Blackpool 0-1 Barnsley: Matt Scrafton's match verdict from disappointing defeat in last home game of 2018
Barnsley played the role of Scrooge on Saturday as they denied Terry McPhillips' Blackpool some early Christmas cheer.
There seemed to be a general consensus among the Blackpool dressing room that they were harshly done-by and merited a draw, which seemed strange when they were simply beaten by the better team.
The Seasiders, who have now suffered back-to-back defeats in League One, can not be faulted for their effort nor application, but the visitors’ quality - unsurprising given they came down from the Championship last season - shone through in the end.
Pool are now beginning to feel the ill-effects of injuries which, with Curtis Tilt the latest to hobble off the deteriorating Bloomfield Road pitch, could threaten to derail their play-off chase before it had even really got going.
But Blackpool still only remain five points off the top six, which is no mean feat whatsoever given the quality of sides they are up against.
Barnsley are now the team who occupy that final play-off spot and you can see why, they’re a side packed full of quality - with former Seasider Brad Potts leading the way.
The 24-year-old, who made 87 appearances for the Seasiders during a three-year spell, played a leading role in Barnsley’s winning goal.
The midfielder, who had been a thorn in Blackpool’s side all afternoon, was set free down the right where he fizzed in a dangerous, low ball which took a deflection and looped up nicely for teammate and blonde lookalike Cameron McGeehan at the back post to nod home from as far as a yard out.
In the end, that second half goal proved to be enough as Barnsley cruised to one of the more comfortable 1-0 victories you’re likely to see.
Of course, it could have been so different had Blackpool taken one of their chances in the opening 45 minutes, where both sides exchanged decent opportunities.
Tilt went close at the back post early on, prior to his injury which forced him to be brought off at half time, before John O’Sullivan - playing in an unfamiliar forward role - also went close on a couple of occasions.
But while Blackpool were certainly competing in an even opening half, it was Barnsley who still enjoyed the better chances.
With the goal at his mercy, McGeehan stabbed a shot onto the outside of the post from just eight yards out before 6’6” striker Kieffer Moore somehow failed to seriously test Mark Howard with a free header at the back post.
Pool’s clearest opportunity of the day came just three minutes into the second half, when Ben Heneghan - who has still yet to score for the Seasiders - saw a header cleared off the goalline.
But once that was missed, and Barnsley got their goal on the hour mark, there was only one team in it. Eventually, Blackpool were kept at arm’s length and struggled to muster anything of note in the remaining half an hour.
With Joe Dodoo and Mark Cullen still out, and Nathan Delfouneso failing to impress against Solihull in midweek, McPhillips opted to partner Armand Gnanduillet up front with midfielder O’Sullivan.
It seemed a peculiar decision but, to O’Sullivan’s credit, he performed well in the role and looked the most likely to score for the hosts in that first half.
He was denied by a good save by Barnsley keeper Adam Davies, after being set up by Liam Feeney, before sending a smart volley just wide after hooking one at goal on the turn.
But once Barnsley got their noses in front and Blackpool were left to chase the game, McPhillips’ men struggled to keep the ball stick at the top end of the pitch for any length of time.
Try as he might, you can’t blame O’Sullivan given, simply put, he’s just not a striker. Without the likes of Dodoo, Cullen and Delfouneso in the team, it soon highlights their lack of depth in the forward positions.
While McPhillips is right to say Delfouneso didn’t perform in the FA Cup, it surely can’t do much for his confidence to play a midfielder ahead of him? And then not to even bring him off the bench, instead opting to use Steve Davies, seemed overly harsh. But it appears a message was being sent out.
With the pitch heavy, Pool’s only real option to get back in the game was to go long ball and launch it into the Barnsley box at every opportunity possible.
But there’s just one problem with that, to launch attacks you need the ball to start off with, and that’s something they struggled to do with a tidy Barnsley side keeping hold of possession well. The Seasiders almost appeared caught between two minds, unsure whether to play the ball out from the back or to go more direct.
In the end it proved futile as Barnsley dealt well with any advances they could muster.
Losing so narrowly to such a talented side as Barnsley is no disgrace at all, but what it does do is put pressure on the Seasiders to get something from their next two games - which are both away from home.
Rochdale on Boxing Day won’t be easy and the same can certainly be said for AFC Wimbledon three days later, a side who are scrapping for every point at the bottom of League One.
For Blackpool, they’ll be hoping their injured soldiers can get their feet up and rest over their Christmas dinners.
If they’re going to keep up the pressure on the top six, they’re going to need every player fighting fit.