Matt Scrafton column: Blackpool's stern test against a revitalised Nottingham Forest
After what feels like a lifetime, Blackpool finally return to action this weekend.
The City Ground, the venue of one of Blackpool’s most memorable nights, is where Neil Critchley’s men will take to the field for the first time in 14 days.
As a newcomer to the Championship, it’s taking some time to acclimatise to all these international breaks.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes a little rest can be welcome, but boy, they do drag don’t they?
Anyway, back to the football. Nottingham Forest are next up for the Seasiders, who are one of the form sides in the Championship with four wins to their name from the last six matches.
Despite that, I can’t help but feel Saturday’s trip to the East Midlands is coming at just the wrong time for Blackpool.
This weekend’s opponents have enjoyed a good run of results that often comes when a new manager is appointed.
Steve Cooper replaced Chris Hughton last month, after the ex-Newcastle United and Brighton boss was given the axe.
Hughton could have had no complaints with his sacking having suffered six defeats in his opening seven games this season, leaving Forest rooted to the bottom of the table.
Cooper, formerly of Swansea City, has turned it around immediately though with two wins and a draw and will have been grateful for the extra two weeks on the training ground to implement his ideas and his style.
Critchley often talks about how the timing of particular fixtures can prove crucial.
When you take into account Blackpool’s recent injury news, the international break halting their good form and the impact Cooper has had, there’s a nagging doubt in my head that this might not be the best time to be facing Forest.
Saying that, I should really know better. If we’ve learned anything from Critchley’s time at Bloomfield Road so far, it’s that his side performs best when the chips are down and things appear to be conspiring against them.
It’s no coincidence that last season’s unbeaten run from February/March time onwards came when they were playing every three or four days and injuries were mounting up.
This Blackpool team doesn’t moan, they just get on with things. Whoever comes into the side fits in seamlessly.
That will have to be the case once again in the coming weeks as Critchley tries to figure out a way to replace Chris Maxwell and Shayne Lavery, arguably his two best players.
I’m fascinated to see who gets the nod in goal with most expecting it to be Stuart Moore, given he’s been on the bench this season and replaced Maxwell when he tore his quad during the win against Blackburn Rovers.
I’ve got a sneaky feeling it might be Dan Grimshaw because of how confident he is with the ball at his feet, something we know Critchley wants from his goalkeeper – but I’ve been known to be wrong in the past…
There’s also a question mark over the fitness of Richard Keogh, who has rapidly become one of Blackpool’s most important players after a slow start to the season.
The 36-year-old, who injured his groin against Blackburn, will naturally be desperate to face Forest given they’re the arch-rivals of his former club, Derby County.
There is better news on the horizon, with deadline day signing Owen Dale closing in on a return to fitness.
The former Crewe Alexandra winger has yet to feature for the Seasiders after a foot problem was diagnosed during his medical.
The 22-year-old is back in training and recently got 45 minutes under his belt in a behind-closed-doors friendly against Burnley, so he shouldn’t be too far away.
Nevertheless, the Seasiders are still plagued by injury problems with Daniel Gretarsson (head), Reece James (foot), Matty Virtue (ACL), Grant Ward (Achilles) and CJ Hamilton (foot) sidelined, alongside Maxwell, Keogh and Lavery.
It says a lot that Blackpool fans are accustomed to having seven or eight players missing for each game. It’s just taken for granted.
Is there a deeper-lying problem at play or is this just bad luck? I’m no expert, so I’m not qualified to give a view but it will be interesting to hear Critchley’s take.
It would be remiss of me to end this week’s column without mentioning the death of Preston North End owner Trevor Hemmings.
He cared deeply about PNE and ensured the club was still around when it got to the brink. In this day and age, that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
He also loved his horse racing and was a three-time Grand National winner. He also has links to Blackpool, having previously owned Blackpool Tower and the Winter Gardens.
It would be fitting if the Seasiders could pay some sort of tribute during the upcoming derby at Bloomfield Road.
Our thoughts go out to his friends, family and all those who knew him.
Thanks for reading. If you value what we do and are able to support us, a digital subscription is just £1 per month for the first two months. Try us today by clicking here