'The excuses are starting to wear thin': Matt Scrafton's verdict on Blackpool's 2-1 defeat at Oxford United
From Blackpool’s own kick-off, Jay Spearing passed the ball back to Ben Heneghan, the defender taking a touch before seeing his long ball forward charged down.
Jordan Thorniley then conceded a needless free-kick in a dangerous area of the pitch and was subsequently booked for his indiscretion.
All of this happened inside the opening 30 seconds of Saturday’s encounter at the Kassam Stadium. Talk about setting the right tone.
To be fair, what transpired in the following 89 minutes did get better – but only slightly.
When you hear supporters saying “well, at least it wasn’t as bad as Wycombe” then it tells you all you need to know.
Under-fire manager Simon Grayson insists his side played well. The majority of the 476 Blackpool fans in attendance will beg to differ.
Because this was yet another stodgy display, where the Seasiders remained in the game yet never did enough to fully convince. That, unfortunately, isn’t quite good enough.
Pool actually took the lead, something that hasn’t happened in the league since the trip to Tranmere Rovers just before the New Year.
Gary Madine took it very well, too, showing calmness and composure to twist and turn inside the Oxford box before cooly slotting home beyond goalkeeper Simon Eastwood in the 10th minute.
Yes, it has to be said there was an element of luck in how the ball landed at Madine’s feet, the ball ricocheting off Liam Feeney following a challenge with two Oxford defenders, but the Seasiders will take whatever they can get at the moment.
Just as Grayson’s men were beginning to settle into a rhythm, with Connor Ronan and Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall impressing with their guile in midfield, Oxford produced a leveller out of nowhere, meaning the lead lasted just seven minutes.
The Seasiders, failing to heed their lessons from past games, were once again undone down their left-hand side.
Ronan took too long to get out to Sam Long by the touchline, the full-back delivering a cross that Pool failed to deal with.
It bounced nicely for the dangerous Marcus Browne whose goalbound shot deflected off teammate Mark Sykes, wrongfooting goalkeeper Chris Maxwell on his Blackpool debut. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, when your luck’s not in…
But there was no luck involved in Browne’s finish for Oxford’s second, which proved to be the decisive strike of the afternoon.
Panic had fully set in among Blackpool’s backline in the opening half, both Heneghan and Thorniley struggling for pace against Oxford’s dangerous forwards.
Pool once again failed to deal with a fairly basic cross swung into their box three minutes before the interval, the ball landing to Browne at the back post – who was left completely unmarked, and not for the first time – allowing the on-loan Middlesbrough man to curl a beauty into the top corner.
It could have got worse for the Seasiders, Nathan Holland wasting good chances for the home side either side of the half-time break.
Grayson believes Pool controlled the second half and yet I didn’t see much evidence of that. If they did, why didn’t they create many clear-cut chances?
A Ben Heneghan header aside, Pool struggled to fashion any opportunities off their own back. In fact, they were fortunate not to find themselves out of the game for good when Browne raced through on goal only for his shot to be denied by the legs of Maxwell.
Blackpool’s golden chance to snatch a point came in the fourth of six minutes added on, George Thorne’s stray passback rolling straight to Madine.
One-on-one with the goalkeeper, the striker surely had to score. But, alas, he didn’t, his curling strike hitting the outside of the post.
That was that, confirmation of yet another defeat for the Seasiders: now six in seven league outings.
It leaves the team, who have now failed to win any of their last 10 encounters in all competitions, 15th in the League One table and 13 points off the play-offs.
At the time of their last win, which came against Fylde coast neighbours Fleetwood Town on December 7, Pool were fourth and just two points off the top two.
Blackpool are now closer to the relegation zone than they are to the top six. That slide is unforgivable.
The rot has set in and time must surely be running out for Grayson, with next week’s home clash against relegation-certs Southend United a must-win.
Grayson, who previously claimed he didn’t have the required quality at his disposal, can no longer use that excuse given he brought in 12 of his own players during last month’s transfer window.
Instead, we’re now hearing how the new arrivals will need time to bed in before we will start to see the best out of them.
But, while that bears a resemblance of truth, the excuses are beginning to wear thin. New signings or not, the man in charge simply isn’t getting the best out of the players at his disposal.
Constantly swapping and changing his team and system can’t be helping, either.
I understand why he’s doing it, to desperately scrap around for that ‘winning formula’, but it can’t help the players when what they’re being told to do differs from one moment to the next.
Pool need to stick to a set formation and keep it, so the players who are picked for the team know their roles and responsibilities.
It looked to the world that the Seasiders were lining up a 3-5-2 system, yet Grayson revealed post-match it was 4-4-2. If that was the case, Connor Ronan - a central midfielder - was supposedly playing left-wing.
Rooted to the bottom of the League One form table, things have got to change and fast.
Having previously looked solid at the back yet toothless up front, the Seasiders are now looking blunt at the top end of the pitch and frail at the other.
As we all know, that’s a recipe for disaster.