This afternoon I had the pleasure of sitting down to watch a full Blackpool match for the first time this season: I did not think that it would an enjoyable experience, but it was. A thoroughly entertaining match, very open, packed full of chances and (controversial) incidents. Blackpool have exceeded the expectations of many this season; fully expected to be the whipping boys of the league, they currently sit in a commendable 10th position and have more than held their own over the course of the opening eight games.
From an explosive 4-0 opening win at Wigan to a historical (and amusing) win at Anfield, they’ve given a good account of themselves and shown that, thus far, they have what it takes to mix it with the big boys. Maybe they can’t quite mix it with the biggest kids in the playground on a consistent basis just yet, as maulings at the hands of Arsenal and Chelsea testify, but what is impressive that they did not let the beatings affect them- they picked themselves up and soldiered on. And they’re doing all this with a squad of unremarkable players, several who probably draw cries of “Who?” from fans each week as their names are read out at grounds around the country.
Poor side on paper
On paper, Blackpool should not have a chance; their team is made up of players who have plied the vast majority of their trade outside the Premier League up until this season. Goalscorer today Marlon Harewood is their most experienced topflight player, but he hardly has a glittering goalscoring record at the top level (although it is somewhat better than fellow striker Brett Ormerod’s 11 in three seasons with Southampton), yet he’s already on 3 for the season from only 6 appearances. DJ Campbell seemed to have shown in his time at Birmingham that he was not Premier League quality, but he, like some of his teammates (defenders Evatt and Crainey, to name two), has been given a second chance when it seemed like his opportunity had passed. Several of the team, such as the impressive goalkeeper Matt Gilks, midfielder David Vaughan and forward Luke Varney, have never played in the top tier at all. Luke Varney has been one of the revelations of the season (for me, at least); he was a below average Championship stirker, who got relegated when on loan at Sheffield Wednesday last year; but Ian Holloway took a chance and loaned him from Derby, and it appears to be paying off. Today he was a constant threat- quick, alert, and a menace to the Man City defence. Charlie Adam is another who has never played in the top division of England; he was distributing the ball today like he was the Scottish Andrea Pirlo.
The thing that impresses me most about Blackpool, and what made the game so pleasing to watch, is that they actually try to play football; they don’t stick 10 men behind the ball and send it long to a target man. It’s a brave approach, more risk inherent, one might say, but in all likelihood they’ll be the under-pressure underdog in most of the games they play so might as well have a go at what is, on paper at least, a superior opposition. The results so far suggest this approach is paying dividends. Credit has to go to Ian Holloway for turning them into a Premiership side, something that did not seem likely when he took over. Blackpool snuck into the last playoff spot on the penultimate weekend of last season (after an incredibly boring Swansea side the place away) and then overcame the odds once more to conquer Nottingham Forest and then Cardiff in the playoffs.
Today, they nearly overcame the odds again against Manchester City, and perhaps they would have done was it not for some questionable officiating. They only have themselves to blame for not being ahead in the first place- DJ Campbell’s tame effort, slipping the ball wide of the post with only Hart to beat after some excellent work by Varney, being the most prominent example of Blackpool’s profligacy in front of goal. And when they finally did make the breakthrough, Gary Taylor- Fletcher’s strike was ruled out somewhat harshly for an offside. If I understand the rule correctly, then this may well have been the right decision on a technical level; Grandin was offside and went for the ball and thus became active, even though he didn’t touch it. However, like the Huddlestone-Gallas issue on Saturday, I think this had no bearing on the outcome so could have been allowed to let slide; a case of “letter of the law vs. spirite of the law”, if you like. However, if Blackpool thought that was harsh, then worse was yet to come: Tevez’s opening goal was clearly offside. They felt hard done by again for his second, claiming a foul on Evatt in the build up; I think Evatt was fouled, but Man City had a decent claim for a freekick themselves immediately prior to him getting the ball- the challenge on Bridge did not look entirely legitimate. There could be no complaints about the third though, a stunning individual effort from David Silva, the introduction of whom changed the game.
Manchester City’s attitude
Just a quick word on Manchester City; they managed to pick up three points again despite not playing particularly well and were assisted by some questionable officiating. They are definite title contenders, but will need to play better if they want to stay in the race. Emmanuel Adebayor was, quite frankly, rubbish; lazy and disinterested, you’d expect someone who gets a rare start to put in the effort and try to impress, and he did not. Mancini favours a defence first approach, as shown by use of the two holding players, and there is no place in his XI for someone who is not prepared to pull their weight- I doubt Adebayor will be at City for much longer.
The difference when Silva was introduced was remarkable- City suddenly became inventive and dangerous. I do think Mancini needs to take more risks; going to somewhere like Blackpool with two defensive midfielders is rather negative. It’s fine to play like that against Chelsea or United where there is a greater need for defensive numbers, but against the lesser lights City should be coming out and looking to attack. (Although who knows how much havoc Charlie Adam would have wreaked had he been allowed even more attacking scope!) I think one of De Jong/Barry (much preferably De Jong) along with Milner +1 (ideally Silva) would be a better midfield approach; using two holding players invites the weaker teams to have a go as they’re under less pressure and Blackpool nearly (arguably should have) got something from the game with their attacking play.
Blackpool were hot favourites to finish rockbottom of the league, but if they keep playing like they have been they’ve got a very good chance of staying up, which hopefully they will take and we’ll be treated to more Sunday afternoons like this one.