A game of two halves, still unbeaten and another point to the tally: Matt Scrafton's verdict on Blackpool's draw against in-form Burton Albion
There’s a tendency in football to fixate solely on your club of interest, ignoring the fact there are two teams actually trying to win a game.
Some Blackpool fans might have looked at Burton’s lowly position in the league table and, perhaps even their size and stature as a club, and concluded that this was a game they ought to be winning.
That’s all well and good, but it ignores Burton’s remarkable recent turnaround, which has seen them climb off the bottom of the table and out of the relegation zone in recent weeks.
Prior to last night’s game, the Brewers were the league’s form side, having won six straight games in League One.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink had claimed nine victories in 11 games since returning to the Pirelli Stadium for his second stint in charge, a run that included wins against the current top two, Hull City and Peterborough United.
It goes without saying that we’d all love it if Blackpool were just able to turn up, perform well and win. But football isn’t as simple as that.
The Seasiders came up against a side that make life extremely difficult for you. They bombard the box from set-pieces and long throws and constantly keep you under pressure.
A lot will be made of the directness of Burton’s onslaught and a lot won’t like it, but it’s also important to note the ferocity and intelligence of their closing down which, in the first-half, Blackpool just couldn’t deal with.
The home side instead resorted to take the easy option in their bid to beat the press, lofting it long up to the front two who couldn’t make the ball stick. As a result, the ball just kept coming back at them.
Burton deserve a lot of credit for their first-half display, which saw them dominate. They had Blackpool pinned in their own half and they were well worth their one-goal lead at the break, given to them by Hayden Carter’s header which squeezed through the legs of Chris Maxwell.
That being said, that doesn’t completely absolve Blackpool of criticism. Indeed, Neil Critchley provided a pretty blunt assessment of his side’s first-half display during his post-match interview.
He was unhappy with the lack of courage and bravery his players showed on the ball and felt his side played into Burton’s hands.
It’s hard to argue with that perspective. The visitors, who were launching long throws into the box as far back as the halfway line, threw nine men forward every time they got the opportunity to slow the game down with a set-piece. At times, it felt like the ball spent more time off the pitch than on it.
It was a tactic that was clearly working though. Blackpool weren’t able to get in any sort of rhythm and found themselves dealing with a barrage of pressure from all angles.
Critchley’s men were given a timely warning of Burton’s threat a couple of minutes before they eventually broke the deadlock when Carter headed inches wide from a long throw that had been nodded back into the six-yard box. But it was a warning Pool didn’t heed.
The centre-back made no mistake with his second opportunity, which came to him at the back post after Burton had worked a partially-cleared corner back into the mix.
Such was the level of Burton’s domination, Blackpool probably felt a little relieved just to make the break only a goal down.
Everyone was in agreement that Pool needed to change it at the break and Critchley agreed, replacing striker Ellis Simms – who had struggled to hold the ball up alongside Jerry Yates – with attacking midfielder Elliot Embleton.
The Sunderland loanee made an immediate impact, dropping into the gaps between defence and midfield where he could influence the game and dictate play. As a result, the Seasiders saw much more of the ball and, for the first time in the game, put Burton on the back foot with sustained spells of pressure.
Sullay Kaikai, completely anonymous in the first-half, came to life, Demetri Mitchell looked lively on the opposite side and Yates began to link things up with some clever hold-up play.
All of a sudden, the away side looked to be in a state of panic and desperate to just hold on. But the pressure told on 63 minutes when Luke Garbutt levelled things up with his first goal in tangerine.
The left-back created the opening for himself, forcing Burton’s backline into a mistake on the edge of their own box with quick closing down, before picking out the far corner of the net with an emphatic low finish across the goalkeeper.
While Kaikai and Kenny Dougall both had good chances to add a second, Blackpool couldn’t quite capitalise as well as they might have done while they were in the ascendancy.
Nevertheless, a point isn’t the worst result in the world. Most of us would have snapped your hands off for a draw at half-time.
Critchley and co will naturally be disappointed to draw at home for the fourth game running, especially when you factor in the opponents.
But the Seasiders, now unbeaten in their last seven, continue to keep their points tally ticking over at a crucial point in the season and remain incredibly difficult to beat, having lost just four of their last 23 league games. They’ve still not been beaten at Bloomfield Road since October, either.
Sitting five points off the play-offs with four games in hand is a great position to be in. It also makes this weekend’s encounter against eighth-placed Oxford United, who were 3-0 winners against Doncaster Rovers on Tuesday night, a very tasty one.
If Pool are able to repeat their recent displays against the likes of Portsmouth and Charlton Athletic, clubs who are also in the mix, then these recent home draws will quickly be forgotten.
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