Matt Scrafton column: Blackpool's Lincoln City trip has taken on a new meaning
This weekend, I’ll find myself in the peculiar position of reporting on a game between the club I support and the side I’ve covered for the past five years.
This will be the fourth encounter between Lincoln City and Blackpool since I started working for The Gazette in 2016 so, in that regard, it’ll be nothing new.
However, with both sides currently sat in a play-off position in League One, Saturday’s encounter – a pivotal match-up between the clubs in fifth and sixth – now takes on a whole new meaning.
The Seasiders and the Imps might only be separated by a point in the league table, but the two sides are worlds apart when it comes to recent form.
Neil Critchley’s men are unbeaten in their last 13 games, which has seen them rise from mid-table obscurity up to fifth.
The Imps, meanwhile, managed by former Pool boss Michael Appleton, had dropped away from the automatic promotion spots having won just two games during the same timeframe.
This might just be the perfect time to play Lincoln and not just because of their poor form.
They’re only just recovering from a Covid-19 outbreak that resulted in their training ground being closed for 10 days and both Easter games postponed.
While the Seasiders will be in the rhythm of playing and – more importantly – winning games, Appleton’s side are likely to be a little weary, not as prepared as they’d like to be and lacking in confidence.
As an Imp of some 25 years or so, I’m naturally disappointed by our recent drop-off but not too alarmed.
A summer of upheaval brought around a lot of change before the season got underway.
Appleton, keen to implement a higher-tempo, counter-attacking style, moved on a number of older club legends to bring in younger and talented players, albeit unknown quantities.
As a result, most Lincoln fans would have snapped your hand off for a mid-table finish before a ball had been kicked this season, so to find ourselves in the top six with nine games to go is nosebleed territory for a fanbase desperate to finish in the top half of the National League not too long ago.
Of course, if things had transpired the opposite way around with Lincoln starting poorly but ending the season strongly, that would have changed the entire perspective on things.
The Seasiders will certainly be looking to avenge the 3-2 defeat they suffered to Appleton’s side at Bloomfield Road at the beginning of the season.
The result came in the midst of that nightmare run to which I’ve made reference on numerous occasions in this column and elsewhere.
Critchley’s men were leading with five minutes to go but somehow transpired to have a man sent off in James Husband and lose the game 3-2.
Like many of those games they lost early on in the campaign, the Seasiders were performing pretty well in the main and were doing all of the right things.
This simply wasn’t matched by results though, which led to Critchley altering his side’s style and moving away from the 4-3-3 system that had been worked upon so extensively during pre-season.
Initially, Blackpool became a defensively solid unit to grind out results and take them away from the bottom echelons of the division.
It wasn’t particularly pretty and it wasn’t the ‘Liverpool of League One’ style we were promised, but it worked.
Once confidence began to grow, the Seasiders attempted to become more expansive – to mixed results initially, it has to be said.
We’re now seeing the fruits of that labour, and while Pool are able to dig in and do the ugly side of the game, they’re equally adept at playing sides off the park as we saw against Gillingham on Easter Monday.
Free-flowing football was certainly not on the agenda the last time Blackpool made the trip to Sincil Bank, which resulted in a turgid 1-0 defeat back in January 2020.
It would be one of the final games in Simon Grayson’s second stint as Blackpool manager.
It was that afternoon Blackpool’s fans first voiced their opposition to Grayson’s tenure with chants of “you’re getting sacked in the morning” being heard loud and clear from the away end.
The writing was already on the wall and it was no great surprise when Grayson was handed his P45 after suffering another three defeats in his following four games.
The Seasiders, who sit four points clear of Charlton Athletic in seventh with a game in hand, have no such worries nowadays.
The only concern we’ve got now is whether or not Blackpool will finish in a play-off spot, something not many of us would have predicted after that horrendous start.
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