Lightning strikes twice, regrets, game management and inviting pressure: Matt Scrafton’s verdict on Blackpool’s frustrating draw against AFC Wimbledon
We’re at that stage of the season now - the “business end”, some like to refer to it as - where performances are pretty much irrelevant. Results are all that matter.
The Seasiders have been below-par in their last two outings and yet, in both instances, they were seconds away from grinding out three points. That’s the name of the game now, finding a way to win.
Up until this last week, Blackpool have, by and large, been quite comfortable whenever they’ve been required to see out games this season.
But you just hope Neil Critchley and his men don’t live to regret these two results. It could end up costing them.
The door for the play-offs has been left ajar by Portsmouth, who suffered a surprising hammering at the hands of relegation-threatened Northampton Town on Saturday to lose for the fourth time in just six games.
Had Pool held on against both Crewe Alexandra and AFC Wimbledon, as they were so close to doing, they’d have found themselves three points off the top six with three games in hand to play.
What a position that would have been.
But at times like this, when the conceding of a stoppage-time equaliser causes an inevitable overreaction, some perspective is needed.
I’m sure every side in the division could point to a game where they ‘could’ have held on but they didn’t.
Critchley’s side have only lost one of their last nine league games and they’ve won five of their last eight. They’re still enjoying a rosy patch and still find themselves very much in the mix.
And with 17 games still left to play, sitting seven points off the play-offs with three games in hand isn’t the worst position to be in at all - especially when you factor in the horrendous start they made, losing six of their first nine.
The nadir of that galling run, the sixth defeat, came against AFC Wimbledon in October at Loftus Road, which was their temporary home prior to their move back to Plough Lane.
It was a night those of a Pool persuasion will want to forget, as they slumped to a 1-0 loss and ended the game with nine men after both Dan Ballard and Ethan Robson were shown straight red cards.
It looked as though the Seasiders were going some way to avenge that nightmare evening in the capital when, as they entered the third of four minutes of time added on, they led by the same scoreline.
But Wimbledon continued to pile on the pressure and got their reward when an ambitious long-range strike was diverted by substitute Ollie Palmer beyond Chris Maxwell and into the far corner of the Blackpool net.
While dejection was the overriding feeling, there was also a nagging sense of déjà vu among Pool’s players who were pegged back by Crewe on Tuesday night by an 86th-minute equaliser, having also been leading 1-0. Perhaps lightning can strike twice after all.
The main bone of contention among Blackpool’s fanbase was the nature of the result and how it came about.
Having been second best for much of the first-half, the Seasiders controlled the majority of the second-half and edged their noses in front when Ellis Simms netted at Bloomfield Road for the first time with an opportunistic, poacher’s effort, turning Jerry Yates’ goalbound shot beyond the wrong-footed former Pool loanee Sam Walker.
But rather than build on that one-goal advantage against a side that remains inside League One’s bottom four, they opted to sit back, which only served to invite pressure on themselves.
That flies in the face of what Critchley has previously said would be the case, previously claiming he would prefer his side to remain on the front foot - especially at home - and defend from the front.
Having been quizzed on this post-match, Critchley insists that was the plan all along and he was disappointed with his side’s failure to keep hold of possession and play more of their football in Wimbledon’s half.
So what was the issue exactly? Is it simply a case of human nature, players retreating deeper and deeper, sitting back and holding on and protecting their lead? Was it tiredness? Or did Blackpool’s changes make a difference?
The departure of Simms with 20 minutes remaining certainly seemed to have an impact, as Yates struggled in attack on his own and looked isolated for the remainder of the game. That's where the experience and guile of Gary Madine was definitely missed.
I don’t think the personnel involved in Blackpool’s four substitutions were necessarily the issue, it was the shift in mindset.
Rightly or wrongly, it screamed to their opponents ‘don’t worry, we’re not going to look for a second goal to kill the game, we’re going to sit back, take our chances and try and hold on’.
If that was the message, Wimbledon certainly heard it loud and clear. They capitalised on Blackpool’s timidness, took the initiative and, it has to be said, were well worthy of their point come the final whistle.
The Dons, scoring at Bloomfield Road for the first time since 1982, look a completely different side to the one we saw at Loftus Road earlier in the campaign.
Despite their precarious league position, they were far more progressive in their approach and were willing to take the game to their hosts.
They did exactly that in the first 45 minutes and produced three clear chances, 15-goal striker Joe Pigott being denied by Maxwell on two of those occasions.
Pool hit back and carved some openings of their own, the clearest falling to Demetri Mitchell who had a clever lobbed effort cleared off the goalline.
The Seasiders also appeared to be denied a clear penalty when James Husband was brought down right on the box, but the referee opted to award a free-kick just outside. Replays were inconclusive.
Nevertheless, Blackpool's failure to hold onto the three points had nothing to do with the referee. Let's just hope this missed opportunity doesn't come back to bite them.
Thanks for reading. If you value what we do and are able to support us, a digital subscription is just £1 for your first month. Try us today by clicking here