Matt Scrafton column: Blackpool remain a work in progress at this stage of the season
With just one point on the board from the opening three games, it’s fair to say it hasn’t been the ideal start for Blackpool.
It isn’t all doom and gloom though.
Creating chances hasn’t been a concern at all for Neil Critchley’s side.
They have looked more dangerous going forward than they did for much of last season, but are just lacking that final touch at this moment in time.
Blackpool created a host of chances during the 1-0 defeat to Coventry City on Tuesday night, good ones too. Shayne Lavery alone could have had three.
Defensively though, the Seasiders have looked shaky. Yes, we’re only three games in but, so far, they have looked a shadow of the rock solid back four we saw propel the club back into the Championship last season.
Regardless of who started – and it often changed due to injuries, suspensions and Covid-19 – the Seasiders were simply impenetrable. They never looked like giving up chances, never mind conceding.
Of course, it’s to be expected the Seasiders will come under more intense pressure this season playing in the second tier, but they have been far too open and far too easy to play against. Worryingly so.
They’re also susceptible to corners and set-pieces, from which they were a force in League One last season.
Their high line would often catch out opposition teams, especially in the second phase after a corner had been partially cleared, for example – but the high line hasn’t worked at all so far.
There was one particular occasion on Tuesday night when a short corner was worked into the Blackpool box from a wide position and five Coventry players were played onside.
The Seasiders eventually survived but there were chaotic, farcical scenes among the Blackpool ranks for a few moments.
How often did we see that last season? Very rarely.
A lot of the problems appear to stem from Blackpool’s new centre-back pairing of Richard Keogh and James Husband, who have started every league game so far.
Keogh’s experience and know-how at this level can’t be questioned, and I’d suggest that was a major reason why the club opted to bring him to Bloomfield Road this summer.
However, the 35-year-old has looked slow and clumsy. He’s been beaten for pace far too easily and often seems caught in two minds over whether to push high up the pitch or drop off. By the time he’s made his mind up, it’s too late.
One can’t help but wonder what Marvin Ekpiteta is currently thinking.
There will certainly be eyebrows raised if he doesn’t start against Bournemouth tomorrow.
Then there’s the recurring issue at right-back, where the Seasiders are still without a specialist in that position.
Callum Connolly continues to be utilised there. He’s doing a sound job and you can’t fault his effort or application.
You can’t help but feel sorry for him because he isn’t a natural in that position and he’s being asked to basically learn on the job while coming up against very, very dangerous wingers at Championship level.
Blackpool are badly in need of a new right-back, but – as Critchley reiterated to The Gazette this week – the club is prepared to remain patient and won’t bring in someone just for the sake of it. It has to be the right player and the right fit for all involved.
While that approach might be frustrating for a lot of supporters, Blackpool did the same last season and reaped the rewards later on with the signings of Dan Ballard and Kenny Dougall, which proved crucial.
Kevin Stewart, who is badly missed at the minute in the centre of the park, then arrived after the January transfer window had closed.
Don’t be surprised if the Seasiders wait it out again and monitor the free agent market, even after the window closes.
Let’s not forget though, the Seasiders are making the step up to a new division and are attempting to play in a new style.
Yes, there have been teething problems and it will take time, but in Critchley Blackpool have a talented young coach who knows how to make the necessary adjustments.
As the saying goes, trust in the process.
This season there’s clearly a lot more focus on playing out from the back, which they have struggled with early on.
Too often, players have taken the easy option and cleared their lines rather than take a risk and pick out a teammate.
It takes time committing to a new style and I’m confident – given Critchley’s background – the Seasiders will get it right sooner rather than later.
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