Blackpool have always struggled over the Christmas and New Year period, certainly of late anyway.
There seems to be no rhyme or reason to their poor form over the winter months but it’s a pattern that continues to dog them, irrespective of the players involved or the manager (or head coach, in this instance) at the helm.
The men in tangerine have picked up just four points from their last 14 festive fixtures, a run that dates back to the 2017/18 season. Nine defeats have been endured during that scrooge-like streak.
The last time the Seasiders won a game over the Christmas period was back on New Year’s Day 2018, when Nathan Delfouneso and Kelvin Mellor helped secure a 2-1 win against Rochdale.
That record ought to have been put right at the Memorial Stadium on Saturday, but Blackpool somehow transpired to lose a game in which they dominated for large periods...once again.
This has been a recurring theme of Blackpool’s season, especially during the early weeks of the campaign when everything seemed to be going against Neil Critchley’s men.
There was a sense of déjà vu in the wintry South West air as Pool continued to lay siege to the Bristol Rovers goal during a one-sided opening 45 minutes, only to lack a ruthless stream in the final third.
Those of a Blackpool persuasion watching on from the directors’ box, which included owner Simon Sadler, must have been banging their heads in frustration every time their side did superbly to navigate their way to the box, only for the move to break down at the final hurdle. It happened over and over and over again.
Despite being in the ascendancy throughout the first-half, which saw Gary Madine give them an eighth minute lead with a clever finish from Grant Ward’s magnificent cross, Blackpool still managed to find themselves 2-1 down at the interval.
The Gas, who hadn’t threatened at all, were gifted an equaliser when Dan Ballard of all people uncharacteristically gave the ball away in a really poor area of the pitch. That allowed Sam Nicholson the chance to slip in Brandan Hanlon, who made no mistake with a smart tucked finish.
The Seasiders were utterly shell-shocked, they ought to have been two or three goals to the good, not level pegging. But their shock turned to amazement barely a minute later when Rovers edged their noses in front.
Blackpool failed to clear their lines from a cross in from the left, Hanlan turned provider by nodding the ball down into the path of Nicholson who arrowed the ball into the top corner with aplomb, giving keeper Sam Walker no chance.
Even then, Pool ought to have drawn themselves level shortly afterwards when Madine came inches away from a second as he slid in at the back post in a desperate attempt to turn Luke Garbutt’s driven cross into the back of the net.
You were expecting Blackpool to come out at the start of the second-half with a point to prove but what followed defied all logic.
The Seasiders lost their heads completely and, truth be told, probably ought to have found themselves 3 or 4-1 down in the opening exchanges of the second period.
It all began when Paul Tisdale’s side were awarded a rather contentious penalty, Ward the man to be penalised for the ball bouncing onto his hand. Yes, it clearly hit his hand but there was no intention whatsoever to stop or block a shot.
Thankfully for the Seasiders, their emergency loanee Walker was there to pull off a magnificent stop from Hanlon’s spot kick, saving a penalty for the second time in as many games.
But rather than shoot a rocket up Blackpool’s backsides, it was the home side that took motivation from the penalty miss and ploughed ahead in search of a killer third goal. How they didn’t get it, I’m not quite sure.
Hanlon, who could and maybe should have ended the day with the match ball, somehow managed to steer wide of the far post from a few yards out, Nicholson failed to pick out the back of the net after rounding Walker and Zain Westbrooke saw a glancing header clip the top of the crossbar.
Walker, who barely had a shot to save in the first-half before Rovers’ quickfire double, was now the busiest man on the pitch in the opening 10 to 15 minutes of the second period.
Thankfully the Seasiders rode the storm and, slowly but surely, began to restore some normality to what was an increasingly topsy-turvy, action-packed encounter.
The two sides traded strong penalty appeals within a minute of each other midway through the half, but the referee – terrified of awarding the game’s second and possibly third penalty – opted to wave play on.
Blackpool continued to knock on the door, Madine going close with a deflected effort that whistled just wide of the post, the wasteful Keshi Anderson skewing a shot well wide when Ollie
Turton was in acres of space to his right and the unmarked substitute Demetri Mitchell seeing a close-range header well saved.
The only thing that was missing to compound Blackpool’s misery was a gilt-edged miss right at the death, but lo and behold it finally came in the final minute of stoppage time.
A cross fell invitingly to Bez Lubala barely six yards from goal. The sub took a good first touch to settle himself but then appeared to lose all balance, leaning back which resulted in his shot ballooning high over the Bristol Rovers crossbar. That was it, that was the chance.
But there’s a reason why Blackpool, who are now the division’s second lowest scorers, level with Rovers and with only one more goal to their name than lowly Northampton Town, have only scored 20 goals in 20 games this season. This isn’t a new phenomenon.
Burton Albion, who are bottom, have scored eight more while crisis club Wigan Athletic have even managed 21. In fact, all four sides in the relegation zone have scored more goals than the Seasiders this term.
Pool certainly can’t complain of a lack of chances at the Memorial Stadium, they produced 21 attempts on goal after all. But to only score one is simply inexcusable.
What is even more frustrating is to lose to Bristol Rovers and Shrewsbury Town, two sides that have been in and around the relegation zone for much of the season, having been put in a really strong position in the top half of the table thanks to victories over Peterborough United, Portsmouth, Fleetwood Town and Hull City.
It’s been another winter of discontent after all.
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