Far too soon to be talking of a reality check: Matt Scrafton's verdict on Blackpool's late defeat to Birmingham City
We’re getting to the point with the Seasiders now where we’re all getting a bit greedy – and I mean that in the best way possible.
Perhaps we all got a little giddy when Neil Critchley’s men momentarily moved into the top six after the hard-fought 1-0 win at Sheffield United at the end of October. Perhaps we thought that’s where they now belong.
But after a run of five games without a win, a little bit of disappointment has set in. Has reality set in too?
I don’t think so, but a little reality check every now and then isn’t so much of a bad thing. This is the Championship after all, these runs happen to the very best, so a newly-promoted side can’t expect to escape without a bit of punishment.
To get some perspective, the Seasiders are still 11th. They’re only five points adrift of the play-offs and boast an 11-point buffer to the bottom three.
As King Kenny himself said, the fact that Pool are disappointed they’re only just scraping into the top-half of the table is an excellent sign for a side that were 15th in League One at this stage last year.
Nevertheless, that’s not to say Blackpool are without their issues.
Goalscoring has been a common issue this season and it has reared its head in recent weeks, Pool scoring just three times in their last five outings.
Over the course of the season, meanwhile, Critchley’s men have netted just 20 times in 20 games.
To put that into some perspective, Fulham striker Aleksander Mitrovic has scored one more than that by himself.
That’s a bit of an unfair comparison to make, admittedly, as the Serbian spearheads a Fulham side that are free scoring, have quality across the park and create chances for fun, but there’s no doubt the Seasiders need to be doing better in front of goal.
I’d be a lot more concerned if they never looked like scoring, but they’re creating opportunities and, perhaps most notably, they’re getting into promising positions time and time again. That, though, is where they let themselves down.
At St Andrew’s, Blackpool’s counter-attacking and combination play was a joy to behold at times, especially during the first-half – a half in which they dominated thanks to some incisive, penetrative stuff.
With the attacking trio of Keshi Anderson, Demetri Mitchell and Owen Dale causing havoc behind focal point Gary Madine, the visitors were a real menace and had Birmingham pinned back for large parts.
Anderson was at the epicentre of all of Blackpool’s good attacking play in the first 45 minutes, dinking his way past challenges, dropping his shoulder to avoid interceptions and producing some sparkling one and two-touch football, with Mitchell especially.
But for all this good play, Blackpool had nothing to show for it.
They were getting into some good positions in the final third on a fairly regular basis, but too often their final pass or their final shot let them down.
You sensed Blackpool’s pressure would eventually tell. They looked far hungrier than the hosts, who offered absolutely nothing other than the odd long throw and set-piece.
For large parts, the Seasiders made the home side look ordinary. In open play, Lee Bowyer’s men were as poor as I’ve seen in the Championship this season.
But they stuck to their task and they carried out their game plan to a tee. Whenever the ball went out of play, which was frustratingly often, they’d take an age to get the ball back on the pitch. It was all done to disrupt Blackpool’s game and it worked.
The referee, meanwhile, was a fussy official and had no interest in letting the game flow.
It’s hardly expert analysis, but the longer the ball remained on the pitch and, more importantly, on the floor, the more likely Blackpool would win it. When the away side got sucked into a physical, direct battle, that’s when the Blues got on top.
Then again, that’s not to say Birmingham’s goal was coming. They enjoyed a bit of pressure in the second-half and Pool certainly weren’t as strong or as dominant as they were in the first, but it’s not like the hosts were camped in their half and constantly banging on the door.
This had all the hallmarks of another draw, Pool’s fourth on the spin, which wouldn’t have been the worst result in the world. Critchley and his players still wouldn’t have been wholly satisfied, but a point on the road with a winnable home game coming up can’t be sniffed at.
Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way.
With just nine minutes left on the clock, Birmingham made the breakthrough with what would transpire to be the decisive moment in the game.
A left-wing cross pinballed off one man straight into the path of substitute Lukas Jutkiewic who knew absolutely nothing about it as the ball spun off his thigh and into the back of the net. There was a whiff of offside about it, but replays were inconclusive.
And while Pool had a half decent shout for a penalty waved away when Shayne Lavery appeared to be wiped out in the box, the officials can’t be blamed for Blackpool’s defeat. That lies solely at their own door.
Despite controlling much of the game, clear-cut chances were hard to come by.
Other than Josh Bowler being denied by a fine save in the second-half, when the game remained goalless, the away side struggled to test the goalkeeper.
Madine flicked an effort over after running across his man at the near post, while Mitchell dipped a free-kick agonisingly wide. But that was about it. One shot on target all afternoon tells its own story.
Birmingham weren’t exactly creative, either. This was a game low on quality and low on action, played in bitterly cold conditions. It certainly wasn’t pretty.
“Shall we just agree on a draw now and go home?”, one Birmingham fan asked at half-time as he walked past the press box. If only we could wind back the clock and take up his offer.
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