One step forward and two back for Blackpool as turgid Hull City defeat comes at just the wrong time
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Only Blackpool can go toe-to-toe with Norwich City, Sunderland, Watford and Sheffield United – four sides in the top echelons of the division – only to follow it up with an absolute stinker of a display against a side at the wrong end of the table that have lost seven of their last eight games.
This is a Hull City side, remember, who were playing without a recognised striker – and yet Michael Appleton’s men barely managed to lay a glove on them.
It very much feels like one step forward, two steps back.
In Blackpool’s defence
Of course Appleton is right to point out there are extenuating circumstances. The Seasiders are depleted by injuries and suspensions at the minute – missing eight in total on Tuesday night – with others rushed back from injury earlier than anticipated to make up the numbers.
In an ideal world, Rhys Williams, James Husband, Liam Bridcutt and Gary Madine wouldn’t have featured in this game, but Appleton felt he had no choice.
Factor in the Seasiders had to play almost 20 minutes with nine men at Bramall Lane on Saturday and it should come as no great surprise that they lacked intensity, which was the one big thing missing from their game.
But the extent of how far off the pace they were was quite alarming. It was clear as day from the very first exchanges.
The pressing was never quite there. You could sense Madine’s frustration when he went to close down the goalkeeper or the deepest defender only to turn around and throw his arms up when he saw his teammates had already retreated and were 15 to 20 yards behind them.
The Tigers were allowed to play through the thirds far too easily as a result and Blackpool’s trio of midfielders, badly lacking a fit defensively-minded player to help break up the play – were subsequently unable to get near the ball.
It was an all-round failure from back to front, this wasn’t necessarily a case of one, two, three or four individuals having an off night. It was a collective misfiring in all departments.
Optimism fading away
The timing of this defeat, and overall performance, is such a shame because there had been a growing sense of optimism that was beginning to build over the last few weeks – and rightfully so. But now they’ve been stopped right in their tracks and what a time to do it, too, with the derby next up.
Perhaps Blackpool are better suited to playing the division’s better sides? Because it certainly seems like they tend to struggle against the so-called lesser sides further down the table.
Their home form is also a worry. A record of two wins, one draw and four defeats is not going to cut it if the Seasiders are going to steer clear of the relegation zone this season. If it doesn’t change, it puts real pressure on Appleton’s men to go away and pick up points on the road.
What worries me is that this was also an issue for Appleton at Lincoln City last season, where the Imps won only seven of 23 at home and lost 11.
Even during the season Lincoln reached the play-off final, where they were beaten by Neil Critchley’s Blackpool at Wembley, their home record was the 14th best in the division (with 32 points) compared to boasting the best away record (with 45).
So this is a trend that dates back two, three and four years and one that has to be arrested, hopefully starting this weekend with a much-needed win against Preston. There’s no time like the present, after all…
Benefit of the doubt
Because Blackpool have generally been performing well of late, Appleton and his players deserve the benefit of the doubt for this one. They must issue a response though.
But what is doubly frustrating is that, as promising as the previous four performances were, Blackpool started that run of games in 19th place and ended it in 19th, too, so for all of their positive work, they didn’t reap the rewards in terms of points picked up.
Now, following another disappointing midweek affair at Bloomfield Road – they’ve lost all three in league and cup this season – the men in tangerine find themselves in 21st, one place above the dropzone.
Blackpool must go again though and quickly, Appleton must find a way to pick up his players. Thankfully they shouldn’t need much motivating for Saturday.
Getting players back
Dom Thompson and Marvin Ekpiteta will both be back from suspension, so at least the numbers will be boosted somewhat.
But in terms of match fitness and fatigue, there’s bound to still be some underlying tiredness for Saturday, especially when Blackpool only have two days to prepare compared to Preston’s three.
You’d like to think this game will be a one-off though, a fixture fuelled by the energy and intensity of the crowd where the players will be carried to the final whistle on pure adrenaline alone.
Blackpool will certainly need to carry more of an attacking threat at the weekend than they did against Hull, because they really struggled to create anything of note.
To be fair to Kenny Dougall, his finish for Blackpool’s first-half equaliser was a real high quality first-time effort as he scored for the second successive game. But other than that, clear-cut opportunities were hard to come by.
Producing just one shot on target against a Hull side that were, with all due respect, not exactly the most impressive of outfits themselves really isn’t good enough.
Repeat that again on Saturday and we might have some problems.