There were times on Saturday where Barnsley and Blackpool looked leagues apart. Chances are that will be very much the case next season.
The Seasiders were always in the game, even taking an early lead only to eventually succumb to a narrow defeat.
But if we’re being completely honest with ourselves, Pool didn’t deserve anything out of the game and, if anything, the scoreline probably flattered them a little bit.
It took a while for the gulf in class to become evident, Terry McPhillips’ men taking a surprise lead after a pretty uneventful opening 15 minutes.
Pool threatened a minute before they broke the deadlock, Marc Bola causing all sorts of issues for the Barnsley defence by skipping past a couple of challenges to set up a three-on-two on the break, only for Armand Gnanduillet’s poor pass to see the move break down. More on Gnanduillet later…
But, to the striker’s credit, he did produce a clever flick – whether he meant it or not is another matter – to set up Harry Pritchard for his opener, with his first-time strike taking a wicked deflection to wrong foot the Barnsley keeper.
With Pool having the temerity to take the lead against a side pushing for automatic promotion who also haven’t been beaten at home all season, the goal seemed to spark the hosts into life.
It was almost as if they were thinking: ‘how dare you rain on our parade?’ and from that point onwards there was only ever one team in it.
Blackpool defended heroically, with Ben Heneghan and Curtis Tilt, amongst others, throwing their bodies in front of everything. But it was only a matter of time until their resolve was ended and that came five minutes before the break, 19-goal striker Cauley Woodrow slamming home a low shot from the edge of the area.
He was given too much time and space to take the shot but you have to give him credit for the clinical manner in which he found the back of the net.
As you’d expect, the Tykes came flying out of the blocks at the start of the second half and created chance after chance. Good ones, too.
Once that second goal went in, as it did on the hour mark when Liam Lindsay rose highest to head home from a corner, the likelihood was the floodgates would open.
This is where Blackpool deserve credit because they could have easily wilted and conceded three, four or more, but they hung in there. It might not sound like much, and a defeat should never be celebrated, but a 2-1 reversal away at Barnsley was probably the best Blackpool could do.
There were complaints among Pool fans that their side sat back on their lead for too long but, in all honesty, I’m not sure that was a deliberate ploy. Barnsley simply gave them no choice.
The intensity of Barnsley’s pressing was impressive and there was a 10/15 minute spell before the interval where Blackpool simply couldn’t get out of their own half. They were simply mesmerised.
The only criticism I’d have of the Seasiders is their reluctance to throw the kitchen sink at the home side in the dying stages.
Barnsley looked nervy towards the end, quite understandable given what is at stake for Daniel Stendel’s side. Surely that would have been a good time to throw the ball into their box at every opportunity? But it simply never came.
Barnsley, like most automatic promotion candidates, are a side that can do a bit of everything.
They have goalscorers in Woodrow and Kieffer Moore who know how to put the ball in the back of the net, they have diminutive midfielders who can pass their way around you, they have quality on the ball from set pieces, but arguably most impressively of all, they’ve got players who will dig in and do the ugly side of the game.
After the home side took the lead, Blackpool didn’t really have an answer. We can analyse tactics, formations, plan A and plan Bs until we’re blue in the face, but the reality is Pool require more quality if they’re going to compete for the top six next year.
They’re a good side who should be more than satisfied with how their season has gone, with a likely top 10 finish coming against the backdrop of chaos. But truth be told they simply don’t offer enough going forward and that’s been their downfall all season.
While the club’s main striker Armand Gnanduillet has made improvements this season, leading their scoring charts with 14 goals, he continues to frustrate.
His first touch is too often not good enough and, on Saturday, he endured one of those afternoons where he seemed more intent on complaining to the officials than tracking back and getting into position.
And then there’s the winger in Liam Feeney who has started the majority of games this season, yet hasn’t scored a single goal and only has a handful of assists. When you look at it like that it’s a miracle the Seasiders contended for the top six as long as they did.
With just 50 goals scored in 45 games, that’s the sort of record you’re more likely to see amongst those sides battling it out for relegation. In fact two of the bottom four have scored more.
Pool have a good squad and the foundations are certainly there. Others might disagree but I don’t think there needs to be radical changes – and I don’t expect that to happen either. But it’s clear where improvements need to be made.
Make them and this side can compete in League One, but fingers crossed they won’t have to come up against Barnsley next season.