Blackpool aren't just back, they're roaring ahead: Could Blackpool's derby win over Preston signal a changing of the guard?
A banner that read “GUESS WHO’S BACK?” was unfurled in the North Stand prior to kick-off on Saturday.
It got me thinking, at what point did you truly feel Blackpool were “back”? The homecoming in 2019? Bristol Rovers at home, the first game of Simon Sadler’s ownership? Wembley?
Different people will have different answers, naturally. There’s no right answer, either, as quantifying such a thing is extremely difficult to do.
But Blackpool aren’t just back, they’re roaring ahead. They’re not here to make up the numbers, they’re back with a vengeance and are overtaking clubs, Preston included, at an incredible rate of knots.
In terms of West Lancashire football, we’re witnessing a changing of the guard right in front of our eyes. Imagine saying that as recently as two years ago.
This might seem like a bit of a grandiose assertion to make off the back of one derby victory, Blackpool’s first against PNE at Bloomfield Road in 24 years.
But it’s more than 90 minutes of football. It’s about how the club is run, how it’s supported by the best fans in the land, how everyone is on board and pulling in the same direction.
It’s how the team is led by one of the most highly decorated coaches in Europe, who has the unwavering support of Sadler, his team, the supporters and everyone involved.
It’s how the players are giving everything to the cause and following Critchley’s instructions down to a tee.
It’s how Jordan Gabriel, Richard Keogh, Kenny Dougall, Jerry Yates and so on and so on are emotionally invested in the club, aren’t just here for a pay cheque and, as a result, are rapidly becoming the next Tangerine legends to write themselves into Blackpool folklore.
The connection between the club and its fans has never been stronger, not in recent times anyway. Back in 2010, the supporters were on cloud nine, but the club was owned by a charlatan who had no interest in sustaining Blackpool’s success on and off the field.
Even during that magical season under Ollie, Charlie and co, the Seasiders weren’t able to beat Preston at home. This victory, however, was never in doubt.
Of course there were the usual pre-derby nerves that inevitably hit before such an occasion, only worsened by the fact this was the first meeting between the two sides in eight years.
But I never felt threatened. I never felt unduly worried. Then again, under Critchley’s Blackpool, I so rarely do.
If we’re being truly honest, the Seasiders rarely left second gear. They didn’t need to.
Other than the second-half chance for Ben Whiteman, which was a dreadful miss, by the way, you never felt Blackpool were under pressure or about to concede. PNE were kept at arm’s length from start to finish.
It was as routine a win as you can get in an occasion as significant as this.
Blackpool were tactically superior in every facet of the game. In the first-half, the hosts made the most of their superiority in wide areas, which led to their opener. Frankie McAvoy eventually changed his tactics to solve the problem, but by then it was too late.
For the goal, Keogh played a long diagonal out to the left to James Husband, who was left in acres of space. Husband plucked the ball out of thin air before playing it back into the path of Keshi Anderson, whose scuffed effort took Daniel Iversen by surprise and crept in at his near post.
In normal circumstances, the longer a game remains 1-0 the more tetchy and nervous you become. But the North Stand only got louder and louder, sensing the Lilywhites were struggling.
The pivotal moment in the game came at the start of the second-half, where the two sides exchanged 4-on-1 breaks, which is something you don’t see every week.
Josh Earl timed a tackle perfectly to deny Anderson his second at one end, while Whiteman somehow managed to shoot wide barely 60 seconds later when Jordan Gabriel was left on his own to fend off a Preston counter.
That’s pretty much as good as it got for the visitors, who only otherwise threatened from long-throws. But even then, Blackpool – led by the inspired Marvin Ekpiteta – dealt with it well.
The game was put to bed with a real moment of quality midway through the second-half when Jerry Yates and Gary Madine combined superbly to double Pool’s lead.
Yates produced an exquisite touch to bring down a long ball, before showing patience and poise to bide his time before slipping the ball through a defender’s legs to the onrushing Madine, who guided it home into the bottom corner.
It was a special moment for Madine, scoring his first goal in nine months after an injury-plagued 2021.
Critchley’s men managed the remainder of the game expertly, much to the frustration of the visitors whose afternoon went from bad to worse deep into stoppage-time.
Alan Browne, already on a booking, went steaming into a melee of players following a foul on his teammate Sean Maguire and was duly given a second yellow.
Such an act of mindless stupidity comes with a tough punishment, as he will now miss PNE’s upcoming cup tie with Liverpool. Or it could well be a blessing in disguise.
“We are superior”, was the chant echoing around Bloomfield Road prior to full-time. At exactly the same time, “Frankie, it’s time to go” could be heard faintly from the away end, sang meekly much like their side’s display.
If anything, that summed it up. The two clubs are going in different directions.
Preston, who have only won three in 14 all season, are looking nervously over their shoulders. Fans and manager aren’t aligned.
Blackpool, meanwhile, with six wins in nine, are daring to dream, having won six of their last nine, putting them level on points with fifth place.
When Blackpool fans dare to dream, special things tend to happen.
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