Key talking points from Blackpool’s narrow pre-season friendly defeat to Burnley
Blackpool’s pre-season preparations continued last night with a highly competitive friendly against Premier League side Burnley.
The Seasiders competed well against the Clarets, eventually going down to a slender 1-0 defeat.
Defender Bobby Thomas was the man to win it for Dyche’s side, heading home from a corner with 13 minutes remaining.
Here, The Gazette’s Blackpool FC writer Matt Scrafton takes a look at some of the key talking points from last night’s encounter at Bloomfield Road...
A real step-up
I’ll hold my hands up, I’m not a huge fan of pre-season friendlies. They tend to be a real drag and are usually nothing more than glorified training sessions. Nothing compares to the real thing. But I really enjoyed last night’s game. It was a great test for the Seasiders and a real step-up from their previous outings against Southport, Accrington Stanley and Carlisle United. It helped having a good crowd, as the atmosphere was far better than the sparse terraces suggested. There was some good-natured barbs exchanged between the two Lancashire rivals and the energy in the stands was matched by the tempo and intensity of the football on the pitch. It made for an entertaining encounter, with both sides having a proper go and not just passing the ball around for the sake of it. Surely the best way to build up fitness and prepare yourself for competitive action is to do exactly that, play some competitive football. That’s what it felt like last night and the players will be much better for it.
Catching the eye
CJ Hamilton was Blackpool’s standout performer on the night. Matt Lowton, a regular performer in the top flight, struggled to cope with the flying winger in the first-half and it was no coincidence Blackpool’s clearest opportunities came down the left flank. Hamilton can often be guilty of a lack of composure in the final third once he beats his man for fun, but last night his crossing was top notch. Elsewhere, James Husband continues to look assured playing in the centre of defence. Despite making a couple of early mistakes, forced by the intensity of Burnley’s ferocious high press, Husband always recovered well and was otherwise on top form against the dangerous James Rodriguez. His centre-back partner Richard Keogh also performed well on his first start for the club, heading away everything that came within five yards or him. Chris Maxwell also had a magnificent night in goal, but we almost take that for granted now. He made three or four really eye-catching stops though.
Out to impress
After a 45-minute cameo at Carlisle on Saturday, trialist Mitch Clark was given 90 minutes against Burnley to show Neil Critchley what he can do. The Leicester City defender started nervously, but so did the rest of the team. Pool were on the backfoot early on and struggled to deal with Burnley’s pressure, which forced the backline - not just Clark - into some careless errors. Despite having his hands full with the lively Dwight McNeill, the 22-year-old recovered well and went on to enjoy a good game. Defensively, he looks solid. His positional play is strong and he clearly loves a meaty challenge. He also produced a couple of vital last-ditch blocks just when it looked like the Clarets were about to score. Offensively we didn’t see a great deal of Clark, but the same can be said of Luke Garbutt over on the other side of defence. That was more to do with being stifled by their Premier League opponents, I’d argue, than an unwillingness to get forward and attack. We saw in the second-half at Carlisle at the weekend that Clark is more than happy to support the winger down the flank and provide an overlap. It will be interesting to see if the right-back gets another chance to impress at Morecambe on Saturday, but a decision has yet to be made on that one.
13 - unlucky for some
Despite having Daniel Grimshaw, Oliver Casey, Reece James, Cameron Antwi and Shayne Lavery back in the fold, the Seasiders were still without 13 players last night. Some of those are players we might never see in a Blackpool shirt again, individuals like Teddy Howe, Bez Lubala and Joe Nuttall. But others would be considered first-team regulars if fit and available, I’m thinking about the likes of Daniel Gretarsson, Marvin Ekpiteta, Kenny Dougall, Kevin Stewart and Keshi Anderson. Matty Virtue and Gary Madine also remain injured, while Stuart Moore, Jordan Thorniley and Josh Bowler were also absent. Neil Critchley is hopeful of having one or two back for Saturday’s final friendly of pre-season at Morecambe, but nevertheless, this is far from ideal preparation for the Seasiders ahead of what was already going to be a major task in making the step-up to the Championship. Even with everybody fit and available, Pool could do with two or three more additions - recruits that would go straight into the first-team, too, not just backup. Thankfully they have time on their side in that pursuit, with the transfer window not closing until August 31. But time is ticking until the season gets underway at Bristol City, it’s now just 10 days away.
Subtle changes in style
I mentioned after Saturday’s friendly at Carlisle how the Seasiders appear to be shifting slowly into a slightly different style of play. At Brunton Park, Keshi Anderson and Demetri Mitchell would often stray in from wide positions, dropping into the pockets where they control and turn at their market, who would be conflicted between following his man - risking opening up space behind him - or allowing them to drop into space and risk having them run at them with pace and power. Last night against Burnley, we saw Pool play out from the back time and time again, something we only saw sparingly in League One last season. Despite being pressurised high up the pitch, Critchley’s side kept faith with that approach in their bid to build-up attacks. On a couple of occasions, individuals would panic and send the ball long to avoid an embarrassing mistake close to the Blackpool goal. But more often than not, they showed the sort of bravery they’ll have to display in the Championship this coming season if they’re going to be successful. As Pool’s head coach said post-match, when you’re being pressed like Burnley did, you simply have to get your technique and your touch, as well as your decision-making, absolutely spot on. Otherwise you’ll be punished. But equally, if you’re able to pick out the right pass and beat the opposition’s press, the pitch will open up and the likes of Demetri Mitchell and CJ Hamilton will have acres of space to attack.
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