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!