Matt Scrafton column: Blackpool's timely break before facing Fulham?

After 14 days without a game, the Seasiders return to action with a nice, easy encounter against league leaders Fulham. How’s your luck, eh?

Friday, 10th September 2021, 12:30 pm

Still winless from their opening five league games, Neil Critchley’s side need to get the monkey off their back and claim that first victory as quickly as possible.

Did the international break come at a good time? Who knows, the proof will be in the pudding.

It’s given the club time to get the likes of Daniel Gretarsson, Kevin Stewart, Demetri Mitchell and Gary Madine up to speed in their bid to reach full fitness. That can only be a bonus.

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Blackpool's break has enabled Daniel Gretarsson to continue his return from injury

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The recent deadline day recruits have been given a helpful 11-day period where they’ve been able to settle in and meet their new teammates. Or, in Jordan Gabriel’s case, his old ones!

While there are still some important players out injured, Blackpool’s squad is looking a lot healthier and a lot stronger than it was the last time they played against Millwall on August 28.

Since then, Gabriel, Dujon Sterling, Ryan Wintle and Owen Dale have all arrived, the first two helping to solve Pool’s right-back problem.

It will be fascinating to see who gets the nod against Marco Silva’s promotion favourites at Bloomfield Road this weekend.

Will Critchley plump for Gabriel, who he knows well already thanks to last season’s successful loan spell?

The former Nottingham Forest man knows the vast majority of the squad already and should fit back in seamlessly.

Sterling hasn’t come to the Fylde coast to just sit on the bench. He’s a player of real quality and he’ll be expecting to play regularly.

It’s a great problem for Blackpool’s head coach to have, but I don’t envy Critchley having to make that decision come Saturday lunchtime.

While the right-back conundrum appears to have been solved, the Seasiders are now looking a little light in central midfield.

Kevin Stewart has only just recovered from an ankle injury, having played his first minutes of the season off the bench in Pool’s defeat at The Den last month.

The international break has hopefully given the 28-year-old, who recently celebrated his birthday, the chance to get up to speed.

Kenny Dougall only returned to the UK on Wednesday afternoon from international duty with Australia.

Chances are he’ll only take part in light training on Thursday, having flown back to Qatar from Vietnam in the early hours of Wednesday morning before hopping on another plane later in the day back to England.

If Dougall is fit – he was left out of Australia’s 23-man matchday squad for their 1-0 win against Vietnam – will one training session on the Friday be enough for him to start on Saturday? It’s far from ideal.

If Stewart isn’t 100 per cent fit and with Dougall having precious time to prepare, that leaves the Seasiders worryingly short on options in that area of the pitch.

With Matty Virtue (ACL) and Grant Ward (achilles) long-term absentees, that leaves Reece James, Cameron Antwi, Callum Connolly, Ryan Wintle and Sonny Carey as five options for two central midfield positions.

Three of the five are arguably stronger playing elsewhere – James at left-back, Connolly in defence and Carey in a number 10 role – while Antwi is only 19 and has yet to make a league appearance for the Seasiders.

Realistically, James and new signing Wintle are likely to be the two who get the nod if Stewart and Dougall aren’t available, but, hopefully, that isn’t the case.

Going back to Ward for one minute, the midfielder underwent successful surgery on his ruptured Achilles tendon earlier this week.

The 26-year-old is now facing a prolonged period of time on the sidelines, so we wish him the best in his recovery.

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