Lavery and Keshi brilliance, defensive solidity and back-to-back wins: Why Barnsley victory proves Blackpool are adapting to the Championship
As 1-0 wins go, you don’t get much more comfortable than this.
The Seasiders were the hungrier side from start to finish and Barnsley – last season’s surprise package, let’s not forget, who reached the play-offs – rarely troubled the Blackpool goal.
Neil Critchley’s men are beginning to find their feet in their new surroundings in the Championship and are now able to boast their first back-to-back victories of the season.
Not only that, they’ve won three of their last four but – perhaps more importantly – they’re beginning to look a lot like their old selves, the side that motored their way to promotion from League One last season.
Blackpool’s pressing and counter-pressing is back to where it was after making an admittedly nervy, jittery step-up to the second tier.
As a result, they’re looking a lot more solid defensively, especially in the centre of their back four where the increasingly improving Marvin Ekpiteta continues to strike up a solid relationship with the experienced Richard Keogh.
It was always going to take Critchley’s men a bit of time to adapt to a new division, but the signs are looking good.
That’s not a fickle judgement based on a good run of results, it’s based on watching their performances. Even in the 3-0 defeat to Huddersfield Town, the Seasiders played some good stuff and deserved a lot more from that game. The scoreline didn’t tell the whole story at all.
As good as Blackpool were, their opponents weren’t up to much. The Tykes looked like Plymouth in their green away kit and they resembled a League One side for most of this encounter.
Come the full-time whistle, it was no surprise to see them booed off by the 3,000 away fans that had made the trip across the Pennines. They knew their side had been well beaten and deserved nothing from the game.
Blackpool were in control from the very first minute, the only complaint being the margin of their victory wasn’t greater.
The men in tangerine certainly had their chances. Shayne Lavery probably ought to have scored long before he eventually broke the deadlock when, just six minutes in, he was denied by Barnsley keeper Brad Collins from close range.
It followed some wonderful play from Keshi Anderson over on the left wing, who waltzed past his marker before laying it on a plate for the Northern Irishman who was unable to fire either side of the Barnsley shot stopper.
It wouldn’t be the first time Anderson and Lavery combined well, but unfortunately it wouldn’t be the first time Collins thwarted the Seasiders, either.
Anderson, who was in electric form during the first-half, turned provider for Luke Garbutt, whose attempted pullback rebounded to him kindly. With only the keeper to beat, albeit from a tight angle, Collins would come out on top once again.
It continued to be one-way traffic though, with Barnsley – who rarely ventured forward – only threatening three minutes before the interval through Victor Adeboyejo, whose low shot was well saved by Chris Maxwell in the Blackpool goal.
At that point in the game, the home side had already edged their noses in front and wasted another golden chance to double their lead.
Starting with the goal, first. The opportunity appeared to come completely out of nowhere, but having reviewed the footage it’s a sublime piece of skill from Anderson that completely bamboozles the Barnsley defence to set Lavery free.
It was originally a tight angle for the 22-year-old, but Lavery simply took a neat touch to settle himself and opened his body to create a more inviting view of the Barnsley goal. The far corner of the net was the place to hit and Lavery didn’t disappoint, rifling a low effort across Collins to send Bloomfield Road into raptures.
It was actually the first goal Blackpool have scored in the first-half of a league game this season.
But back to Lavery, it's not just his goals that have been so impressive since his move to the Fylde coast, it’s his all-round game. It’s the way he presses, the way he closes down and wins the ball back high up the pitch for his team.
It’s the way he chases down seemingly lost causes down near the corner flag and the manner in which he gets himself into scoring positions game after game after game. He’s just absolutely relentless.
Nine minutes after Lavery’s opener and, barely 60 seconds before Maxwell had denied Adeboyejo, Lavery’s strike partner Tyreece John-Jules wasted a gilt-edged chance to make it two.
The Arsenal loanee, who is still yet to open his account for the Seasiders in 10 appearances, was sent through one-on-one with Collins, but once again it was the Barnsley man who came out on top.
John-Jules, who looks low on confidence and was said to be beating himself up at half-time, never truly looked convincing though as he surged towards goal, it must be said.
The 20-year-old played well on Saturday though, kept at it and continued to battle. He just needs to keep his head up and the goals will come.
The second-half was a little more even, but still it was Blackpool who were doing most of the running. While Barnsley had a bit of a go, especially towards the end, you never truly felt under threat.
Five minutes from time, Michal Helik was left unmarked from a Barnsley corner, but could only head wide.
Four minutes later, and with the clock ticking towards the 90, a hopeful ball in from the right deflected right into the path of Cauley Woodrow, but Maxwell was there to make another important stop.
Had Barnsley, who have only won one of their opening eight league games, equalised in such a fortuitous manner, it really would have been the cruelest of blows for Critchley’s men.
But they held on for a richly deserved three points to take them up to 14th in the table, five points clear of the bottom three.
Not only that, the Seasiders also leapfrog PNE. Happy days indeed.
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