AFC Wimbledon 0-0 Blackpool: Matt Scrafton's match verdict from Seasiders' final game of 2018
It was important Blackpool stopped the rot with their battling point at AFC Wimbledon, but they will be left to reflect on what might have been.
The Seasiders’ games have followed a similar path in recent weeks: they start well, create two or three good openings early doors but then fail to capitalise on them. From there onwards it’s always an uphill battle to claim any sort of result.
But Blackpool dug deep to claim a well-deserved point in their final game of 2018, bringing an end to their three-game losing streak in the process.
Neither side can really complain with the result, but if one team was going to win it was always going to be Blackpool. The clearest chances of the day, bar one, all fell their way.
Another issue for the Seasiders to consider is that when their top scorer Armand Gnanduillet isn’t in form in front of goal, irrespective of whether or not he’s playing well, as he has been in recent weeks, Pool tend to struggle to claim wins. Then again it’s not exactly rocket science, successful sides need their strikers to be banging in the goals.
But while Gnanduillet was in his element in an ugly and physical game that played to his strengths, he will be disappointed not to have at least bagged one at the Kingsmeadow.
The first chance of note came after just four minutes, when the tall forward rose highest to direct a powerful, downward header hurtling towards goal after Marc Bola had done well to set him up from the left, but Wimbledon keeper Tom King sprawled across his goal and push his effort away from danger. That wasn’t to be the last time King denied the Seasiders a goal.
Ten minutes later, the Dons keeper made a superb fingertip save to deny Chris Taylor, who was already running away in celebration as it looked like his deflected first-time effort was destined for the bottom corner. Somehow King managed to claw it away for a corner.
Ben Heneghan, still without a goal for the club this season, then squandered another good opportunity as he headed wide of the target from a Jay Spearing corner.
All three chances came inside the opening 20 minutes, but just like at Rochdale three days earlier, Blackpool once again failed to capitalise when they were undoubtedly on top.
It wasn’t a coincidence at all that Blackpool’s dominant spell came at a time when they opted to keep the ball on the deck and, more often than not, work it out to the left where Nathan Delfouneso had the beating of his full-back every time.
But once those trio of presentable opportunities came and went, the home side started to come back into it with a style of football that can only be described as “the Wimbledon way”. It wasn’t pretty, but you can see how it can be effective (at times) and it certainly put the Seasiders on the back foot after their early promise.
Centre backs Heneghan and Paudie O’Connor stood up well to the onslaught of long balls, but Pool became a little sloppy, conceding free kicks in and around their own box and falling into the traps that Wimbledon were setting up for them.
Terry McPhillips’ men remained firm, only conceding the one clear chance in the first half which fell to defender Terell Thomas, who somehow managed to direct his free header wide of the back stick when it looked easier to score. That was the only slight drop in concentration from Pool in what was otherwise a stodgy, solid defensive display, making it 11 clean sheets for the season.
The second 45 minutes also remained even, but again it was the Seasiders who created the clearer openings.
The clearest fell to substitute Harry Pritchard, who inexplicably blazed over the bar from just a few yards out from goal after Delfouneso had set it up on a plate for him. It was the best opportunity of the game by far, but again one that Pool failed to capitalise on.
With these misses, it’s back to the old age problem of Pool’s lack of quality in the final third, a problem that is unlikely to be addressed in January for obvious reasons.
But it was still a decent day at the office for McPhillips’ charges, with the point ensuring they finish 2018 in eighth position in League One. Not bad at all, all things considered.
Their display was as good as McPhillips could have realistically hoped for given the ever-growing list of unavailable players. Eight are currently out at the moment, and the vast majority of them are key players that would be considered first-teamers. For a side like Blackpool who have a group of 13 or 14 reliable performers, that was always likely to take its toll.
Pool are down to the bare bones and they also look like they’re carrying two or three who perhaps aren’t 100 per cent fit, but have no option but to play given the current list of absentees.
Spearing is one that looks to be nursing a slight knock, one which forced him to be brought off late on which McPhillips later revealed to be a tight calf.
With the likes of Curtis Tilt, Ollie Turton, Donervon Daniels, Jordan Thompson and Joe Dodoo already out, Pool simply can’t afford to lose any more - especially with two huge home games coming up against Sunderland and Arsenal respectively.
But whatever side Blackpool seem to put out, they will remain honest, they will battle and they will give you all they’ve got. As a supporter paying your hard-earned cash, that’s all you can ask for.