Matt Scrafton column: Why Blackpool can be confident on their return to the Championship
Six years on from the Huddersfield Town debacle – or 2,290 days, to be more precise – Blackpool make their long-awaited return to the Championship.
Much has changed since those troubled days of mutiny and disgust, when the smell of rebellion filled the Bloomfield Road air.
The Seasiders are a completely different beast nowadays. They’re a club very much on the up, one that is professionally run on and off the field with supporters always in mind with every decision they deliberate over.
The club is now so well run, you could argue their promotion from League One came a season too early – not that anyone is complaining!
Simon Sadler stated upon taking over the club that it was his goal to secure promotion back to the second tier of English football within two years – and would be ‘gutted’ if it wasn’t achieved within three.
Despite a global pandemic, the club achieved it within two.
Achieving promotion last season wasn’t the be-all and end-all. Given the summer of upheaval in terms of both ins and outs, and considering it was Neil Critchley’s first full campaign at the helm, a play-off challenge was the desired outcome.
There’s no doubting the Seasiders deserved it though. From the beginning of November onwards, they were by far and away the best team in League One.
I still stand by my assertion they were better than Hull City and Peterborough United, despite finishing behind them. The league table doesn’t lie and all that, I know, but still…
I think they’ll be absolutely fine in the Championship, too.
In Critchley they have a tactically astute head coach who is destined to go a long way in the game. A promotion in his first full season is an incredible sign of things to come.
I genuinely believe the style of play in the Championship will actually suit Blackpool, who often struggle against sides ‘lower’ down the pyramid who stick men behind the ball and frustrate them.
Against the better sides, Blackpool’s record was exemplary – the best of any in the top six, in fact.
Whenever the Seasiders came up against a side like Liverpool, Everton, West Brom or Brighton, they more than held their own.
A mid-table finish without a nervy relegation scrap would make for a great first season back in the Championship. Finish above PNE, it would be an excellent one.
In the interests of balance and fairness, it’s only right to point out that not everyone is feeling so confident ahead of the new campaign.
After all, it’s been a highly disruptive pre-season and there’s still work to be done regarding recruitment. Pool are still without a first-choice right-back, for starters.
There’s an argument to make that Pool’s squad, or their strongest starting XI at least, is weaker now than it was in May.
The losses of loanees Dan Ballard, Jordan Gabriel, Elliot Embleton and Ellis Simms will certainly be felt, that’s for sure, but it was always going to be difficult replacing players of such high calibre.
That isn’t to say fans don’t have legitimate concerns, because a lot of them do, but Pool still have until August 31 to complete their business, so time is on their side.
It’s clear they won’t be taken to the cleaners in their pursuit of players, either, whether it’s their attempt to bring back Gabriel on a permanent basis or Embleton.
There’s also the fairly unique situation where a lot of clubs in the top flight are still holding onto their best young talent while they wait for their international stars, who featured at Euro 2020 and Copa America, to return.
Once they do, then you’ll begin to see youngsters being loaned out to the Championship and beyond.
Blackpool’s squad is still in need of improvement and Critchley, Sadler, Ben Mansford and so on will be only too aware of that.
Let’s not lose sight of perspective here. The last time the Seasiders were preparing to line up in the Championship, they had nine registered players on their books on the morning of their opening game of the season.
Compared to that, it’s yin and yang.
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