Matt Scrafton column: Resilient Blackpool still have plenty to play for
Do Blackpool have a genuine shot at the play-offs? I get the feeling some fans are still making their minds up.
In some respects, it’s understandable. The highest position in the table Blackpool have been this season is 10th and that was back in September, when they beat Swindon Town 2-0 in only their second game of the season.
Because of their horrific start, where they lost six of their opening nine league games, the Seasiders have been playing catch-up ever since.
That’s only worsened in recent months with seven postponements, which has left them with games in hand on the vast majority of teams in League One – four on sixth-placed Charlton Athletic, who sit five points in front of Neil Critchley’s men.
When you haven’t been in the top six at any point in the season, it can often give you the impression you’re a mid-table team.
Blackpool fans should know better than anyone that it’s where you finish, not how you start, that really counts. Remember the 2006/07 season, anyone?
Of course, the Seasiders ended that season in miraculous style with the ‘Perfect 10’. A repeat of that run, as nice as it would be, is unlikely, but it isn’t necessary either.
During the 2013/14 season, the side that came sixth finished with 74 points. In 2014/15, it was 69 points, 2015/16 it was 74, 2016/17 it was 73, 2017/18 it was 71 and in 2018/19 it was 73.
I’m ignoring the 2019/20 campaign given it was curtailed early and final positions were decided by average points-per-game.
Now, I’m contradicting myself a little bit here because it annoys me greatly when people pull out stats like these from years gone by.
No season is the same after all and there’s no guarantee that if you hit a certain figure then you’ll finish where you want to – not many sides get relegated from the Premier League on 39 points, for example.
What it does do is give us a useful indication of what sort of figure Blackpool might need to reach.
Currently on 50 points, chances are the Seasiders will definitely need another 20 as a bare minimum. Is 25 points from 42, for example, a realistic points haul from the remaining 14 games? I’d say so.
Looking at the PPG table, should the Seasiders continue their current form they’re predicted to finish the season on 71.87 points, which would see them finish seventh, just outside the play-offs.
Ipswich Town (73.05), this weekend’s opponents Oxford United (71.70), Portsmouth (70.35) and Charlton Athletic (70.27) look to be their main rivals. Looking further ahead, Lincoln City and Doncaster Rovers both appear to be faltering a little.
The main thing working in Blackpool’s favour at the moment is their ability to grind out results even when they aren’t performing particularly well.
Since that dreadful start, Critchley’s side have lost just four of their subsequent 23 games.
Yes, these recent draws are frustrating – especially when they come at home against sides you’d like to think Pool should beat – but it keeps the points tally ticking over at what is now a crucial stage of the season.
I’ve noticed in recent weeks that, on a couple of matchdays where Pool have been disappointed to draw, they’ve ended the day in a better position in the table.
On the flip side, when they do win, they don’t appear to make much ground as the teams in and around them also pick up three points.
That’s just the point of the season we’re at right now and it’ll remain that way right down to the wire.
Blackpool’s home form has been discussed quite a bit recently with Critchley’s men unbeaten at Bloomfield Road since October.
It’s been away from home where the Seasiders have been picking up their wins in recent weeks, claiming three victories on the bounce at Portsmouth, Charlton Athletic and MK Dons.
A fourth consecutive win this weekend against Oxford, who sit eighth and three points ahead of Pool in the table, having played two games more, would be absolutely invaluable.
If the men in tangerine are to sustain a top six challenge, they’re going to need a bit of luck with injuries.
They’ve suffered a couple of troublesome setbacks this past week, with Kevin Stewart injuring his ankle and CJ Hamilton, who’s only just returned from a serious hamstring problem, having swelling in his foot.
The extent of the knocks aren’t known just yet, so fingers crossed we get some good news.
Keeping a clean bill of health will be priceless, given Marvin Ekpiteta, Daniel Gretarsson, Keshi Anderson and Gary Madine are already sidelined.
Injuries were always going to be an issue this season given the sheer number of games being played in a shorter period of time.
That’s why I take issue with supporters complaining about Critchley’s tendency to rotate and tinker.
If he didn’t do that and Pool picked up even more knocks, he’d face even more criticism! Sometimes you just can’t win.
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