Hoodoo, back-to-back defeats and play-off anxiety: Matt Scrafton's verdict on Blackpool's worrying defeat to Shrewsbury Town
Bogey teams, hoodoos, jinxes...all a load of nonsense, right?
I consider myself to be a fully grown adult (don't you snigger), so the idea of a football club having a “bogey team” seems entirely preposterous – but perhaps I’m now beginning to believe.
Blackpool simply can’t beat Shrewsbury Town. In recent times, they can’t even score against them.
They’ve failed to tame the Shrews since 1997, when Gary Megson’s side claimed a 3-1 victory at a snowy Gay Meadow.
Since then, they’ve suffered and endured 10 defeats and three draws. In 11 of those 13 games, the Seasiders have failed to even find the back of the net.
Since joining The Gazette in 2016, I’ve watched eight encounters between these two sides. Blackpool have only scored once, a Nathan Delfouneso strike during a 1-1 draw with the then promotion-chasing Shrews in 2018.
With all due respect to the Shropshire outfit, they’re not exactly Real Madrid, are they? For the past quarter of a century, they’ve bounced around the bottom echelons of the English pyramid so what’s behind this bizarre anomaly?
On Saturday, the reason was loud and clear. Worryingly, Neil Critchley’s side could have played for another 90 minutes and they’d have struggled to score. In truth, it was a similar story against lowly Rochdale during the week.
I think we all know Blackpool’s great form wasn’t going to last forever, but to suffer back-to-back defeats to two sides in the bottom half of the table has come at precisely the wrong time for them.
Just as we were beginning to dream of a fairly uneventful end to the season where the Seasiders would seal their spot in the play-offs with games to spare, the pressure is now well and truly on.
Thankfully their fate still remains in their hands. With four games to go, they’re still inside the top six. But their buffer, their points gap, which stood at five points a week ago, has been well and truly wiped out, although Pool do still have a game in hand on Portsmouth, the side that currently occupy seventh place.
When you’ve just lost two games on the bounce, putting an end to your 16-game unbeaten run and six-month unbeaten streak on home turf, playing Sunderland away in your next fixture isn’t entirely ideal.
But the Black Cats, who are third, but have little chance of reaching Peterborough United in second, have gone six games without a win. That mini-run includes the 1-0 defeat to Pool at Bloomfield Road just a week ago.
Taking on the league’s best sides also brings out the best in the Seasiders, who beat Posh home and away and took four points against league leaders Hull City, who sealed their promotion back to the Championship on Saturday afternoon.
Taking on sides at the bottom who set out to frustrate by sitting deep, however, isn’t exactly Blackpool’s forte. Judging by their last two games, they don’t have the answers, either. With Northampton Town and Bristol Rovers coming up between now and the end of the season, that’s got to be a concern.
Opposition sides have now worked out that if they remain in a low block and starve the Seasiders of space in-between the lines, Critchley’s side will struggle to break them down.
It’s hard to be too critical of Pool, who have been magnificent in recent months to get themselves into a great position. And while they’ve been poor these last couple of games, there’s no suggestion whatsoever that there’s a lack of effort, endeavour or commitment. They’ve just tactically been found wanting and opposition sides have done their homework.
Another major issue is the lack of attacking depth on the bench. When they need a Plan B or an alternative, there isn’t one. With Keshi Anderson, CJ Hamilton and Gary Madine all injured, that’s left Pool relying on Demetri Mitchell, a left-back by trade, and 18-year-old youngster Brad Holmes as the only attacking options.
They’ve managed superbly to get by until this last week, but there was always a feeling in the air that it would catch up with them sooner or later. Let’s hope we haven’t reached that point and this is just a blip.
Pool were marginally better on Saturday than they were at Spotland in midweek. At least on this occasion they had three or four good chances they could point to as a reason for why they lost.
Dan Ballard blazed wastefully over in the first-half, while Jerry Yates wasted two good chances at the start of the second-half. Yates also looked odds on to tap home when Ellis Simms’ cross took a deflection and ballooned over the keeper towards the goalline, only for Shrews defender Matt Pennington to miraculously recover and clear.
That proved to be a pivotal moment in the game because, at the time of Shrewsbury’s winning goal, the Seasiders were finally beginning to play with some impetus and urgency.
But that all came crashing down when they allowed Pennington, a centre-half, to head home unopposed from Harry Chapman’s corner from inside the six-yard box. Whether Chris Maxwell had misjudged the cross, or his marker had lost him, there really is no excuse for a defender to have so much room to nod home from close range.
Ultimately, that proved to be enough because Blackpool didn’t have much of an answer.
They huffed and puffed and altered things tactically, moving to a 4-2-3-1 from their usual 4-4-2, but by then it was too late. Once you get a lead against Blackpool, very rarely do they come back and get a result. That proved to be the case again.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, far from it. If you had offered this position to Pool six or seven weeks ago, at the start of their hectic run of fixtures, they’d have snapped your hands off.
To be inside the play-off spots with four games to go is a wonderful position to be in. But they simply can’t afford to let that opportunity slip through their hands at this vital stage of the season.
Please, don’t do that to us...
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