Matt Scrafton column: Blackpool's play-off place emphasised club and supporter relationship
A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a comment from a Blackpool fan that has stuck in my mind ever since.
He claimed this season is the closest and most engaged he’s felt with a Blackpool side since 2010.
That’s quite an extraordinary claim to make since all but one of Blackpool’s 45 league games have been played behind closed doors. Even the one with fans was limited to 1,000.
This supporter could well be on his own in thinking this but, judging by the jubilant scenes outside Bloomfield Road on Tuesday night, I suspect he isn’t.
Either way, it’s testament to the job Neil Critchley his staff and players have done this season in delivering a team to be proud of.
It also demonstrates the work Simon Sadler and co have done to turn the ship around in such a short space of time.
Neutral observers and the cynics will argue it’s easy to feel engaged with your club when they’re winning, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Success on the pitch often starts with success off it.
The players are absolutely desperate to play in front of the Blackpool faithful, which is why it was so touching to see them head over to the corner of Sixfields last weekend, on the spur of the moment, and applaud the 12 supporters that had watched their 3-0 win from the hill behind the stand.
That was nothing compared to the sheer, unleashed joy of Neil Critchley, Jerry Yates and co heading out of the main reception on Tuesday night to celebrate with the die-hards who had made a racket from behind the North Stand all evening.
I’ve seen it pointed out that there’s nothing to celebrate yet, qualifying for the play-offs is simply half the job.
Normally I’d agree but, come on, it’s been 14 months of hell for all of us.
Some sense of normality is in sight now, so the fans can be forgiven for releasing some steam and pent-up frustration. In fact, it should be embraced.
Let’s just hope the Seasiders are celebrating in greater numbers come the end of May with Pool confirming their status as the most successful side in English play-off history with a sixth triumph.
How fitting it would be for Critchley to write his name into Blackpool’s history books to join the club’s other triumphant managers: Billy Ayre, Steve McMahon, Simon Grayson and Ian Holloway.
Critchley doesn’t like the limelight and prefers to focus on the team effort, but he’s been exemplary all season and deserves all the credit he gets.
Considering it’s his first full season in senior management full stop, never mind just with Blackpool, demonstrates what a talented coach he is.
As an aside, I haven’t had a single issue with him all season and I’d like to think the same applies the other way.
I can assure you, that isn’t often the case with managers, especially when you’re talking to them more often than your significant other.
Anyway, back to the football. There isn’t a great deal of attention on Sunday’s game against Bristol Rovers now and Critchley has already indicated he’s likely to make changes.
Pool’s head coach already had one eye on the play-offs on Tuesday night when he withdrew Jordan Gabriel, James Husband and Kevin Stewart from the action after picking up yellow cards.
In the latter’s case, he’d only been on the pitch 18 minutes having come on at half-time.
There was a great sense of relief on Tuesday to get the job done with a game to spare.
While Bristol Rovers are already relegated, losing nine of their last 11 games, you just know Joey Barton would have been pulling out all the tricks in the build-up in an attempt to get one over his former rivals.
As it is, it’s now a bit of a dead rubber, although Pool will want to claim a fourth consecutive win to not only continue their momentum, but also confirm a third-placed finish.
What an unbelievable achievement that would be after their torrid start to the campaign.
Critchley dropped a hint after Tuesday night’s game that certain players that haven’t been afforded a breather in recent months could well be given a rest.
The first player I thought of when he made that comment was Yates.
The striker has played in 51 of Blackpool’s 54 games this season, so is well overdue a breather.
The likes of Marvin Ekpiteta and Keshi Anderson will want to step up their return from injury by getting some vital minutes under their belts.
The same could be said of Stewart, who will be hoping to play more than 18 minutes on this occasion.
Could we see a first professional start for 18-year-old striker Brad Holmes? What a moment that would be for the young hotshot.
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