Another opportunity missed as Prenton Park hoodoo continues - Matt Scrafton's verdict on Blackpool's laboured draw at Tranmere
This has been a pretty seismic decade for Blackpool Football Club.
Every emotion you could possibly experience has been felt, whether it be elation at the club’s unbelievable rise to the Premier League, anger at a missed opportunity and the resulting slide down the leagues, powerlessness at the ugly off-the-field saga or recent relief of a new dawn under a new owner.
But there is one thing Pool fans didn’t experience during this decade, and that’s witnessing their team win a game of football at Prenton Park.
But what’s new? The Seasiders haven’t won there since 1978 and, since that day, they’ve lost 14 of the following 19 encounters. Perhaps we should just be grateful Pool avoided defeat in Birkhenhead yesterday?
I wouldn’t quite go that far, as this was another opportunity missed for Simon Grayson’s men, taking on an out-of-sorts Tranmere side that sit 20th in League One having won just five games all season.
The Seasiders will be relieved, at least, to bring an end to their run of back-to-back defeats which had threatened to derail any notion of a promotion bid before it had properly got started.
But, in Pool’s 53rd and final game of the year, this was Groundhog Day all over again for Grayson and his charges, who continue to struggle for quality in the final third.
On a positive note, they did at least manage to score for the first time in almost four-and-a-half hours of football.
It came nice and early, too, the ball rolling through the legs of bewildered goalkeeper Aaron Chapman and into the back of the net in a manner that can only be described as “scrappy”.
Pool won’t have cared one bit, mind. Neither did Grayson, who couldn’t even recall who had scored the goal when asked post-match.
In his defence, it looked as clear as mud - which there was plenty of on Tranmere’s quagmire of a pitch, which resembled those dreadful surfaces we not-so-fondly recall seeing at Bloomfield Road earlier in the decade. A thing of the past now though…
Did Matty Virtue really get a final touch, as he cheekily claimed? He certainly believed so in the manner in which he wheeled away in celebration.
The goal has, however, been credited to Ben Heneghan, who did initially connect with Liam Feeney’s corner, bundling a header towards the goalline.
It did appear to take a touch though and on reviewing the footage, an own goal from an unfortunate Tranmere defender can’t be ruled out.
Either way, Pool couldn’t have wished for a much better start having taken just nine minutes to break the deadlock.
Unfortunately, as has often been the case this season, the men in tangerine were unable to build on their early prize and soon found themselves on the back foot.
Tranmere striker Morgan Ferrier soon became an increasingly influential figure, giving centre-back pairing Heneghan and Ryan Edwards a torrid time with his pace and power.
The former Walsall man was extremely clever in the way he won free-kicks for his side, a tactic purposely employed by manager and former Seasider Micky Mellon, who will have known only too well how crucial set-plays could prove to be on their dreadful pitch.
Tranmere, while clearly a limited outfit, played the conditions more effectively. Pool, while rightfully aggrieved at the referee’s shoddy display, were guilty of playing into their hands and conceding far too many set pieces in and around their own box.
However, Tranmere’s equaliser on the stroke of half-time came from open play, with Ferrier dispatching a cool finish beyond Mark Howard into the far corner.
It came after the striker had turned Heneghan far too easily, the centre back paying the price for getting too close to his man.
In fitting with the conditions, the second half was a real slog. Tranmere probably had the upper-hand for most of it yet it was the Seasiders who created the more openings.
Joe Nuttall, who struggled once again, saw a header tipped over the bar before Callum Guy had a sweetly-struck shot well saved. Armand Gnanduillet perhaps could have done better with an opening on the edge of the box as well.
That was the best they could offer though and the 1,667 Pool fans behind the goal couldn’t help but vent their frustration.
It was a good job the Seasiders didn’t lose it late on, as they almost did when Connor Jennings powered a volley towards goal that appeared destined for the top corner.
But Howard, making his first league appearance since March in the absence of injured Jak Alnwick, somehow flew across his goal to claw the effort away from goal, before following it up with another stop on the rebound.
Had that gone in, that really would have been the ultimate kick in the teeth for Pool on what has been a pretty miserable festive period - taking just one point from their three games, all of which appeared winnable on paper.
On the bright side, Virtue and Callum Guy both performed well by bringing some much-needed athleticism to the midfield. In between the sticks, Howard was calm and composed throughout and made the save when called upon.
On the flip side, Grayson continues to bemoan his side’s lack of creativity and poor decision-making, which has been the running theme of their campaign.
You get the feeling the only solution to the problem will come with new additions, so thankfully the window opens in 48 hours’ time. One new attacking player has already arrived in the form of Grant Ward.
This season was always going to be a case of sticking as close to the top six as possible until January, when Simon Sadler can really put down a marker and stake his ambitions.
Onto 2020 we go...