoods in England were in Blackpool according to government statistics. I don’t think much has changed.

Given the way we’ve been playing, the lack of points we’ve been picking up lately, none of our fan base having much belief in the team at the moment or that we’ll make the play-offs, it being winter, and Blackpool being as I’ve noted above I wasn’t expecting much of a turnout from our followers. If asked I’d have said three or four hundred. That we had over 1000 in attendance blew me away. Can’t get my head around it.

As I walked in the noise in the concourse really took me by surprise. It was clearly evident the Yellow Army was up for this one. Best support since Orient with singing and chanting from start to finish. To be honest some of the lyrics I can do without and all the gesticulating and abuse directed at the home fans too but there’s no denying it was a cracking atmosphere which must have given our players a boost. There was a feeling of all being in it together and that can make a big difference.

Without question this was an improvement on our most recent performances but although there was much to like about it a number of our familiar failings, collectively and individually, were again on show.

The stats give the game to Blackpool on points. 54% possession; more passes than us and more accurate in that regard overall and in our half of the pitch. They got in more than double the crosses we did and had 16 shots to our eight with six on target whereas we had just two.

However I’d counter that with our defending and the fact that we had a few golden chances to have taken all three points.

Our tackling success rate was 70%, theirs 40%. We made 24 clearances to their eight.

Given we had a back line of Sam Long, Elliott Moore, Ciaron Brown and Greg Leigh these defensive figures are not that surprising. No soft underbelly here. These guys get stuck in, don’t shirk a tackle and won’t get bullied. I don’t think they got beaten in the air very often. So what if at times some of them don’t look that accomplished on the ball. This is league one. Before anything else defenders need to defend and when that work is being done to good effect it breathes confidence into the whole team. They’re obviously not infallible but when a player was beaten or cocked up a bit a mate was usually on hand to help out.

The head bandaged Long looked a bit rusty early on but he grew into the game making this look like our best back line from a defensive point of view.

For all this our defending from a corner in just the 18th minute left a lot to be desired. Not one but two opponents were left unmarked. How does that happen when a team brings everyone back to protect their goal? It wasn’t as if the home side had to work hard for this or come up with anything cunning or intricate. Captain Oliver Norburn way beyond the far post was left all alone and he was able to play the ball into the six yard box, via a bounce off the turf, where Matthew Pennington was easily able to head home. We had four players marking Marvin Ekpiteta. It was a very poor goal to concede. Way too many cooks in one kitchen but not a single one in another. Things like this need sorting out. Are our players properly briefed on who should be marking who at set pieces?

Are Blackpool’s? Because three minutes later we equalised from a corner. Ours was worked in a tighter space – not that I could tell much what had happened on the day with it being at the far end of the pitch, the number of bodies around and the pillars holding up the “temporary” stand in which we were situated.  That structure has been around since they were in the Premier League so quite a permanent temporary. At least, unlike Gillingham’s very long lasting temporary affair, it does have a roof.

At the time I’d wrongly concluded it was a bit of a scrambled affair. Having now seen a replay that conclusion would be unfair. Cameron Brannagan sent it beyond the penalty spot, Long sent it back towards that spot where Moore deftly flicked it round behind him to Mark Harris. Our no.9 killed the ball dead with his left foot, swivelled and place it home with his right. Anything but scrambled actually. A very good goal indeed. Harris is now looking a proper finisher. I hold my hand up, I didn’t see this coming. That’s six in his last seven league games and even the nine in 28 covering the whole season isn’t too shabby.

By half time we should have taken the lead.

In the 33rd minute Ruben Rodrigues won a challenge on the edge of our box that some referees might well have penalised. His long ball then sent Harris away down the left. Our no.9 then set up Marcus McGuane. A goal looked on the cards, not once, not twice but three times. I cannot offer any sensible explanation for some of what happened next. MM got his attempted left footed shot all wrong somehow knocking it against his right leg. Fortune was on his side though as in doing so he beat James Husband and all he had to do was whack the ball home from close range. He didn’t. As another tangerine shirt came sliding across he cut back with the ball stopped dead between both of his feet. Surely now. No. He instead passed to Harris who gave the ball some welly from a tight angle. It was goal bound but Ekpiteta blocked bravely with his head.

Another good chance went begging before the break. Normally Tyler Goodrham can be relied on to take control of a ball played to him. In this instance he didn’t. His touch was poor. If it had been of his usual standard he would have been through on goal.

It also must be said that we could have left the pitch after the first 45 minutes behind. With little time to go Moore headed over Jamie Cumming who had to sprint back towards his goal and tip the ball behind him with a Blackpool striker in close attendance. We got away with it.

In the second half Cummings had to make a superb reaction save to keep out a Pennington header but the best chance of this period fell to Billy Bodin. Josh Murphy dangerously whipped a ball into the box. It was one of those that is very hard to defend. On the bounce it reached BB at the far post. All he had to do was get his head on it and convert for the winner. Head on it yes. Converted no. These chances have to be put away if we are going to win games of football.

In added time all the pressure came from the hosts. We spent those five minutes defending corners which we did effectively.

So a draw it was. A very worthy point but on chances we should have taken all three. If you miss those chances though you get what you deserve so a point apiece was a fair outcome. We’d probably have taken that at the outset especially as the Seasiders have gained more home points than any other club in L1 this season. Also it keeps the gap between us and them at five points having both played 31 games. Draw after draw after draw isn’t going to see us get back into the top six though.

At full time one of the iFollow commentators said “You couldn’t take your eyes off that one”. I’d agree it was an entertaining game. One that a neutral should have been very much gripped by. They will have enjoyed the mistakes that contribute to such an engaging affair. As a fan of either club those same mistakes bring frustration. Of course mistakes will be made but when they are too frequent and the same old ones the conclusion has to be overall not good enough for promotion.

I’d say that about both clubs. However, I don’t think the league is as strong this time around as it is sometimes and there is a possibility that a team that are a bit crappier than normal could sneak into that last play-off slot. Could be us. That’s my best hope at the moment.

We still insisted on a couple of occasions on trying to play out from the back in very tight situations where disaster didn’t appear to be far away. Nothing nasty materialised thankfully but that has to be cut out imho.

Goes without saying about our finishing.

And individuals? McGuane looks way off it a lot of the time. I’ve heard many fans saying he needs a rest/needs to be dropped. The verdict still appears to be out on Rodrigues.

On the bright side we’re getting men back from injuries and new players beginning to fit in. Jay Matete had a bit of bite about him and looked like he wanted to make something happen too. If we could get him, in addition to Brannagan, driving the team on but sitting a bit deeper than CB perhaps that may give us a bit more oomph.

With Murphy on we were getting crosses in to the box and Will Goodwin looked like a man capable of getting on the end of them. This isn’t the type of combination or style of football we’ve been used to for many a year. Whatever brings us goals I’ll support. Goodwin has the size to put himself about and cause defenders problems. A couple of his first touches weren’t great with the ball not sticking but there were signs of a lay off or two that will fit into our passing game.

No time to sit back with Wigan visiting this Tuesday (that will be today by the time I publish this FV). They’d be seven points behind us in ninth place if it hadn’t been for their eight point deduction. They’re unbeaten in their last eight away league matches, winning two of them. No easy games but based on the standard being somewhat lower in 23/24 surely we’ve got enough to get our first win in six games.

Even though the buzz at the soulless Kassam will be a fraction of the bounciness at Bloomfield Road I’d expect our fans to be rather more up for this than we have been for many recent home fixtures.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 13th, 2024 at 12:45 pm and appears under News Items. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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