Missing a cutting edge: Matt Scrafton's verdict on Blackpool's frustrating stalemate against Fleetwood Town
If Blackpool have lacked one thing this season, it’s an incisive, cutting edge in front of goal.
Of Blackpool’s 14 league wins this season, 10 have been by a one-goal margin.
The Seasiders are incredibly tough to beat, they’ve only lost four of their last 22, but a bit more guile and finesse in the final third would have certainly made life easier.
Neil Critchley’s side have scored just 36 goals from their 31 games, which is a lower amount than three of the clubs currently sitting in the bottom four. League leaders Hull City, meanwhile, have found the back of the net on 27 more occasions.
Of course, this is offset by their watertight defensive record, which has seen them keep 13 clean sheets and concede just 28 goals. Only Sunderland have conceded fewer.
But too often this season Critchley’s men have been left to rue poor finishing in front of goal during games they ought to have won. This was one of those occasions.
Blackpool produced a staggering 24 shots on Fleetwood’s goal on Saturday. Their Fylde coast rivals had just six.
That statistic is perhaps a little misleading, this encounter wasn’t as one-sided as that. But if one side deserved to win it, it was Blackpool.
Fleetwood, in typical Simon Grayson style, set out not to lose with a safety-first, handbrake-well-and-truly-on approach. In that respect, Grayson’s plan worked.
In claiming their first ever point at Bloomfield Road, the Cod Army were left more satisfied with the end result than their hosts.
And had former Seasider Kyle Vassell converted his gilt-edged chance late on, the visitors would have reflected on this display as the perfect away performance.
The game could have been a whole lot different had the Seasiders capitalised on their bright start, which saw them create two presentable opportunities inside the first 10 minutes.
The first fell the way of Sullay Kaikai after barely 120 seconds, when the winger’s close-range shot from CJ Hamilton’s pullback was expertly blocked by a Fleetwood man.
Alex Cairns would then make a superb stop to deny Jerry Yates, who looked destined to stoop down and head home from within the six-yard box when Luke Garbutt’s mis-hit shot fell into his path.
Had Pool taken one of those opportunities, chances are Fleetwood would have had to come out of their shell and commit more bodies forward.
As it was, they seemed relatively happy to sit deep, soak up pressure and utilise the pace and strength of Vassell on the counter, who kept centre-back pairing James Husband and Dan Ballard especially busy.
Town had penalty appeals waved away when a Danny Andrew cross was blocked by Ballard, with his arm according to the Fleetwood players.
Callum Connolly then failed to capitalise on a misjudgement from former Fleetwood keeper Chris Maxwell, who flapped at a cross to leave his goal wide open.
But aside from that, it was the Seasiders – who lost influential midfielder Kevin Stewart to a nasty-looking ankle injury – who were in the ascendancy and looking to take the game to their opponents.
This was especially the case either side of the interval, when they piled the pressure on and penned Grayson’s side in their own half.
Yates, who continued to get into some good positions inside the box, had a shot blocked after Hamilton had beaten Wes Burns for pace down the right, before Town somehow managed to survive a goalmouth scramble with Ellis Simms ready to pounce a few yards out from goal.
At the other end, Maxwell had another moment of uncertainty when he couldn’t quite hold onto Ged Garner’s rasping drive, claiming it at the second attempt and taking a clattering from Vassell in the process.
Pool remained on the front foot and were doing all the probing thanks to some controlled and penetrative passing football.
All their promising play lacked was a goal, although that ought to have changed midway through the second-half when Kaikai rolled the ball across the face of the Fleetwood goal into the path of Hamilton, who had the goal at his mercy.
It almost looked too easy for him to score, but somehow Hamilton managed to strike the outside of the post and the chance, Pool’s biggest of the game, went begging.
As Pool began to tire a little late on, Fleetwood grew in confidence and, nine minutes from time, squandered a priceless chance to snatch all three points.
A cleverly-worked move ended with Burns pulling the ball back into the path of Vassell, who gave up the chance to net against his former employers, the club he finished as top scorer for two seasons running, by shooting over.
Had Fleetwood scored, it would have been the ultimate slap in the face for Pool. But Critchley’s side stuck to their principles and created one last opening for substitute Matty Virtue, whose effort from the edge of the box deflected towards the top corner...only to drop agonisingly wide. It was just one of those days.
In terms of the overall performance, this was a better display than the one Pool served up in midweek when they edged out MK Dons 1-0. It was much improved from their last two home outings as well, the 1-1 draws against Crewe Alexandra and AFC Wimbledon.
But if they’re to have a proper tilt at the play-offs, they’ve got to be converting some of these clear-cut chances into goals and, sooner rather than later, they’ve got to be turning these frustrating home draws into wins.
As good as it is to extend the unbeaten home run to 12 games, with the last defeat coming in October, victories are the order of the day.
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