Key talking points from Blackpool's pre-season friendly draw against Morecambe
Blackpool’s pre-season preparations continued yesterday with a 1-1 draw against League One newcomers Morecambe.
The Seasiders recovered from going a goal down to Wes McDonald’s opener, which came against the run of play.
CJ Hamilton got Neil Critchley’s men back on level terms, scrambling home from close range after Keshi Anderson had rattled the crossbar.
Here, The Gazette’s Blackpool FC writer Matt Scrafton takes a look at some of the key talking points from Saturday’s encounter at the Mazuma Stadium…
A mixed bag
The Seasiders, by and large, totally controlled this encounter against a good Morecambe side fresh from a play-off promotion of their own. Their build-up play was largely good but, once they created an opening and found themselves in a promising position, that’s where they let themselves down. Too often they displayed a lack of decisiveness with their final ball, often choosing the wrong option or failing to pick out a teammate in the final third. It was a familiar tale from last season whenever they came up against a side lower in the table that would set out to frustrate them (the back-to-back defeats against Rochdale and Shrewsbury come to mind). At the other end, the Seasiders were susceptible to the counter-attack, especially in the first-half and as evidenced by Morecambe’s goal, where Luke Garbutt was caught out of position and James Husband was dragged out from the centre, creating space in the box for the hosts to exploit. Neil Critchley’s men, to their credit, improved on this in the second period. Nevertheless, this is something for Pool to work on, although the chances of a Championship side sitting deep in such numbers this coming season are relatively slim - thankfully!
Not what the doctor ordered
The biggest concern from yesterday’s game was seeing Demetri Mitchell hobble off the pitch during the second-half. The winger looked to be in some discomfort, having initially tried to play on after receiving treatment from the physio. Once Mitchell realised he couldn’t continue, he cried out in anger - as if he knew the seriousness of the injury to his knee already. As Neil Critchley said himself after the game, that’s a worrying, worrying sign. Should it prove to be the case, that would be a major blow for the Seasiders but also to Mitchell himself, who has been Blackpool’s standout performer in pre-season. It would be incredibly cruel, too, given the 24-year-old was in and out of the side last season and had to bide his time to get into the first-team. Just when it looked like Mitchell was making himself a first-team regular, he suffers a nasty-looking knock. Fingers crossed it’s not as serious as it first appeared.
Still awaiting the final touches
Would it be incredibly harsh to say Blackpool’s squad, as it stands, is currently weaker than the side that won promotion at Wembley in May? Or is that just being realistic? It was always going to be a major ask to replace the likes of Dan Ballard, Jordan Gabriel, Elliot Embleton and Ellis Simms - four loanees that played a major role in Blackpool’s play-off triumph last term. The recent signing of Tyreece John-Jules should go some way to replacing Simms, who it appears will be sidelined until September time - although the height and physicality of the Everton frontman will be a major absence. Elsewhere, the Seasiders are still looking to find a new right-back (more on that later), while Neil Critchley could really do with a creative spark like Embleton, who has been ripping it up for Sunderland in pre-season. Blackpool certainly have depth in the centre of defence, with Richard Keogh and Oliver Casey joining the ranks this summer, but Ballard’s quality will still be a miss. Thankfully the club still has a month to complete its business, with the transfer window not closing until August 31. Those final additions could go a long way to deciding Blackpool’s fate this season.
Getting bodies back
It’s fair to say Blackpool’s pre-season hasn’t exactly gone to plan. At one point the Seasiders were without 16 players. Some were out through Covid, others were injured while two or three have been frozen out completely. That number dropped to 13 for the midweek game against Burnley, before dropping even further to just eight for yesterday’s game against Morecambe. Jordan Thorniley and Kenny Dougall are injured, according to Neil Critchley. That’s also the case for Daniel Gretarsson and Gary Madine, who are said to be making good progress in their recoveries from surgery. Matty Virtue, as we know, is a longer-term absence. Then there’s Teddy Howe, Bez Lubala and Joe Nuttall, who are still nowhere to be seen and are highly unlikely to be anywhere near Blackpool’s final 25-man squad once it’s decided. On a more positive note, Stuart Moore, Oliver Casey, Marvin Ekpiteta, Kevin Stewart, Josh Bowler and Keshi Anderson returned on Saturday. Squad depth is going to be vitally important in the Championship this coming season, just as it was last term. Time and time again Neil Critchley would be without key members of his first-team but, because of the squad’s strong mentality and the head coach’s tactical work, they somehow managed to not just cope, but found a way to thrive. That’s simply going to have to be the case again this coming campaign.
Trial comes to an end
Neil Critchley confirmed to me after yesterday’s game that trialist Mitch Clark had returned to Leicester City and won’t be moving to Bloomfield Road. The 22-year-old trained with the Seasiders for a week-and-a-half, getting 45 minutes in the 1-0 win against Carlisle United before playing the full 90 against Burnley. The right-back looked solid enough and did himself no harm, but at the same time he probably didn’t do enough to convince Neil Critchley and co that he was worthy of a deal - whether that would have been a permanent one or a loan. The right-back got forward well against Carlisle, overlapping and providing good support to Demetri Mitchell and CJ Hamilton, who would often swap flanks. Against Burnley, it was the defensive side of his game that was tested, and he did well, recovering from a nervy start against the tricky Dwight McNeil before making two vital last-ditch blocks in the second-half. Was he an upgrade on Ollie Turton and Jordan Gabriel? Probably not. Can the Seasiders find better? You’d like to think so. But with Callum Connolly the only man in the squad capable of playing in that position - and even then he looks far better suited in the centre - time is not on Blackpool’s side. Yes, they still have a month to find their man, but in a perfect world you’d want them in the building ahead of next week’s curtain raiser at Bristol City.
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