Blunt in attack as growing absentee list begins to take its toll: Matt Scrafton's verdict on Blackpool's defeat at Nottingham Forest
This was always going to be a tricky assignment, regardless of whether or not Neil Critchley had a full assignment of players available to him.
Missing as many as nine players through injury, illness or other, which became 10 when Kevin Stewart limped off during the second-half at the City Ground, it’s actually quite impressive how the Seasiders managed to remain as competitive as they did.
That won’t be the attitude of Critchley, his staff and his players, of course. They’ll naturally be disappointed to lose their mini unbeaten run of four games and will refuse to use the absences as an excuse, just as they didn’t last season.
They’re absolutely right to adopt that approach, too. Once you begin to use them as an excuse, convenient or otherwise, complacency is bound to set in and the players that do take to the field are given an immediate getout clause.
The rest of us, however, are well within our rights to point to the absences, particularly of number one goalkeeper and captain Chris Maxwell as well as the club’s top goalscorer Shayne Lavery, and extoll their significance.
Even if those players were present and hadn’t suffered those costly injuries in the win against Blackburn Rovers, Blackpool’s last outing before the ill-timed international break, this was the wrong time to be playing Nottingham Forest.
Having lost six of their first seven games under Chris Hughton, who unsurprisingly faced the sack, the Reds are now a resurgent outfit under Steve Cooper. The East Midland outfit have now won four of their last five.
Forest already possessed a squad packed full of quality, they just needed a talented coach like Cooper – formerly of Swansea City – to get the best out of them.
The home side were well drilled on Saturday and were potent on the counter-attack when they unleashed the dangerous Brennan Johnson in behind. Once Forest edged their noses in front for a second time, there was only going to be one winner.
Blackpool’s response, as Crtichley admitted himself post-match, was something of a damp squib. They never really took to the game to Cooper’s men and the game fizzled out in a disappointing fashion.
The Seasiders trailed by the one goal at half-time after what had been a fairly dull and uninspiring first-half, which was played out in front of Forest’s biggest crowd of the campaign beside the River Trent.
Neither side created any real chances, other than the one that resulted in Forest’s goal.
From the home side’s point of view, it was a cleverly worked and well executed team move, as Joe Worrall picked out Max Lowe with an arching diagonal.
Jordan Gabriel, lining up against the side that he played for barely two months ago, was caught underneath the crossfield ball, allowing Lowe to play a clever cross across the face of the Blackpool goal, giving Johnson a fairly simple tap-in at the back post.
Blackpool struggled to pose much of an attacking threat in the opening 45 minutes, other than a few breaks which broke down in frustrating fashion due to indecisiveness and poor decision-making – the Achilles heel of Blackpool’s season to date, you might say.
While Josh Bowler was Blackpool’s main threat, an end product continues to elude him. His dribbling ability is a joy to watch at times, he breezes past players with ease. But it’s one thing working yourself into promising situations, it’s another to capitalise on them. That’s what must come next.
Over on the left, meanwhile, Tyreece John-Jules – in for the absent Keshi Anderson – is drastically short on confidence and played like it. The Arsenal loanee is still yet to find the back of the net in his 12 appearances this term.
In attack, Blackpool must offer more of a threat, especially when they’re without the boundless energy of Lavery.
Nevertheless, Critchley will be encouraged to see last season’s talisman Jerry Yates notch for the second game running – firing Blackpool level at the start of the second-half after Forest’s keeper had made a hash of Bowler’s lofted right-wing cross.
The Seasiders weren’t level for long though, eight minutes in fact.
Just like Forest’s first, the second also came down Blackpool’s right. It’s easy to point the finger at Gabriel, who certainly didn’t have the best of games, but was Bowler doing enough in front of him to provide support?
One must also feel sympathy for Dan Grimshaw, who was starting a league game for the first time in his career, because the former Man City youngster made a fabulous save to deny Worrall, only for the ball to rebound straight to Lewis Grabban to steer home.
Grimshaw, aged 23, was otherwise pretty solid after an understandably nervy start, having been given the nod over Stuart Moore in Maxwell’s absence.
Marvin Ekpiteta, meanwhile, will have been proud to have been given the captain’s armband. The defender was playing his football in non-league just two years ago, let’s not forget.
There are positives to take, but the Seasiders can’t dwell on this for too long as they head to in-form Reading on Wednesday night before the big one next weekend.
There’s no need for supporters to get too disheartened by this defeat, it’s only Blackpool’s first in their last five outings for a start.
The only nagging concern is whether or not their mounting list of absentees begins to have a noticeable impact on their form.
Last season they managed to navigate their injury, suspension and Covid crises expertly, but that was League One and this is the Championship.
This level is brutal and you have to be on the right side of the fine margins to even be within a shout of claiming three points.
Unfortunately on Saturday that wasn’t the case for Critchley’s troops, who felt they had two strong appeals for a penalty. The second of which came just three minutes before Grabban’s winner.
Such is life though, there’s no good moaning about it.
Thanks for reading. If you value what we do and are able to support us, a digital subscription is just £1 for your first month. Try us today by clicking here