There needed to be more shots on goal, arguably from both teams, but it was an excellent showcase for Championship football. Closely fought, fine margins; competition and individual battles all over the pitch. Moments of (individual) brilliance from both teams and a bit of luck for Blackpool were the only occasions when the scoreline changed. Swansea didn’t create a lot but scored a worldy when they did. Pool started the match with an awful lot of defenders on the pitch, arguably with some of them very attacking for Blackpool. I would have liked some more attacking players on the pitch from the off, Josh Bowler e.g. Lavery on the bench was a fair decision. Yates up top on his own worked quite well in League 1, when Yates energy, pace and quality on the ball was a level above the opponents, I do wonder about his ability to play on his own up there in the Championship. I think he needs someone to play off and to play him the ball, i.e. Gary Madine, who we know is a tried and tested partner for Yates, including in this division. All in all though, a deserved point, and MoM is Keshi Anderson. Promising performances for several coming back from injury and of course Dougall on the bench. No more injuries means hopefully we can grab a few more points in the coming weeks.
Tuesday, 13 April 2021
The end to our hopes for automatic promotion. Can we even do it in the playoffs? Yet another League One draw.
Blackpool drew to Accrington Stanley for the second time this season and weren’t allowed to play the sort of passing, free flowing football that wins us matches.
There are four players for Blackpool who hardly saw the ball. And those are our four key attacking players. When Yates was in possession, he looked the best player on the pitch, but he barely got a look in.
Blackpool looked unadventurous and unimaginative, choosing to hold onto the ball and go back rather than play the through ball and find the runner. It’s the sort of Pool performance we haven’t seen since the run of draws in the first half of March. It’s a reminder that though there have been 7 football matches since then, it’s still not that long ago. That’s two draws Blackpool have had against Accrington this season and if they can’t score more than a single goal against a side that have conceded more than 5 goals on several occasions this season and not get a win, then it doesn’t bode well for our on-the-day performances in the playoffs, *if* we make it that far. It’s another reminder that this is still League 1 and though Blackpool might look the best team in the division when they get the ball on the deck and play football, if a team stops them doing that we have no plan b.
That said, their keeper made a couple of cracking saves early on in the match to stop Pool going ahead and Kaikai had an open net in the second half that he should have put his foot through and buried. Instead, his side-footed shot allowed them time to get men back and block on the line.
Biggest positive to take from the game is that we didn’t lose, which I really didn’t think I’d be saying after 90 minutes, especially given that I bet on pool to win 5-1. Though given both teams’ performances recently, I think I can be forgiven. (Also, it was only 80p and at 110/1 I thought worth a punt). Maxwell saved a penalty in the 88th minute to protect Blackpool’s unbeaten run and it was a brilliant save. He got down low and stopped the shot, which was hit hard, managing to follow up the save and land safely on the ball. Excellent shot stopping and a piece of essential brilliance from our captain and last line of defence.
That is almost certainly our chances at automatic promotion gone. Next stop, cementing a playoff place and ensuring we have the confidence and run of form to do well when we get there.
I do wonder why Critchley didn’t make any changes. Simms plays brilliantly when those around him do, but when they don’t, I feel like we lack that little bit of brilliance or class that will find a way to win in any game, no matter how mediocre the performance. I think I would have brought on Demi Mitchell for Simms on 60 minutes.
Left back Luke Garbutt hit the inside of the post on 72 minutes and it was the sort of thing that might have been the difference between the two sides in such a match. I wonder if Blackpool looked a bit cagey. Though they’ve played some incredible football recently, it’s hardly been the whole season and I wonder if the accolades and the pressure is getting to them, especially considering we’re slightly short on personnel at the minute.
Next stop, Sunderland on Saturday at Bloomfield Road. We tend to play better against the better teams. Can we get back to our scoring ways?
Friday, 2 April 2021
The volcano becoming a part of every day life and Blackpool playing poorly and yet still winning away from home
The volcano sprung into existence two weeks ago now and we're getting used to molten lava on our doorstep. Remembering to check the wind direction for poisonous gas is a different story, however, and it's easy to forget that spewing liquid rock is not the eruption's only danger....
Meanwhile, the main positive distraction from my PhD thesis and Iceland's new increase in Covid restrictions is Blackpool's run of good form as we head towards the end of the season. Will it be enough for the play-offs? Is it too much fo hope for those coveted automatic promotion spots?
I've got so excited by Blackpool's ambition the last month or so that I've started eagerly anticipating every match and tuning in for every minute of play. I still can't quite believe it's possible to watch live video footage of Blackpool Football Club. It's not quite on TV but it's at least on a screen, streamed live to my computer! It's no substitute for football in the flesh though and I can't wait to return to the ground. Happily, the consistently brilliant Seasiders' Podcast is doing something to alleviate those feelings.
Here is my summary of today's 0-2 win over Swindon away:
I guess I've been massively spoiled by Blackpool's last few matches but I can't help but feel that if they play like that against the division's better sides (or even the mediocre ones), they're going to get hammered. Still, a win is a win is a win and all that and Charlton, Gillingham and Ipswich all winning meant we had to win to stay in the playoff spots, and it's certainly cemented our position there, given we still have 1, 2 or 3 games in hand against the teams around us. We still have Gillingham, Lincoln and Sunderland (twice!) to play though and the results of those matches will either elevate us above those teams or sink us below them. Luckily, the starting 11's motivated alter egos tend to turn out for the matches against the teams in and around the playoffs so perhaps there's hope yet.
To the match.
Extremely poor performance against a very poor side. There was a lack of imagination and bravery from all players really. In previous matches the fullbacks have had the confidence and support to get up the pitch and take on the opposition's defenders but literally no one was willing to step up and run at their defence. There were no attempts of through balls or penetrative passes. Defensively Blackpool were fine but that’s only because Swindon weren’t much of a threat, barring a chance in the first 10 minutes where they got the ball to a player on the edge of our box and should have buried it. Luckily for us, it was an awful strike and it bobbled wide. He had far too much time though and it doesn't bode well. Perhaps if Ekpiteta and Husband return to fitness, the players who play will feel the pressure and step up to the mark more than they did in this match.
Maybe we have to put it down to a change in formation, which for me, is a bit disappointing and doesn't seem to suit our strengths at all. 4-4-2 means Garbutt and Gabriel can't do the sorts of overlapping runs we've seen them do and there was very little flexibility and synchronicity about the team. In terms of line-up, the biggest change is starting Ellis Simms and this change might also account for the change of formation. I disagree with it as changing the formation and not starting Simms was the combination that led to the best performances of the season and it was when we looked most comfortable. We've had an awful lot of injuries though and perhaps you could put it down to rotation and resting players.
Previously we've seen Embleton play slightly ahead of the midfield and play a distributing role, smoothing the transitions between defence, midfield and Jerry Yates up front. Today's formation was squarer all round, and it looked like we had far less space and time to move with the ball as well as not finding the angles or passes in the first place. Playing Simms meant dropping Demi Mitchell, who arguably had the best performance on the pitch in the previous match against Plymouth. A brave call.
It took half an hour for us to start to look more positive with Jordan Gabriel going on a run down the wing, playing some one-twos with Embleton and injecting some pace and energy into the match for the first time. This was after half an hour!! Daníel Grétarsson is occasionally looking to come forward and make passes but all Dougall and Ward are doing is keeping hold of the ball and doing nothing with it. Simms for me doesn’t have the tenacity to play at this level and was absent for the whole half. Kaikai seemed to be playing as a slightly lower forward rather than as a midfielder. I’d much rather have Demi Mitchell getting the ball in midfield than the ineffective Simms.
It didn't matter how deep they sat, we were nullified by our own lack of desire to play football, preferring instead to run backwards with it or hang around waiting for divine inspiration.
We looked better after 35 minutes and Ward had a shot that went just wide. Simms also had a few more touches and went past a few players, though the final ball came to nothing. The pitch was very dry and bobbly and it seems to have shaken Pool’s confidence. Embleton occasionally showed a bit more ambition and played some cross pitch passes, which didn't come to anything, but at least they look like they're trying to move the play forwards. “Patient”, describes the commentator, but lethargic and heavy might be more accurate. Too patient perhaps. It’s as if they’re waiting for a goal to happen of its own accord.
Pool had so much possession (72% for the half) and yet did very very little with it. They hardly got a shot or a cross away for the first 40 minutes, despite Swindon sitting back and letting them come.
From absolutely nowhere, Gabriel plays a ball in the air down the wing, which bounces over the defender for Simms to run onto, who hits the volley unbelievably sweetly to dip beyond the keeper into the far side of the goal. A beautiful strike. I suppose this match, with a poor performance and a win, will be a chance for other players to get back from injury. Well done Gabriel for having the tenacity to play the ball. It also demonstrated that Swindon's defence was shaky to say the least. It’s just that we hardly tested it until the goal. Simms clearly has some finishing ability so we should try and play the ball to him in dangerous positions more often. It’s not as if it’s a huge danger if we end up losing the ball. With Pool's dominance in possession, if they had any cut-throat impulses of any kind, they’d be 3-0 up.
Started a bit brighter but look half a yard off from their intentions, giving away free kicks and failing to hold onto the ball. They frequently failed to find their man in the passes. Simms brings the ball down over the halfway line, is surrounded by Blackpool players and somehow manages to pass past all of them to a Swindon player. The accuracy and concentration is woeful. Simms gets one touch or a flick but they’re delicate (to describe it kindly) and it’s far too easy for the Swindon players to pick up the second ball.
I’m sorry to keep harping on about Simms but he had acres of space and room to make a break on the right and had no determination to make it past the defender, getting tackled extremely easily. Kaikai looks similarly feeble on the ball, though manages to win a free kick half way into their half, which was taken by Garbutt (who had a quiet game) and fizzed just along the ground and just wide of the post. Good attempt.
Daníel Grétarsson plays the ball over the top to Yates in a lot of space after a failed offside trap and uses his quick feet and close control to take it past the keeper and roll it into the empty goal. Simms was completely unmarked to his right but he chose to go it on his own and finished it. One of two moments of quality in the entire match. Well done Jerry.
Sloppy defending from Pool minutes later and Swindon had a shot saved to go for a corner, hitting the bar with a follow up attack, though it was ruled offside. Pool clearly aren’t exactly solid at the back either. Grant Ward was playing the ball back into the only section of Pool’s own box that didn’t have any pool players in it, leaving the ball free for Swindon to run onto it.
Fantastic ball from Embleton to Simms on the edge of the box, who according to the commentator dummies it but there was no one behind him apart from defenders. It looked to me as if he simply misjudged the flight of the ball and failed to chest it. The few bright sparks of the match often simply faded away with such mis-controls. There was very little quality on the second ball.
Swindon had some chances, which could have easily been prevented, but thankfully they failed to get the ball on target. A better side would definitely have made more of the space that Blackpool gave them.
Embleton plays a through ball to Yates who skies it, but Embleton proving that he's one of the players looking more likely to cut through their lines.
Finally Simms is replaced by Demi Mitchell on 66 mins, though Demi Mitchell didn't manage to cut inside and run at them as he has in previous matches and seemed to just sink to the dull trudging pace of the rest of the team.
In general they looked pretty lacklustre with balls rarely making their mark. Swindon had more the attacking play in the second half, and we seemed more to rely on their final ball going awry than actually defending it.
Daníel Grétarsson was one of the few players who defended well and looked positive going forwards. It was therefore a bit nerve-wracking to see him needing treatment and ultimately being replaced 20 minutes before the final whistle.
My report is fairly negative but you have to give the team credit. They scored two goals and didn’t concede any. That's also the 5th away win in a row--the first time that's happened since 1957, which is a pretty remarkable statistic. It’s also Jerry Yates’s 18th goal of the season.
For most of the matches recently, particularly the two home wins, Blackpool have looked a cut above League 1, with their energetic press and slick 1-2s proving too much for the opposition. This match though was evidently League 1 quality. Most Blackpool players would be a 5 or 6 out of 10, and I’m not even sure whether to give the goalscorers a 7. If you’re negligible for 89 minutes and brilliant for 10 seconds, how many extra points do you deserve? Daníel Grétarsson, Elliot Embleton and Ollie Turton were the better performances and might scrape a couple of 7s and an 8. Daníel Grétarsson looked assured and read the game well, which is a strength the other two players also have.
The team did have more energy in the second half and Yates’s work rate looked far closer to his normal. They looked far more likely to nick the ball in the opposition half and go on the break. But it wasn’t the same defending from the front or high press that we've seen recently and apart from the goals and (ultimately) the win, they looked pretty uninspired and uninspiring. Perhaps all these games and all these victories are chipping away at their stamina.
The real test will be against Gillingham at home on Monday, where their results haven’t been as good or as consistent as their away form, and Gillingham are much more difficult opponents compared to struggling Swindon. Hopefully Critchley can galvanise them into some semblance of their winning ways.
Slight worries are Daníel Grétarsson and Sulley Kaikai going off after knocks--here’s hoping they were precautionary measures. Lord knows we don’t need any more injuries!
Still, the wins continue and Yates continues to score. Up the Pool!
Friday, 6 November 2020
Tuesday, 6 October 2020
Public transport mishaps and a claggy mess on the mountain
In connection with the last few posts on my "proper" blog, I went on another adventure with the aim of writing up the route, but it didn’t quite turn out as intended. Making use of Iceland’s public bus system, Strætó, I had a 25km circuit planned, from Laxness in Mosfellsdalur (east of Reykjavík, on the way to Þingvellir), up Móskarðshnjúkar (the two rhyolite peaks on the eastern side of Esja), and then along the Esja plateau before descending down Gunnlaugsskarð and to the busstop at the bottom of Esja. Clearly, this was an ambitious day with not only a lot of distance and elevation, but extremely tiring ground conditions (the plateau is mile after mile of treacherous boulder field). Moreover, I was wedded to the bus schedule, which meant I could only arrive in Mosfellsdalur by about 12.30 in the afternoon. The forecast was mixed, with rain in the morning but sun and little wind in the afternoon. I decided to go for it.
The morning didn’t look good; the rain was heavy and didn’t let up even a little bit. The bus into Mosfellsdalur is so seldom used that you have to order it in advance, and true to Strætó’s lousy record, my ordered ride never showed up. After several phone calls, a ride eventually materialised but when I arrived at the start of the hike, it was 1.15pm and still chucking it down, though thankfully with no wind.
Friday, 2 October 2020
When I plan an expedition or hike I sometimes spend hours, weeks or even months planning and thinking about the routes. What will the conditions will be like? What do the place names reveal? Will there be any unsuspected treasures, cultural or natural or something in between?
When I return I write pages and pages about the trip, what I saw, discovered, felt, experienced. But I also write technical information, a precise record of the route taken, the conditions underfoot and any points of interest, topographical, geological, ecological or historical. I’m endlessly fascinated, too, by the weather (even when soaking wet after hours of horizontal rain, an Icelandic speciality drenched), a fascination that both British and Icelandic cultures seem to share. The clouds and skies here and endlessly variable and consistently beautiful.
Getting out and about like this is part of how I feel connected, and how I strive to maintain that connection, to the world around me. As I explore both by mind and foot, I feel my awareness seeping outwards, tendrils of knowledge and experience snaking their way through time and space and constantly enriching my experiences.
I enjoy the wonderment of natural beauty or cultural interest equally as much as the technical elements of map-reading, navigation and all-round survival in places off the beaten track. It’s a nerdy appreciation for both statistics (distance travelled, elevation gained) as well as equipment and how to use it. For me, this is about combining the desire (the need?) to get out there and see with the limitations of the human body (and mind). If it’s blowing 60mph will I be able to gaze in one direction long enough to see the landscape I’ve come to experience; if I’ve hiked 20km through mist and snow and hail, will I have gained anything from the experience, other than being able to sleep like a log at the end of it, and really enjoying that burger? I fully believe that desk-bound knowledge is only one element of the things we have to learn and share; the rest of it comes from getting out there, being, feeling, talking, seeing. This is true for someone like me, who researches landscape and place names, but really for anyone who is interested in people and place, no matter what your specialism. Can you really be said to understand something until you’ve seen it in the flesh; can you understand a person until you’ve seen the place they live(d) in and walked their landscape with your own feet?
Despite all this, it took me a long time to put something together that I wouldn’t mind sharing. Surely all this research/thinking could be useful to others as well, right? Part of the final push was realising that I had nothing to lose, that if no one read or understood it, the world was no worse off than before; and if, by some miracle, it encouraged someone to head out their front door and explore somewhere new, then I would have achieved something. Also, like all creative people, producing material to share can feel like a huge pressure and the temptation is to make it perfect before letting even one person read it. This is of course a load of bollocks, nearly impossible to do, and even if you think you’ve achieved it, I guarantee you’ll read it again the next day and find something wrong with it. No. Experiences and knowledge are to be shared, and by sharing, we can keep some of the things we experienced; we can develop our thinking, our analytical skills and make it clearer in our minds what we know and what we think.
So last month, I wrote up a small piece about hiking on of the lesser known routes on Esja, Reykjavík’s city mountain. This was an obvious choice, as I’d hiked the route countless times before and had a wealth of knowledge and stories to draw upon. Also, being back in Iceland, but only ever temporarily, I have to make do with public transport and Esja is one of the most accessible places from the city. It's not perfect, but it's out there, I did it. You can read the post here, on my "proper" blog.
Saturday, 26 September 2020
The last month has been full of autumn colours. The mountains were speckled with reds and pinks as the berry plants shed their fruit, turning the fellsides crimson as if bathed in the light of the setting sun. In the city, the leaves turn yellow and brown and gold, and to open the front door is to risk admitting a gust of wind and a flurry of leaves
The air has been clear, the sun bright, but the wind bitterly cold, descending straight out of the north and over the mountain, frosting windscreens and chilling bones. This northerly wind bears winter on its back, ushering in snow on the mountain tops and heralding the end of autumn, though the leaves have not yet finished falling.
With northerly winds come clear skies, low temperatures and the season's first frosts. This combination is peculiar; the blue skies and sun lure you outside, but in reality it's so cold you wish yourself back in the comfort of home the second you leave the house. These conditions even have their own name in Icelandic, gluggaveður, or window weather. It looks clear and bright outside, but really it's best viewed from the window.
These conditions, while not ideal for walking, are perfect for sitting in the pool, and for the first time this side of summer, I could sit in the 40° pool for a whole hour without overheating. I had to run from the changing rooms to the hotpot, but once in the water I sank to my neck and really luxuriated, breathing the cool breeze and basking in the low evening sun. It's fascinating how much the pool experience varies from one week to the next, depending on the air temperature, and of course the wind, the rain, the hail and the snow. It was only last week I had to to duck beneath the water to avoid the descending hail stones, though bizarrely the air temperature was warmer and I was forced into the cooler and shallower pool before long.
Despite the reds and golds, autumn, which in most countries lasts a couple of months at least, seems to have bypassed us this year and we've gone straight from summer to winter. Sunglasses are replaced by hats and gloves and dripping noses; and as tyres are switched from summer to winter, the streets resound with the sound of thousands of small metal studs rolling on tarmac. Summer coats are pushed to the backs of wardrobes and out come winter parkas, with big fluffy hoods and inches of insulating layers. Gone are the months of activity and light; sunset arrives earlier with each passing day and the time for keeping warm has come.
Thursday, 24 September 2020
Thursday 24th September. The first northern lights this side of summer. My fingers ache and tingle with cold but my eyes glint green with light and colour.
Clambering onto the shed behind the house, we are amidst gardens and rooftops, away from the streetlights, gaining height and perspective and framed with treetops and gable ends, there was the sky, alive with a streaming, a flowing trail of green haze. Flickering and moving with every second, the lights mutate and reform effortlessly, changing beyond recognition in an almost imperceptible moment of transition; but then, it can never have been just one moment because it is all transition, never the same shape or form from one minute to the next. In the same way that no two persons’ fingerprints are the same, no second in the life of the aurora borealis exactly resembles the one that came before it.
The stream twists and doubles back on itself, flowing along its length, then pulsing and stretching, before curling up like a frond of fern, before changing again and fanning wide across the sky. The ribbon twists around itself before becoming a bedsheet, filling up the entire sky with a pale green glow.
We head to the seafront, climbing over rocks and boulders to see the lights over the bay, isolated in the darkness of sky and water. But we return to our shed rooftop before bed, and see 4 streams flow from a single point, slaloming in unison, echoing and mimicking each other. These streams pulse with flowing light for several minutes before they blend together and begin an effortless sweep across the sky.
Some bands are thicker now, like stray lines of cloud, scattered and elusive, others mere wisps of vapour, but as if on some unseen, unheard cue, all distinct paths suddenly fade to leave the night sky with only a pale pastel hue, soft and wide and calm.
Seeing something like that stays with you, something so beautiful, so simple and so unmoved by anythings occurring on the planet’s surface all those miles below. It doesn’t appear for show—a performance for applause—it merely is. And how lucky are we to witness this perverse accident of physics, that just happens to be beautiful.
Monday, 21 September 2020
I went for my second Covid test since arriving in Iceland in June. Voluntarily, this time, in a bid to improve the data that the Icelandic government has to work with. In the morning the sun is shining and I stand outside drinking my coffee and soaking up the rays. En route to the testing centre we get a glimpse of Esja and she’s covered in a fresh coat of snow, only a light dusting, nothing like a full layer, but still, the first hint of winter. The sun shines for most of the morning and allows for a short “walking meeting”—the safest form of face-to-face meeting in Covid times—though even after half an hour, my cheeks are beginning to feel the chill. And then this afternoon, the sky darkens completely, electric lights go on and hail descends, blown diagonal by the wind. Office-workers look up from their computers, and pedestrians grimace and lean into the wind, their faces shining in the shower of hail. The wind whistles through window cracks and ice splatters the panes. The browned leaves of trees turn cloudy white and glistening; and flagpoles rattle, their slackened ropes tapping out the beat of the storm.
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