Match verdict: Play-offs are premature, but Pool are improving

Blackpool's Mark Cullen celebrates scoring his sides first goal
Blackpool's Mark Cullen celebrates scoring his sides first goal
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You may have noticed a couple of surprising words muttered by Neil McDonald in two separate interviews ahead of Saturday’s game - play-offs.

After weeks of talking about stopping the rot and being here to avoid the drop, all of a sudden the Blackpool boss seems to have had a shift in public PR.

Following their third win on the bounce at the weekend McDonald played down talk of a top-six push, but there’s no doubt it’s beginning to slip into his mind.

And in fairness if the last two wins are anything to go by, who can blame him and his players for having ambitions of looking up the table, rather than down.

But it’s going to take one hell of a push for the Seasiders to begin to think of a promotion run. Last season’s sixth-placed team finished on 69 points, which would mean Blackpool have to find 44 points from their remaining 24 games.

Automatic promotion form would be needed.

That said, I’ve spoken on numerous occasions about the lack of quality in League One, and it’s not like we’ve not seen Blackpool achieve the impossible before.

On Saturday they faced a side who had won six out of seven coming into the game, scoring 20 goals in the process.

Basically Graham Westley’s side was flying. And McDonald deserves real credit, his tactics were spot on.

There were no real surprises in the manager’s decision to field the same side which won at Wigan last weekend.

It again saw Will Aimson in that protective role just in front of the back four, a tactic used to stifle the opposition and stop them getting the ball to the strikers’ feet.

Some would say it’s a negative tactic at home, but on Saturday it couldn’t have worked much better.

The key to the tactic is getting a goal, once you find yourselves ahead it’s easy to make yourselves very difficult to break down.

Luckily Blackpool had just seconds to wait for the opener, most fans hadn’t yet got comfy in their seats as Mark Cullen did well to flick on a routine long ball. That, along with some brilliant movement saw Elliot Lee in behind Peterborough’s defensive and on goal, as he hesitated it looked like the chance had gone, only for Michael Bostwick to bundle the striker down.

Cullen scored from the spot at the second attempt, after keeper Ben Alnwick was unlucky to see his superb save come off the bar and drop at the feet of Pool’s striker.

They say you can sometimes score too early in games, but the fact is when Blackpool have scored first this season, more often than not they’ve gone on to get a positive result.

For the next 20 minutes the Seasiders simply soaked up the visitors’ pressure, allowing them loads of possession but giving them absolutely nowhere to go with it.

In the Championship or Premier League it’s a tactic which will probably see you eventually broken down. At this level, teams often just don’t have the quality to find a way through.

The moans and groans of the travelling fans said it all, Blackpool were doing a great job.

Any decent moments from Graham Westley’s side were from long range, with Dean Lyness eventually being called into action after 17 minutes when Jon Taylor’s long-range effort was turned over.

After standing their ground with plenty of joy, Pool came out of their shells and began to again threaten.

And following a couple of corners, a wonderful moment of skill from an unlikely source almost doubled Blackpool’s lead.

Full-back Hayden White facing two defenders down the right-wing produced a wonderful moment of skill to get to the byline and stand a cross up for David Norris who fired into the turf and just over the bar.

It was a lovely moment which deserved a goal.

Luckily for McDonald they didn’t have to wait long for a second.

Just after the half-hour mark Pool were rewarded after some superb determination from Potts saw him fire a second.

A long ball was totally misjudged by Peterborough’s Bostwick who allowed Cullen to sneak in behind him and as a ricochet saw the ball break loose, Potts burst into the box to round the keeper and tap into an empty net.

The way Blackpool’s players raced, as a man, to the corner to celebrate showed the team spirit which is building at Bloomfield Road. It’s refreshing to see.

While the instructions were clearly to not concede before the break, it was Pool who almost added to their lead in the 37th minute.

Again it was a mistake by Bostwick who allowed Cullen to break in behind him. Sadly his low and powerful effort was well saved by Alnwick.

What would have pleased McDonald the most was the fact Peterborough failed to break his side down at any point.

For the whole game the Seasiders looked rock solid in defence, with only long range efforts going even close to troubling Lyness’ goal.

On top of their defending there was also a real spring in Blackpool’s step, the confidence is beginning to grow in these young players.

And after three wins on the bounce quite rightly so, you have to say.

Although they were comfortable, there was a heart-in-mouth moment for Pool right on the stroke of half-time when Smith’s effort from the edge of the box squirmed through the gloves of Lyness, luckily drifting just wide of the post.

As the second half started, understandably it was Peterborough who came out with the most intent, but crucially Blackpool’s defending continued to impressed.

The back four, along with Aimson just in front were excellent, and you could hear the away supporters growing in anger.

It took until the hour mark for Peterborough to have a look at goal in the second half, and it was another long-range effort. This time Taylor’s 25-yard strike was beat away solidly by Lyness.

After putting in so much effort on a draining pitch, Pool were looking a little heavy-legged.

And with that in mind, McDonald made a double switch in attack with Martin Paterson and Andy Little replacing the front two.

For Paterson it was another thankless shift of holding the ball up, something he did well at Wigan last weekend, and he was again at it on Saturday.

Sadly he was forced off in stoppage time with an injury, hopefully it will be nothing too serious.

We can’t mention the weather without mentioning Blackpool’s pitch, something which was hammered week after week last season.

After real concerns in the summer, the surface held up to the driving rain brilliantly, something which is a credit to groundsman Stan Raby.

On it Blackpool’s players battled until the very death and ground out what was another superb win.

It means Pool’s long-suffering supporters can open their present on Christmas Day at least knowing there seems to be a recovery on the way.

It goes to show how far a bit of effort, commitment and tactical awareness can take you.

As for the play-offs, it’s best Blackpool forget about those for now.

Ask me again in April.