An intriguing tactical battle? Or a dour snoozefest? Matt Scrafton's verdict on Blackpool's draw against Swansea City
One man’s intriguing tactical battle is another man’s snoozefest.
It’s fair to say this encounter in deepest South Wales treaded a fine between the two. Whichever side of the fence you fall down on, this is a match that is unlikely to live too long in the memory.
In a match-up between two of England’s best up and coming young coaches, it’s perhaps no surprise it ended up being something of a game of chess.
As he did against Russell Martin’s then MK Dons in League One last season, Neil Critchley changed his system to nullify the threat posed by Swansea City, one that was described as “unique” by the Blackpool boss. They’re the best footballing side in the division, he also claimed.
It’s hard to disagree, but they’re unlikely to rank so highly when it comes to entertainment levels.
As a spectacle, this was pretty dour. Not that I’m counting, but Saturday’s match report must rank among the shortest I’ve ever written. In terms of genuine goal scoring chances, only two or three immediately spring to mind as I reflect on the game.
In between all of that there was a lot of nice passing, clever triangles, disciplined and rigid defensive shapes from both sides, pressing and so on. Goalmouth action though? Not so much.
This isn’t even a criticism of Swansea’s style. It’s effective and Martin is a coach I’ve got a lot of time and respect for. He’s clearly going to go far in the game. Just reading his post-match assessment, you can tell there’s a lot of similarity between himself and Critch.
But as soon as Critchley took the decision to set up his side to nullify Swansea, as he was right to do given they’d won their last four at home, you just knew this game wasn’t going to be a thriller.
I will say one thing though. While there’s no doubting the effectiveness of Martin’s approach, it’s not exactly conducive to hostile, raucous atmospheres.
The Swansea.com Stadium, as it’s now snappily known, was eerily quiet for large periods of the game, even in the immediate aftermath of their goal.
That’s a shame to be honest, because Joel Piroe’s moment of brilliance deserved better.
The Swans dominated possession during the first-half, as they were always going to do, but also managed to carve two or three decent openings.
Dan Grimshaw, who otherwise enjoyed a relatively quiet afternoon at the office, was off his line quickly to deny Piroe early on.
The Seasiders also survived a couple of soft looking penalty appeals, the first on Piroe when Marvin Ekpiteta simply outmuscled him and the second on Ethan Laird, who went to ground far too easily under pressure from Reece James.
But it was at this point in the game that Blackpool appeared to be settling down having seen off Swansea’s early advances.
But those hopes were dashed in an instant when Piroe thundered a sublime, swerving effort into the top corner from all of 25 yards, giving Grimshaw no chance. It was a goal out of nothing, it’s not like it was coming. But that’s what can happen in the Championship.
Callum Connolly, making his first start since August in the centre of midfield, perhaps could have done more to apply pressure on the Swansea talisman. But we’re splitting hairs here and sometimes you just have to applaud and appreciate a moment of quality when you see one.
But rather than push ahead for a second, the home side appeared happy to sit back and try and see out the remainder of the game.
That’s a risky tactic at the best of times, but even more so when you’re facing such a gutsy side like Blackpool who have shown again and again this season they will fight right until the end.
There’s a reason why Critchley’s men have only lost twice on the road this season, and even then one of those was in harsh circumstances (losing at the death against Millwall after holding on for so long with 10 men).
In the second-half, the Seasiders slowly but surely wrestled back some control and soon began to take over.
At first, their play was admittedly neat and tidy but it was lacking a punch. But belief was growing and you could sense a spell of sustained pressure was coming.
Mind you, having watched back the highlights – and I use that term loosely – the men in tangerine were fortunate to still only be a goal behind, because the home side were denied what appeared to be a pretty blatant spot kick.
While their first two appeals were more to do with Swansea players throwing themselves to the ground, the third was a lot more cut and dried – with James Husband chopping down Laird.
With the Swans leading 1-0, this was a pivotal moment in the game. Thankfully it went their way, Pool have been due some luck with the officials after all.
There was nothing fortunate about Blackpool’s late equaliser though, in fact it could have got even better in stoppage time.
Keshi Anderson, who was recently challenged by his boss to add more numbers to his game, sent Blackpool’s modest but noisy travelling fans into raptures with a smart hooked finish in the 86th minute.
It was a soft and innocuous goal from Swansea’s point of view, as Ben Hamer’s attempted punched clearance fell to Anderson, who chested the ball down smartly before volleying into the back of the near-empty net.
The winger, scoring for the third time in his last five outings, almost produced a remarkable ending with a copy-cat effort in stoppage-time. Only this time it was headed off the line by a Swansea man. What a turnaround that would have been.
Such drama would have been out of keeping with the remainder of the game though, let’s be honest. Nevertheless, a point away at a top side like Swansea is certainly not to be sniffed at.
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