Match report: McDonald still needs more than Potts luck

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Blackpool may have fallen to their sixth defeat out of eight on Saturday at Gillingham, but strangely this was their best performance of the season.

And there’s two ways to look at that statement I suppose.

One, it’s good to see Neil McDonald’s side making progress and unlike last season the team haven’t already thrown in the towel.

Or two, even when they are the better side, they aren’t good enough to win.

It’s the second point which would worry me most if I was the Blackpool boss, it highlights what we all know about the need for squad improvement.

So far this season we’ve witnessed a division which ultimately isn’t very good. On Saturday Pool faced a Gillingham side top of the table and flying, having not even conceded a goal at home.

But were they a million miles away for a struggling Blackpool side? You have to say no. What they did have is one or two players of real individual quality.

Particularly midfield man Brad Dack, and it’s probably a couple of quality additions which Pool are away from a side which is more than capable of competing.

Obviously a couple of quality additions are easier said than done, especially at Blackpool, something which has been highlighted with this chase of Martin Paterson.

The striker has been training at the club for more than two weeks now, and last week McDonald revealed he wanted to sign him, and the player wanted to sign at Bloomfield Road. So why wasn’t the deal done?

Surely between Wednesday and Saturday Pool could have forced what appears to be a done deal over the line in time to face the league leaders? He’s expected to be confirmed today and it’s important he’s followed by at least a couple more.

Despite all that there were plenty of positives from players in tangerine on Saturday, particularly in midfield man Brad Potts.

He turned in his best display for the club, with everything coming through the former Carlisle man, it’s clear the confidence is flowing into him now and he could be a big player. Tom Aldred has also made a difference at the back, sometimes as a defender you’ve got to be prepared to get hurt, and he certainly did that with a number of fine blocks.

McDonald seems to have settled on his best XI now, away from home at least, and there was no surprise to see him name an unchanged team and formation.

He opted for the same 18 players and line-up as the one which picked up their first win of the season on the road at Scunthorpe seven days earlier. The home side went into the game full of confidence, unbeaten and top of the table.

While things were just about perfect, speaking to the locals you got the feeling no-one expects them to maintain it with most stunned at the quality of their results so far.

Blackpool started in pretty positive fashion on a bight but windy afternoon in Kent, and even forced the first save of the game on two minutes.

Winger Henry Cameron cut inside from the right and tried his luck from the edge of the area, keeper Stuart Nelson tipped over with relative ease.

The plan for the Seasiders was clearly to keep things tight and try to break on the counter attack, and that was clear to see in the early stages.

John Herron and Jose Cubero playing the roles of stoppers, allowing Potts a little bit of licence to break from the midfield.

While McDonald was quick to point out afterwards he see’s the formation as 4-1-4-1 and not 4-5-1, they are effectively the same thing. Cubero was the sitting man who marshalled the back four all afternoon.

Gillingham, like Blackpool, were operating with just Cody McDonald up front, although so far the three attacking players behind him have caused a real threat this season, and you can see why. Dack, in particular, gets himself into some dangerous pockets in front of the back four.

As the 10-minute mark passed, Blackpool were already finding him difficult to deal with. And it was Dack who had their first real opening of the game after 13 minutes when he headed Ryan Jackson’s cross goal wards, luckily it was straight at Doyle who saved comfortably.

At this point it was clear Pool were in for a long afternoon, with Gillingham enjoying plenty of possession and wave-after-wave of attack.

In the 16th minute they got their deserved breakthrough. Luke Norris’ free-kick was well saved by Doyle, sadly he could only turn it into the path of skipper Loft who turned it home. The goal highlighted the problems with lining up so defensively, you can’t expect to have the luck Pool enjoyed at Scunthorpe last weekend every game.

Chances were few and far between in the opening half for the Seasiders, but they had huge opening on 23 minutes – and should have equalised.

McAlister did well down the left-hand side and his inch-perfect cross picked-out Potts who made a mess of his header, turning it wide.

The sun was probably in the youngster’s eyes so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, but he should have at least hit the target.

While Blackpool at least tried to attack it was always going to leave gaps at the other end, and that Norris already doubled the home side’s lead on the half-hour mark when he fired just wide.

With half-time approaching McDonald would have been desperate to get his side in just a goal behind, and he had Aldred to thank for keeping the score at 1-0 on 38 minutes. He bravely flung himself in the way of Loft’s 12-yard strike, before the winger fired the rebound over.

This sort of defending is what Aldred has made a career out of, and this was a key block at a vital time for the Seasiders.

As the board was raised for two minutes’ stoppage time Blackpool had a huge scare as Norris rattled the bar from a 25-yard free-kick.

Much like the first half, Pool began the second period well and drew themselves level after 52 minutes.

Potts, who was the Seasiders’ best player throughout, took advantage of Brennan Dickenson’s hesitation to fire a low cross into the box which Ryan Jackson made a mess of, turning it into his own goal.

The goal saw confidence breeze into McDonald’s young side who continued to push forward, much to the vocal frustration of the home supporters. On the hour mark Blackpool were again asking questions of the home side, and created two chances within 10 seconds.

Potts’ acrobatic effort was cleared off the line by Max Ehmer before Lloyd Jones saw his follow-up blocked.

McDonald responded by introducing David Norris in place of the tiring John Herron as the former Celtic man eases his way back in following injury. Kwame Thomas soon followed in place of Cullen.

You could sense McDonald was smelling the chance of back-to-back wins, all this season I’ve not seen him so animated on the sidelines.

With the chance of a victory clearly on his mind, McDonald threw on Bright Samuel in place of Cameron in search of an attacking spark.

All of Pool’s attacking play was coming through Potts in the middle, and he created a decent chance for McAlister with 11 minutes left, sadly the Scot’s effort Sadly it would all count for nothing.

With nine minutes left Jake Hessenthaler’s blocked shot couldn’t have fallen to a worse person for Pool as Dack composed himself and fired home from 10 yards.

I’m sure McDonald will be learning more and more about his squad each week and he’s certainly becoming livelier on the sidelines.

He wasn’t happy with the distribution of full-backs Emmerson Boyce and David Ferguson, something he’ll want an improvement on no doubt.

He also has the problem of playing a long ball up to a tiny striker in Mark Cullen, who at times was fighting an impossible battle. Far too often Colin Doyle goal-kicks would be lumped up towards Cullen – it was food and drink for the giant defenders.

There is hope, but hope doesn’t keep you away from danger at the bottom.