Mixed feelings, keeping points tally ticking over and looking at the bigger picture: Matt Scrafton's verdict on Blackpool's draw against Crewe
Football’s a funny old game, isn’t it?
Given Blackpool’s three-game winning run, I said before Tuesday night’s encounter that a point against a very good Crewe side wouldn’t be the worst result in the world.
It would keep the points tally ticking over, maintain the unbeaten run on home turf and, as long as it was backed up by three points against struggling AFC Wimbledon at the weekend, it would keep the Seasiders right in the thick of things for the top six.
But come full-time, despite Neil Critchley’s side being below-par for the majority of the 90 – or should I say 100 minutes – it felt like a frustrating two points dropped.
The visitors were worthy of their point though. They played some terrific football, had Blackpool chasing shadows in the opening half an hour and will be frustrated themselves they didn’t convert their dominance into three points.
But the nature of their late leveller, which came just four minutes from time, left the Seasiders wondering what might have been.
Nevertheless, it was a point that maintained Blackpool’s unbeaten run at Bloomfield Road, where they haven’t suffered defeat since October.
In a season like this, where the schedule remains hectic right up until the final game of the campaign, it’s vital Critchley’s side are able to grind out results even when they’re not hitting top form.
Yes, it would have been great to extend that unbeaten streak with a fourth straight victory. But following recent away wins against Portsmouth and Charlton Athletic, we can’t be too critical.
Blackpool fans watching on iFollow from home might have snatched your hand off for a point while witnessing the opening 45 minutes, where their team were decidedly second best.
It was clear the mood among the camp was a buoyant one, everyone – players and staff included – were in good spirits ahead of kick-off following the club’s recent form.
But the tone was set right from the off, when a poor Jordan Thorniley clearance gifted Crewe possession of the ball inside the opening 10 seconds.
Dave Artell’s side, which included former Pool men Donervon Daniels and Antony Evans, went straight onto the attack and never looked back.
Chris Maxwell was forced into making an important save, back-tracking well to tip Chris Porter’s dipping volley over the bar.
Porter headed wide from a Daniels cross shortly afterwards as Crewe continued to play through the Seasiders with ease, having plenty of joy down the flanks and in behind the full-backs in particular.
Mikael Mandron also had a ‘goal’ ruled out for offside after prodding home from close range after another dangerous Daniels cross.
Critchley, who briefly played for Crewe before enjoying a lengthy coaching career at Gresty Road, will know all about how the Railwaymen like to play.
But the Seasiders couldn’t get to grips with the away side, often panicking in possession, gifting the ball back to their opponents time and time again with hopeful long balls up to the front two, who struggled to make the ball stick.
What the situation required was bravery to beat the Crewe press, and we saw glimpses of that later on in the half and on a more consistent basis in the second period.
Yet, for all of Crewe’s dominance in the first-half, they weren’t able to capitalise – reminiscent of how Blackpool’s season was going earlier on in the campaign.
Instead, it was the home side who edged their noses in front four minutes before the interval from a set-piece, something the Seasiders have clearly been working on in training.
Luke Garbutt provided an excellent cross from a corner which Dan Ballard met perfectly at the near post to score his first goal in tangerine.
Blackpool’s breakthrough came not long after Daniels was forced off with an injury following a lengthy stoppage in play, which allowed Critchley and his players to regroup and re-assess.
Pool’s head coach, celebrating the first anniversary of his appointment, will have made another couple of adjustments during the half-time break.
They were paying off, too, as Blackpool had the upper-hand at the start of the second period. They were a lot more solid and, with Kevin Stewart dropping deep to receive the ball, took a great deal more care in possession.
It was a surprise then that Sullay Kaikai, who had a close-range effort well blocked eight minutes into the second-half, was subbed off along with Ellis Simms before the hour-mark.
Pool were on top and in the ascendancy at this point, so on the face of it, Critchley, who has often been criticised for being too late to react, made the double change too soon. At the time there was no need to change it.
Critchley’s reasoning behind introducing Demetri Mitchell and CJ Hamilton, returning from injury after almost three months out, was to add more pace and more of a threat in behind, with Crewe expected to leave gaps as they chased the game.
The logic is sound, but Hamilton partnered Jerry Yates in attack, rather than on the right flank in his usual position and the 25-year-old, along with his teammates, were unable to capitalise on a couple of promising counter-attacks.
Pool were left to rue those missed opportunities as Crewe found an equaliser out of nowhere in the 86th minute.
It was a poor way to concede, with a pretty basic long ball over the top deceiving Thorniley and Ballard, allowing substitute Stephen Walker to run in behind and beat Maxwell at his near post.
The game ended in frantic fashion, with both sides going hell for leather for a late winner in the 10 minutes of stoppage time, which were added on after a lengthy stoppage due to the linesman hobbling off with an injury.
The fourth official ended up taking the flag, leaving Crewe boss Artell to deal with the subs’ board for his side’s remaining changes. Great entertainment ensued.
Once the referee eventually blew time on proceedings, neither boss was left entirely satisfied but not wholly disappointed either, as the two sides played out their second 1-1 draw of the campaign.
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