Match verdict: McDonald’s tinkering not paying off for Pool

Blackpool's players look dejected during Saturday's game
Blackpool's players look dejected during Saturday's game
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“How will the team line up today?”

It’s a question asked at about 1.30pm by journalists in press rooms up and down the country as they guess at the 2pm team announcement.

At Bloomfield Road this season, the answer has always been: “Not a clue.”

Each week the Seasiders’ formation is as much of a guessing game as the team itself – no wonder Blackpool’s players often look all over the place.

Compare Blackpool to the Football League’s leaders Burnley.

I’ve not watched the Clarets play once this season, but I could easily tell you how Sean Dyche’s side will line up and who will play in each position.

Their starting 11 (fitness allowing) is ALWAYS the same and they ALWAYS play 4-4-2. The result? Their players know their roles, their team-mates and basically go into games with absolutely no doubt of what’s expected.

Blackpool’s players don’t know what formation they’ll play each week or who will fill the spaces.

If any untrained eyes inside Bloomfield Road on Saturday could actually explain Blackpool’s formation or tactics, they may well be a football genius. I’m not sure the players were totally clued up on it either.

After the lack of width at Millwall, something the manager mentioned after that 3-0 defeat, many expected Pool to line up on Saturday with a regular 4-4-2 which brought them some success earlier in the season.

Instead Neil McDonald played four central midfield players.

He later insisted there were wide players on the field but I’m not sure many can see exactly where they were. Shoehorning four central players into a team left Blackpool looking all over the place. Personally, I am not sure what the plan was.

It certainly didn’t create a hat full of chances, once again Pool were left way short when it came to testing the Coventry keeper.

But in typical managerial fashion McDonald once again took the pressure of his players, repeatedly blaming referee Mark Brown for defeat.

In truth the game was over the very second they took the lead – it is almost exactly three years since Pool won a game after conceding first.

That was at Watford back in 2013 when Gary MacKenzie and Tom Ince scored late goals to earn a 2-1 win.

The saving grace for Pool on Saturday is that only bottom club Colchester won out of the bottom seven, meaning it’s pretty much as you were at the bottom of the table.

The situation is something which you’d imagine will be concerning chairman Karl Oyston, although strangely he wasn’t at Bloomfield Road, despite taking the stand in court just 24 hours before in a defamation case against a supporter.

With Pool just two points from safety it’s a situation which can still be saved, but tomorrow’s vital game against Oldham is just about as big as they get now. I’d imagine McDonald will make changes, just as he did for Saturday’s game against Coventry.

Unsurprisingly five new faces were brought into the side which crumbled against Millwal, although there were a couple which raised eyebrows.

Injury to Clark Robertson and David Ferguson forced the boss to hand youngster Luke Higham his first league start at left-back while Newcastle loan man Liam Smith made his first ever senior appearance.

More routine changes saw Emmerson Boyce replace the suspended Hayden White at right-back, Lloyd Jones return from long-term injury to partner Tom Aldred and David Norris shake off an illness to replace John Herron, who didn’t even make the squad.

Coventry arrived with plenty of familiar names in their line-up, including ex-Pool man Jacob Murphy.

The fact they had former Liverpool, Chelsea and England midfielder Joe Cole on the bench probably said it all about their strength in depth.

With another big away following appearing to match, if not outnumber the home crowd, for once there was a decent atmosphere around Bloomfield Road as the game began, and it was a pretty competitive start to the afternoon.

As ever it was scrappy, with both sides getting a feel for the pitch which looked terrible but appeared to play much better than in recent weeks.

Two minutes into his debut youngster Smith showed he’s at least confident, forcing a save from Reice Charles-Cook from the edge of the area.

This before ex-Pool man John Fleck struck one well wide from distance for the hosts. It took almost 10 minutes for the game’s next sight of goal, and that was only a half one as left-back Chris Stokes headed over a Murphy corner for Coventry.

Pool started brightly enough with a few corners coming to nothing but you always got the feeling the away side were dangerous on the counter. In Murphy they have one of League One’s liveliest wingers and on 24 minutes showed a glimpse of his quality by cutting in from the left and firing wide.

Sadly Coventry wouldn’t have long to wait before they broke the deadlock as Colin Doyle made a bit of a mess of a looping ball in the area.

Pool’s keeper fumbled the ball straight into the path of striker Marc Antoine-Fortune who slammed into the roof of the net from just three yards.

Doyle claimed he was fouled, but referee Mark Brown was having none of it.

Having watched a replay there’s no doubt the striker blocked Doyle in his attempts to get the ball, but would it have been a free-kick anywhere else on the pitch? I’m not so sure, but in the area and against a goalkeeper they are usually given.

Blackpool continued to battle but have little quality going forward as the half went on, and only some good defending prevented it from being two just two minutes before half-time.

Again it was an attack down the left involving Murphy who cut the ball back into the path of Armstrong only for Higham to do well to direct the ball wide of the post with a block.

It showed good awareness from the youngster.

The second half began in true form of the first, with Blackpool totally wasteful when decent attacking oppertunities came their way.

Far too often City’s keeper Charles-Cook came off his line to cut out crosses, he was looking like a world beater at this point. With little pattern to their play or attacking joy, McDonald attempted to switch things up a little with a double substitution just before the hour mark.

Bright Osayi-Samuel and Mark Cullen replacing Redshaw and Smith. Some Pool supporters booed in disagreement when Redshaw’s number was held up.

As for Smith, well he looks tidy enough on the ball and did fine, but whether or not he is what is needed in the current position is another matter.

Blackpool need big characters to get out of this mess, a kid from Newcastle’s youth team may well take a bit of time to feel his way into things.

As Coventry introduced Cole with 20 minutes to go, the game opened up a little at both ends. Blackpool were at last asking questions in the final third, but struggled as usual to find a breakthrough when it really mattered, with yet more corners going to waste.

When you’re in a relegation battle better use of set-pieces is an absolute must.

Something which was proved deep into stoppage time when Blackpool finally had another chance to shoot, with Potts shooting straight into the wall from 25 yards.

Moments later, the midfielder shot wildly over from 30 yards with a box-full of team-mates ahead of him.

Right at the death Pool thought they had nicked a vital point as Osyai-Samuel nipped in front of Charles-Cook to turn the ball into the net, only for referee Brown to spot rightly that the final touch came from the winger’s hand.

As boos rang around Bloomfield Road it was yet another day of very few positives, although Higham did himself no harm on his debut.

Blackpool’s problems are so similar to last season’s, but the big difference is this team at least have a chance of survival. A win tomorrow would go a long way towards that.