Match verdict: McDonald’s gamble backfires as woeful Pool crash out of the cup

Blackpool manager Neil McDonald
Blackpool manager Neil McDonald
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Let’s hope Blackpool beat Doncaster on Saturday, for Neil McDonald’s sake if no-one else.

The Seasiders boss has simply decided to disregard the last two games – something which doesn’t leave a great taste in the mouth of most fans... and particularly mine.

While you can often understand Arsenal or Chelsea resting players for lesser cup games, for struggling Blackpool to do it is a little confusing and a decision which on the face of it appears to be a terrible call.

After all, winning breeds confidence, and after three defeats on the bounce last night’s game against a similarly weakened Wigan (who made 10 changes of their own) could have been a real boost for everyone involved.

It’s ironic that exactly five years ago to the day we were talking about a Blackpool manager playing an understrength side – when Ian Holloway opted to play his reserves away at Aston Villa in the Premier League.

What followed was a huge Premier League fine and Ollie totally losing the plot when pressed on the subject by the media after the game.

Last night was another disappointing evening for Pool, with huge pressure now placed on Saturday’s league game – they simply must win.

That said, should Pool comfortably brush aside Doncaster at the weekend, then maybe we’ll all have a totally different opinion of this Johnstone’s Paint Trophy exercise.

It was interesting to hear McDonald remind us all of his one and only priority this season – League One survival.

Achieving that would still be significant feather in Blackpool cap after all the issues surrounding the club – despite all the soundbites from within the club insisting everything is perfect, these remain hugely difficult times in which to operate.

McDonald suggested he wouldn’t be risking any of his top players last night, and to be fair to him he stuck to his word.

He made five changes, the maximum allowed under JPT rules.

Incredibly, he actually made Saturday’s weakened side even weaker. Two of the changes were forced, however, with goalkeeper Kyle Letheren and debutant defender Will Aimson replacing the injured Colin Doyle injured and the suspended Tom Aldred respectively.

It meant another night off for Emmerson Boyce, David Norris and Brad Potts.

Despite a brilliant ticket offer, which saw adults paying just a fiver and kids a quid, it seems last night’s game did little to stir emotions among the locals.

The clash had the feeling of a reserve game about it – which was fitting when you saw the team sheets – and there was a total lack of atmosphere at kick-off.

After a pretty lifeless start, Pool had the game’s first effort on goal after just eight minutes.

John Herron did well to win the ball back in the middle of the park before finding Bright Osayi-Samuel, who turned and shot wide from 25 yards.

It wasn’t an effort which looked like having veteran keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen in any sort of panic.

It took 18 minutes for Wigan to grow into the game and threaten Pool’s goal, only to do so twice in a minute.

First Jordy Hiwula burst into the box and forced a good save from Letheren with a powerful drive at the near post.

Then, from the resulting corner, Leon Barnett’s goal- bound effort had to be hacked off the line by Kwame Thomas.

Wigan were getting into their stride and two minutes later they took the lead.

It was Hiwula who again caused the problems, stepping on to a half-clearance by Connor Oliver and firing into the corner of the net.

Another goal conceded by Blackpool which was all too easy and avoidable – not least because of the ease with which Tim Chow was allowed to get the ball into the box.

McDonald has been battering on about defenders doing the basics like stopping crosses. Last night’s opening goal again came from their failure to do so.

Pool lined-up in the fashionable 4-2-3-1 formation being used by so many at the moment.

In fact, last weekend 16 sides in the Premier League opted for it, with the idea of keeping things tight when you haven’t got the ball and breaking in numbers when you have.

For the Seasiders last night, the formation resulted in large periods of the game with just one striker. Thomas certainly looked a lonely man.

The last few games have certainly been an education for young defender Luke Higham, a left-back by trade. He’s so far played everywhere but his natural position for the Seasiders.

Last night he was put up against a strong and experienced operator in Craig Davies, a task the most long-in-the-tooth League One defender would find testing.

On 38 minutes, it was the former Bolton striker who came out on top in a battle of strength with Higham before powering an effort just wide of Letheren’s post.

Just a minute before the break, Davies found himself in on goal again, this time forcing a wonderful save from Letheren.

Pool somehow went in just a goal behind at the break. It could easily have been many more.

You could tell there wasn’t much football in the North-West last night from the familiar faces in the DW’s directors’ box – Lee Clark, Alan Thompson, Micky Mellon and Simon Grayson were all among the spectators.

Just five minutes after the break, all of them could see a clear offside which denied Wigan their second of the night.

It was Hiwula again causing the problems as he raced onto a Davies flick and finished well. Luckily for Pool, he was a good yard offside.

The linesman’s flag was correctly raised.

What followed was actually a much more positive spell for the Seasiders, resulting in their best moment of the game on 55 minutes.

Oliver found space on the left and his whipped cross was flicked goalwards by Rivers only for Jaaskelainen to stand strong at the near post.

Just past the hour mark and it was game over, and Blackpool were out of all three cups.

Midfielder Sean Murray was given far too much time to power home an effort from 25 yards.

To be fair to the lad, it was a wonderful strike, although there’s no doubt Jose Cubero could have closed him down much quicker.

McDonald responded by introducing two of his ‘rested’ players, with Jack Redshaw and Jim McAlister replacing Herron and Rivers.

Sadly, it was Wigan substitute Yanic Wildschut who would make the impact.

He took advantage of a slip by debutant Aimson to blast past Letheren from eight yards.

At this stage you feared it could become embarrassing for Blackpool.

And moments later things did get much worse.

A routine ball over the top caused havoc in Pool’s defence, resulting in a collision between Higham and Letheren. The ball fell to Hiwula and his effort appeared to be blocked on the line by the hand of Higham.

When everyone expected a red card to follow, referee Andy Madley produced a yellow, but it was the injury to Pool’s keeper which caused more concern.

He left the field clutching his shoulder to be replaced by youngster Myles Boney for his debut. Hiwula made no mistake from the spot.

The biggest relief of the night was when the referee blew for full-time and the 446 travelling supporters could head back down the M55.

Whether Blackpool win on Saturday or not, many supporters will be less than impressed to have seen their club decide not to bother in two cup competitions.

Personally, I’ll reserve judgement for now ... until Saturday evening at least.

That is now a game Blackpool simply must win. There are no excuses.