If ever we needed evidence of the bipolar nature of this Blackpool side, Saturday’s lacklustre defeat to Oxford provided it.
Blackpool should have gone into the game brimming with confidence, buoyed by earning two hugely impressive draws on the road against two of the league’s fancied sides, extending their unbeaten run to seven games in the process.
Hosting a lowly Oxford side, who were without a win on the road since April 2018, surely ought to have been a mere formality.
But think again because, for some reason, this Blackpool side tend to perform better against the better sides and struggle against those at the bottom.
This season Terry McPhillips’ men have managed to draw against league leaders Luton Town, beat promotion-chasing Portsmouth while also earning points away at Sunderland, Charlton Athletic and Peterborough United,
Yet Oxford, who started the day third from bottom in League One on Saturday, have now completed the double over Blackpool, with the Seasiders failing to even muster a goal in either game.
Bristol Rovers, who have slipped into the bottom four, can also complete a double over Pool next week having beaten them 3-0 at Bloomfield Road earlier in the season.
The unpredictable Seasiders also failed to beat or even score against bottom-of-the-table AFC Wimbledon back in December and were unable to record a win home and away against both Rochdale and Shrewsbury Town.
It’s more than just a coincidence. Clearly Blackpool are a very capable defensive side, and against the league’s best they’re more than good enough to put their bodies on the line, soak up pressure and look to hit them on the break.
But when they’re facing strugglers, especially at home, the onus is on them to attack and that’s not something they’re completely comfortable with. That was certainly the case on Saturday when their lack of creativity really came to the fore.
It was therefore strange to see three of the club’s most creative forces in Nya Kirby, Jordan Thompson and Nathan Delfouneso left on the bench. Even stranger was Kirby and Delfouneso not even being brought on despite Blackpool desperately searching for a route back into the game in the second half.
It’s easy to say this in hindsight, but McPhillips got his team selection and system all wrong.
Switching to the diamond formation proved so effective last week at Charlton because it made complete sense to utilise it on that occasion as a way of matching the Addicks’ similar system and effectively nullifying their threat.
It obviously worked so well McPhillips wanted to try it again, which is understandable to an extent, but Oxford at home is a completely different affair to Charlton away.
As it turned out, it soon became clear the diamond wasn’t working and yet McPhillips decided to persevere with it.
Last month at Coventry Blackpool got their system wrong but McPhillips was able to change it before it was too late and they were eventually rewarded, running out 2-0 winners. This time he opted not to change it.
What made it even stranger was that McPhillips went to watch Oxford lose 4-2 at Accrington Stanley in midweek and, in his pre-match press conference, commented on Oxford’s weakness from crosses.
If the U’s really are susceptible from balls into their own box, why play a formation that is notoriously narrow? It made no sense.
McPhillips argued the onus was on the full backs to bomb forward and get crosses into the box but, while Nick Anderton and Donervon Daniels are very capable defenders, Roberto Carlos and Cafu they are not.
And that’s no slight on either player, they’re just not that type of player and shouldn’t be expected to fulfil that role. They’re not natural attacking full backs in the mould of Marc Bola, for example, who is currently out through injury.
Daniels himself admitted post-match he’s a centre half who is also capable of filling in at right back.
He’s much better suited to playing on the right-hand side of a back three, with Ollie Turton the man who should be relied upon to play at wing back. That 3-5-2 system appears to be the one that suits Blackpool most.
Given Turton’s consistency, he will do a job wherever you put him. That was demonstrated on Saturday when he was played more advanced than usual and looked to make some late, surging runs into the Oxford box. But full back or wing back is where he truly belongs.
Creativity was such a problem against a stubborn and defensive Oxford side on Saturday they were unable to seriously test goalkeeper Simon Eastwood all afternoon.
Curtis Tilt’s close-range header which narrowly missed the target was their only genuine opportunity of the day. That’s simply not good enough when you harbour ambitions to reach the play-offs.
But full marks to Oxford, they defended brilliantly and got exactly what they came for and that was a smash-and-grab win. Given their circumstances, that’s exactly what the doctor ordered.
But in general play they were just as poor as Blackpool in what was a game desperately lacking in quality.
Indeed, it was probably fitting the only moment of quality we saw all game was the moment Jordan Graham curled a sublime 25-yard free kick into the top corner of Mark Howard’s net. The Pool keeper had no chance.
Blackpool will argue, rightly, it shouldn’t have been a free kick in the first place - but you can’t knock the Oxford player for the manner in which he took full advantage.
That goal proved to be enough to separate the two sides in what was a frustrating afternoon for the Seasiders. But what is most frustrating is that it could have been oh-so-easily avoided had they not shot themselves in the foot.