Matt Scrafton column: Nobody wants a repeat of Blackpool's Christmas Day drama last year

I’m normally someone that likes to be prepared, get ahead and write my weekly column as early as possible.

By Matt Scrafton
Friday, 24th December 2021, 12:30 pm

For obvious reasons, that’s been particularly difficult this week given the uncertainty surrounding football at the moment.

Games were being called off as early as Monday, while a host of other fixtures have fallen by the wayside during the week.

At the time of writing, Blackpool’s trip to Huddersfield Town on Boxing Day is due to go ahead and fingers crossed that remains the case.

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Blackpool lost to Huddersfield Town earlier this season

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However, I still have nightmares of the phone call I received at 4pm on Christmas Day last year to inform me the Boxing Day game against Rochdale had been called off, so I’ll be keeping my fingers and toes crossed up until the day of the game.

The win against Peterborough United last week will have come as a big confidence booster for the Seasiders, who badly needed to grind out three points after going seven games without a win.

Had Pool done the unthinkable and lost to Posh last week, that would have cut the gap to the bottom three to just five points, which could have made things a little more awkward than required.

If Neil Critchley’s side can follow that win up with a second consecutive victory on Sunday, that will put them in a very strong position for the second half of the season.

Pool now sit on 30 points after 23 games, so realistically speaking they probably only need to win another four or five games and draw a few to ensure their safety.

Critchley won’t be thinking like that, he’ll be looking ahead and not worrying about the bare minimum required to stave off relegation.

There’s no getting away from it though, Pool’s head coach will have been concerned about his side’s slump – especially when the Seasiders went four games without scoring.

It wasn’t as if they were exactly free-scoring before that run, which also saw them find the back of the net on just two occasions in seven games.

He’ll also be well aware a run like this was always going to happen in this league.

If it can happen to the sides at the top, it was certainly going to happen to a side promoted via the League One play-offs.

I saw an interesting statistic during the week that pointed out how Fulham and Bournemouth, the sides that currently occupy the top two and have done for much of the season, are enduring a combined winless run of 11 games.

The team that sits third, meanwhile, which is Blackburn Rovers, have won six of their last seven since being thumped 7-0 by Fulham at the start of November.

If anything sums up the madness of the Championship, that’s it.

Blackpool now know that all too well. Their Boxing Day opponents Huddersfield Town left Bloomfield Road back in September with a 3-0 win they really didn’t deserve.

It was an early lesson in how harsh the Championship can be.

The Seasiders were the better team on the night but were punished following a 14-minute blitz at the start of the second half from the Terriers.

A similar thing happened last month when Luton Town also ran out 3-0 winners at Bloomfield Road, despite Blackpool again turning in a pretty solid display.

That will have been the main source of comfort for Critchley, because – other than the 1-0 defeat to Derby County – the men in tangerine were still playing pretty well and were certainly competitive in every game.

While the 1-0 defeat against Birmingham City was a sore one to take, because the Blues were there for the taking, again the performance was pretty good, especially during the first half.

So if the Seasiders can maintain that performance level during the second half of the campaign, and perhaps even improve upon it with some shrewd signings during the January transfer window, then there’s no reason why they can’t maintain their current position in the table.

There really is nothing to fear in the Championship, is there?

That’s not to do Blackpool down at all, because they’ve been very good and I predicted before a ball was kicked that they would be absolutely fine this season because of the man they have in charge.

At the same time, I’ve not really been impressed with many teams and I’d be surprised if Fulham and Bournemouth don’t come straight back down next season should they hang on for automatic promotion.

That perhaps says more about the growing gulf between the top flight and the second tier, but that’s a debate for another day.

It would be remiss of me to finish this column without wishing you a Merry Christmas – and here’s to three points on Boxing Day.

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