'Death by long throw': The Gazette's verdict as Blackpool are given an ice-cold wake-up call in defeat to Cardiff City
Welcome back to the Championship, huh?
I’ve not spoken to a single Blackpool fan since that day at Wembley that was under any illusion life back in the second tier would be anything other than difficult.
The gap between this division and League One is growing by the year and, while Neil Critchley’s side got off to a solid enough start at Bristol City on the opening weekend, it’s fair to say they were second best for an hour at least, if not longer.
But Saturday’s defeat to Cardiff City provided something of a wake-up call, akin to being rudely stirred from a slumber by a bucket of ice-cold water.
Mick McCarthy’s side finished in eighth place last season and have been widely tipped to challenge for promotion this coming campaign. It’s easy to see why.
The Bluebirds were physically imposing yet tactically astute. It’s easy to be drawn in by their direct and yes, relatively unsubtle approach and label them nothing more than a long-ball team.
Even if that was the case, so what? Their style of play is clearly effective.
But it ignores the intelligence of their play, the clever timing of their closing down and the quality on the ball they possess.
The Seasiders had a mammoth 66 per cent of the possession on Saturday and yet you wouldn’t have noticed, because they did very little with it. Or they weren’t allowed to, rather.
Cardiff were happy enough for Blackpool’s two centre-backs to bring the ball out, safe in the knowledge they wouldn’t be able to pick out a penetrative forward pass.
I lost count of the number of times Richard Keogh and James Husband wandered forward aimlessly with no options ahead of them.
As a result, they had no option but to loft a ball forward – usually to Jerry Yates – who would get eaten up by Cardiff’s giant backline.
I’ve never known a side that has so many tall players. For a start, there’s Aden Flint (6ft 5ins), Sean Morrison (6ft 4ins), Marlon Pack (6ft 2ins), James Collins (6ft 2ins) and substitute Kieffer Moore (6ft 5ins).
Even their ‘smaller’ players were around six foot or so. As Critchley said post-match, the Seasiders were coming up against the land of the giants.
It was no surprise, then, that Cardiff were physically imposing and aerially dominant. At times it seemed like they were winning every 50-50 aerial contest in the Blackpool box.
Yet the Seasiders didn’t help their own cause and even played into Cardiff’s hands at times, conceding cheap free-kicks, corners and long throws. The Seasiders struggled – nay, failed – to deal with the latter, in particular.
This wasn’t death by a thousand cuts, this was death by long throw.
How the home side, roared on by the boisterous Pool faithful in the club’s first home league game of the season, managed to remain on level terms in the opening half, I’ve no idea.
Cardiff created a host of clear-cut chances, but the Blackpool goal appeared to be living a charmed life.
Chris Maxwell made two excellent saves, Flint hit the underside of the bar with an acrobatic volley and Collins somehow managed to turn the ball over from as far out as two, maybe three yards.
It would have been the ultimate insult for the visitors had Blackpool edged ahead on the stroke of half-time when the isolated Yates enjoyed a rare opening, twisting past his man before fizzing a low shot across the face of goal.
What was most worrying was that the Seasiders failed to learn from their first-half lesson, producing a similarly laboured display at the start of the second period.
Seven minutes after the interval, Cardiff finally edged their noses in front. Not one person of Blackpool persuasion could argue it wasn’t deserved.
The route of Cardiff’s opener? A long throw. Pack’s catapult into the Blackpool box was flicked towards the back post where Leandro Bacuna had the simple task of nodding home high into the roof of the net.
Ironically, the goal seemed to wake the Seasiders up. Either that, or it was the spine-tingling response from the North Stand, chanting and spurring their team on like it was their side that had just scored.
For the first time in the afternoon, Cardiff were finally put on the back foot. Grant Ward became increasingly influential and Keshi Anderson was finding more of the ball in the pockets in-between midfield and the forward line.
Still, chances were tough to come by. But, once Josh Bowler and Shayne Lavery were both brought off the bench – they were unfortunate to be there in the first place – the Seasiders began to throw caution to the wind and throw men forward.
This inevitably left gaps for the away side to exploit, but so be it. Live by the sword, die by the sword.
The decisive moment in the game came with five minutes left on the clock, when the marauding Callum Connolly powered an effort towards goal which thundered into the arm of a Cardiff defender.
The referee ignored Pool’s passionate appeals for a penalty and, barely 20 seconds later, Cardiff had the ball in the back of the net following a swift counter-attack, Ryan Giles’ pinpoint cross finished by Moore in emphatic fashion.
It has to be said, it was a sensational break. But should the Bluebirds have been allowed to make it? Critchley certainly didn’t think so but, equally, he had no qualms about the result.
There are positives to take from this game though. Against both Bristol City and Cardiff the Seasiders have remained resolute and found a way to stay in both games. That’s a good skill to have.
But if Blackpool are going to master this new style of play, they’re going to have to show more bravery. Too often they would panic in the face of intense closing down and send the ball long, where it would inevitably get swallowed up and come back in an instant.
Throughout the game, there was no faulting Blackpool’s effort or endeavour. Their application was there for all to see.
But they were comprehensively beaten by a very good Cardiff side. A Cardiff side that should be there or thereabouts when it comes to the top-six shake-up come the end of the season.
We shouldn’t read too much into this display and result though, not every team in the Championship is of Cardiff’s standard or physical make-up.
Tuesday night, for example, will be a completely different game against a Coventry City outfit that are likely to finish in a similar position in the league table to Blackpool.
That game should tell us a lot more about Blackpool’s aims and aspirations this coming term, not this.
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