Blackpool 0-3 Bristol Rovers: Matt Scrafton's match verdict on Seasiders' heavy league defeat
There was a humorous moment in the press box at Bloomfield Road on Saturday evening where, with various members of the media still present, the lights went out and the entire stadium was suddenly shrouded in darkness.
While I’ll leave you to make your own jokes about Owen Oyston not paying his electricity bills, it’s far too early and dramatic to be talking about the lights going out on Blackpool’s season.
But, following Saturday’s dire defeat, the Seasiders find themselves up against it for the first time under Terry McPhillips’ management.
Losing for just the third time in the league is certainly no drama and there’s no need for an overreaction. Blackpool still find themselves tucked safely into mid-table.
Given the incessant off-the-field chaos and Gary Bowyer’s shock resignation just one game into the new season, I’m sure all Blackpool fans would have taken that 15 games into the campaign.
But the Seasiders have now lost three times in a week, two of them consecutive defeats in the league, and the defensive solidity that had previously been so successful has now disappeared.
Prior to last Saturday, Pool hadn’t conceded three goals in a league game all season. They’ve now done it two games on the spin. Cracks are beginning to appear.
A dip in form was always going to be a matter of when, not if. Given the chronic lack of investment McPhillips and his players have done magnificently to stave it off until now.
But the concern is that this sticky patch has coincided with injuries and suspensions, which the side can ill afford.
I’ve maintained for a while now that Blackpool have a strong squad of about 12 or 13 good players, but beyond that there’s no real quality or depth.
A side such as Blackpool simply can’t afford to lose players such as Mark Howard or Donervon Daniels, and so it told against Bristol Rovers.
The Seasiders were clearly struggling from exhaustion from the midweek exploits in the capital. That was to be expected given the players won’t have returned home until 6am on Thursday and only trained lightly on Friday.
But what couldn’t have been predicted was the ease in which Bristol Rovers earned the three points.
Let’s remember, this is a side that came into the game 20th in League One, only above the relegation zone on goal difference. They had won just once in seven and hadn’t scored away from home in their last five attempts.
McPhillips is right to say they are in a false position in the league, they should comfortably find themselves in mid table come the end of the season, but this is not the sort of side you lose 3-0 at home against.
Yet Blackpool can have no complaints with Saturday’s result and indeed McPhillips agreed his side were beaten by the better team.
It could have been much worse, however. The Seasiders managed to get through to the interval unscathed despite conceding some very presentable opportunities in the opening 45 minutes.
Bristol Rovers defenders Tom Lockyer and James Clarke were both left unmarked inside the six-yard box, both missing easy opportunities to find the back of the net from pinpoint corners. Fortunately for Blackpool, both missed the target.
The Seasiders had chances of their own in the first 45 minutes, Mark Cullen hitting the outside of the post with a deflected effort and Nathan Delfouneso being denied from close range.
But Blackpool’s luck ran out at the start of the second half, as Bristol Rovers broke the deadlock after just three minutes of the restart.
It was the result of a defensive mix up between Jay Spearing and Ben Heneghan, with neither taking the initiative with a bouncing ball that Ollie Clarke took full advantage of, nipping in before firing past Christoffer Mafoumbi.
The stand-in keeper managed to get a hand to the shot but failed to keep it out, the first of two goals he ought to have done better with.
Pool huffed and they puffed as they attempted to get back in it, but other than a looping header from Delfouneso that narrowly missed the back post, they struggled to create anything of note.
In anyone was going to score a second of the afternoon it looked like it was going to come from the visitors, not Blackpool.
And so it proved, as Tony Craig put the game to bed 13 minutes from time with a superbly-taken volley at the back post. This time there was nothing Mafoumbi could have done.
Two soon became three, as the scorer of the first Clarke waltzed his way through an exhausted Blackpool midfield and defence before toe poking beyond Mafoumbi’s despairing dive. It was a weak attempt and yet somehow it made its way past the Blackpool goalkeeper.
The Seasiders just had nothing left in the tank and were even unable to muster a fighting last stand, for pride more than anything else.
What Blackpool could do with now is a free week ahead of next weekend’s FA Cup first round clash, but they have no such luck.
Tuesday night they make the 560-mile round trip to Gillingham, followed by a similar length drive to Exeter City on Saturday.
With a meaningless Checkatrade Trophy game against Accrington Stanley following that on Tuesday, the Seasiders are again on the road the following weekend as they travel the 270 miles to Southend United and the 270 miles back to the Fylde coast.
Tiredness certainly came into play against Bristol Rovers, but it’s only going to get worse from here.