Blood and thunder: Matt Scrafton's verdict on a captivating goalless draw between Blackpool and West Brom

While Saturday’s draw was drab, this was the polar opposite. It was blood and guts, smack-you-in-the-face, get-you-off-your-seat, can’t-take-your-eyes-off-it stuff.

Wednesday, 24th November 2021, 12:34 pm

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All it was lacking was a goal, but I’ll take this sort of encounter any day of the week ahead of the weekend’s 1-1 draw against Swansea City, which was far more of a technical, possession-based affair. It was akin to a game of chess where, despite the tactical nous on show from both sides, very little actually happened in terms of goalmouth action.

Tuesday night’s battle, on the other hand, wasn’t anywhere near as pretty, in fact it was rarely so. But that only added to the spectacle.

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While I was struggling to find things to write about in South Wales on Saturday, on Tuesday night I was frantically trying to keep up with the action, my head firmly buried in my head in my laptop. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

From the first minute until the last, it was thunderous, intense, aggressive, with everything done at a rapid tempo. It was utterly captivating.

Blackpool more than played their part too, despite having to withstand a barrage of pressure from the high-flying away side, who produced 23 shots on goal.

For the stats lovers, 38 shots were attempted by both sides and the game ended with a combined Expected Goals (xG) of 4.61 – the highest xG of a game to end goalless across the top four tiers of English football so far this season.

Gary Madine and CJ Hamilton both squandered good chances during last night's pulsating encounter

Neil Critchley’s men were under the cosh for periods of the game, but showed heroic bravery, throwing their bodies on the line again and again and again to hold onto a third consecutive draw. I simply lost count of the number of blocks Marvin Ekpiteta, James Husband and Reece James made.

As clean sheets go, this one was certainly well earned.

The Seasiders had their chances though, let’s not forget that. Their opportunities were arguably more clear-cut, too.

Sam Johnstone proved why he’s a regular in Gareth Southgate’s England squads despite plying his trade in the second tier by making two wonder saves in first-half stoppage time.

The Preston-born shot-stopper clawed Gary Madine’s hooked effort away from goal straight to Keshi Anderson, only to leap off the ground to tip the winger’s follow-up around the post. They were breath-taking saves.

Madine later went close with a header he couldn’t quite make enough contact with, having previously had a couple of close-range efforts well blocked.

The returning CJ Hamilton, meanwhile, squandered a priceless chance late on, skewing wide after latching onto Anderson’s delightful through-ball.

If we’re being brutally honest, had the Seasiders snatched it late on that would have been incredibly harsh on the Baggies, who constantly banged on the Blackpool door.

Their chances might not have been as gilt-edged as Pool’s, although Karlan Grant will still be asking himself now how he managed to miss the target at the near post, but their opportunities were still good ones.

Via some admittedly direct play, the visitors forced their way into some promising positions on a relatively regular basis. But that’s where Blackpool’s back four came into their own to keep Valerie Ismael’s side at bay.

Key in doing that were the centre-back pairing of Ekpiteta and Husband, who were simply supreme.

As I wrote recently, Ekpiteta is destined for bigger and better things at some point. He just continues to get better and better.

Aged just 26, equipped with size and pace, improving positionally and on the ball with every game, it’s only a matter of time until a Premier League side comes calling.

Ekpiteta’s contract runs out at the end of the season, but thankfully the club have the option to extend his deal by a further 12 months, which they’ll inevitably do.

The Seasiders need to tie him down to a longer-term contract though, just as they’ve done with Critchley, Chris Maxwell, Kenny Dougall, Jerry Yates and so on.

Husband, meanwhile, continues to silence the doubters who question his credentials at centre-back by producing yet another faultless performance – ending the night sporting a Terry Butcher style head bandage and requiring seven stitches.

He’s a left-back first and foremost and always will be, but when was the last time he let the Seasiders down in the centre? I’ll wait.

Moving up the pitch, Keshi Anderson was in scintillating form, providing the creative spark by dropping in between the lines to dictate Blackpool’s moves in the final third. On another day he could quite easily have had an assist or two and a goal or two.

The only slight concern was the performance of Josh Bowler, who endured an off-night over on the right wing. His end product was found wanting on a number of occasions.

Defensively, meanwhile, he provided scarce support for right-back Jordan Gabriel, who had his hands full with the tricky Conor Townsend early on.

With the return of Hamilton and the indifferent form of Demetri Mitchell, it will be interesting to see who gets the nod on the right in the weeks and months ahead, whereas Anderson has the left wing role nailed down.

It’s a good headache to have for Critchley, whose side remain unbeaten against the league’s top three sides, having beaten Fulham and held Bournemouth and West Brom to draws.

Even though they’re now without a win in their last four, Blackpool remain in great nick. They’re performing well and sit pretty in the top half of the table.

Is Pool’s head coach satisfied though? Of course he’s not. He wants more and he wants it now.

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