'Blackpool passed their toughest test so far': Matt Scrafton's verdict on Seasiders' draw with Portsmouth
The last time the Seasiders enjoyed a six-game unbeaten streak at the start of the season was back in 2013, under the management of Paul Ince.
Despite the promising start, the season almost ended in embarrassing fashion, Blackpool surviving relegation from the Championship by just two points.
No such scares will occur this season, for this is a Blackpool side that has what it takes to contend at the right end of the table.
Saturday’s game was described in several quarters as the Seasiders’ toughest test of the season to date.
Despite Portsmouth’s mixed start to the campaign, it would be a surprise to many if Kenny Jackett’s side aren’t in and around the top three or four spots come the end of the season.
The Fratton Park outfit enjoyed a good season last time out, only losing to Sunderland in the play-off semi-finals having previously beaten them to lift the EFL Trophy.
If Portsmouth do go on to enjoy a similar season this time around, Saturday’s game was very much a case of Pool passing their early test.
They didn’t have it all their own way though, as Simon Grayson’s men had to come from behind to claim a draw - their third in succession - for the second time this season.
It’s a tired cliché but this was a typical game of two halves, there’s no other way to describe it.
It could have been so different though, after the Seasiders came flying out of the blocks from the first whistle, penning Pompey on the edge of their 18-yard box from the off.
For all of Blackpool’s high pressing and intensity in a maintained 15-minute spell of pressure, nothing came of it - not even an opportunity of sorts.
Pompey soon settled and, as soon as Pool stepped off the accelerator, the away side went close to breaking the deadlock.
It was an early warning sign that ought to have heeded danger, as an alarming amount of space opened up for Andy Cannon on the edge of the Blackpool box, only for the midfielder to get his shot all wrong and skew wide when the goal was at his mercy.
The visitors were soon able to forget about the early miss when they took the lead a minute later, although it did come with an element of fortune.
Now, it’s been well documented that Blackpool are looking to play their football in a different way under Grayson this season by beginning their attacks from the back.
This means centre backs Curtis Tilt and Ryan Edwards will see a lot of the ball from goalkeeper Jak Alnwick, and so far this season it hasn’t been a problem.
But with Portsmouth’s aggressive closing down, this caused nervousness among Pool’s backline and the mistakes began to creep in.
Tilt, right on the edge of Pool’s 18-yard box, trod on the ball, allowing Pompey dangerman John Marquis the chance to surge through on goal.
It looked as though the danger had been cleared when Edwards came across and forced Marquis away from goal.
But the ball fell straight to the threatening winger Marcus Harness, who later hobbled off with an injury in what proved to be a key turning point in the game, and the former Burton Albion man found the back of the net via the aid of a deflection.
Despite Blackpool’s promising start, goals change games and Grayson’s side almost found themselves two down with barely 20 minutes gone.
Again it came via another defensive mix-up, Edwards sending a weak header back towards his own goal which was pounced upon by Marquis.
The striker shifted the ball onto his weaker left foot but still managed to produce a rasping drive that looked destined for the top corner, but somehow Alnwick got across his goal to tip the ball wide.
Speaking post-match, Grayson said he wasn't too concerned about the defensive errors. "As as long as they’re trying to do the right things then I don’t have any complaints with it," the Pool boss said.
But Pool struggled from this point onwards for the remainder of the first half, resorting to hopeful punts up towards the front two of Armand Gnanduillet and Joe Nuttall, who were forced to feed off scraps.
The home side had no control of the game whatsoever and their creativity was virtually non-existent, Pompey looking untroubled right up until the half-time whistle was blown.
That’s when it all changed for Pool. With Grayson’s words still stinging in their ears, the players emerged a different side to the one we saw in the first half.
Blackpool’s intensity and tempo was ramped up a notch, ably supported by the raucous crowd behind the North Stand - the end their team was attacking.
All of a sudden Gnanduillet was having an impact, having barely seen the ball in the opening period.
He almost found himself on the end of a flowing move, Sullay Kaikai playing in Ollie Turton whose ball across the face of the six-yard box almost fell to the big man.
Just a few minutes later, a delivery did find Gnanduillet and the 26-year-old, enjoying a hot streak of form at the minute, levelled for Blackpool in emphatic fashion.
It is ironic that, for all the change at Bloomfield Road this summer - the new owner, a returning manager and 13 signings in all - it is two old-timers in Liam Feeney and Gnanduillet who are having such an impact. When it comes to goals, anyway.
The pair combined yet again in a move that was as simple as it was divine.
The ball was played out to Feeney who was hugging the touchline. The wing-back took a touch to get the ball out of his feet before delivering a delicious ball that Gnanduillet powered home, having somehow managed to tower over his marker when it looked for the world the defender would get there first.
That’s now five in seven for Gnanduillet, who could and perhaps should have made it six when he glanced a free header agonisingly wide of the post a few minutes after scoring.
Despite Pool’s comeback, Portsmouth remained a threat on the counter attack and wasted a couple of late opportunities. But in the end, both sides appeared fairly satisfied to share the points.
During that 2013/14 campaign, which Pool began so well, their unbeaten run was ended seven games in with a 3-1 defeat at Millwall.
The Seasiders head to Birmingham next week looking to make sure that doesn’t happen against another good side in Coventry City, who sit on the same number of points as Pool in the league table.
Let’s hope the men in tangerine are still unbeaten this time next week.