OPINION: Blackpool are running out of excuses for their on-pitch struggles

Friday, 7th February 2020, 5:00 pm
Blackpool's match against Southend United last season was their 'homecoming' afternoon

Almost 16,000 fans crammed inside the famous old ground to celebrate the end of the despised Oyston regime.

A fitting occasion followed, the Seasiders battling their way to a 2-2 draw, their 96th-minute equaliser coming from unfortunate Southend defender Taylor Moore – who ironically has since signed for Blackpool and is in line to make his debut against his former club tomorrow.

That result on March 9, 2019, left Blackpool in eighth place in the division and just three points adrift of the play-offs.

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While we now know last season eventually fizzled out, Pool ending the campaign in 10th and some way off the top six, that emotionally-charged day was supposed to spell the beginning of Blackpool’s rejuvenation.

That’s certainly happened off the pitch, with Blackpool-born Simon Sadler coming to the rescue during the summer of 2019 and subsequently providing the necessary investment to get the club back on its feet.

There are ambitious plans in the works for a long-overdue new training ground, the stadium has been improved from top to bottom, 12 new players arrived during the recent January transfer window and, most importantly of all, the fans are buying into everything Sadler is wanting to do.

There’s only one slight problem and that’s the small matter of what is happening on the pitch which, if we’re being kind, has stalled somewhat. If we’re being a little bit more brutal, the Seasiders are in complete freefall.

It was only as recently as December 7 that Blackpool saw off Fylde coast neighbours Fleetwood Town 3-1 in a tasty encounter to climb up to fourth in the League One table and just two points off the top two.

But 10 winless games later in all competitions, and following a dismal run of six defeats from their last seven league outings, the Seasiders now find themselves 15th, 13 points off the play-offs and closer to the relegation zone than they are the top six.

It’s no wonder supporters are getting restless.

Promotion this season was never a necessity, Sadler always spoke about getting to the Championship within two to three seasons, not rushing there in desperation. Nevertheless, a play-off push had to be the aim this season.

Even if the men in tangerine didn’t make the top six, finishing 10th for a second season, let’s say, then most would have been fairly happy – as long as there were clear signs of progression and a clear blueprint of how the team wants to play.

Were Blackpool to finish just outside the play-offs while playing a more entertaining and attacking brand of football – which was another item on Sadler’s wishlist – I dare say most supporters would have been left satisfied.

As it is, the quality of Blackpool’s squad has improved drastically and yet their league position is worse, as is the level on entertainment on offer.

The word I’ve constantly used to describe Blackpool’s performances, especially in recent weeks, is “stodgy”.

Other than the recent first-half display against Wycombe Wanderers, the Seasiders have performed okay. They’ve been satisfactory, average, whatever word you want to describe it. They’ve remained in games and are rarely beaten by the odd goal.

But that, it has to be said, is not good enough. For too long now Simon Grayson’s Blackpool side have been bemoaning misfortune and refereeing decisions for their woes. Too often we hear “if this or that had gone our way, we would have won”.

Blackpool’s luck might be out, but it’s time for the Seasiders to make their own luck. As I wrote recently, the excuses are beginning to wear thin.

Take last weekend’s narrow defeat at Oxford as a prime example. Once again the Seasiders were well in the game and were competing, without ever looking wholly convincing.

Had Gary Madine’s 94th-minute effort clipped the inside of the post and not the outside, the ball would have ended up in the back of the net to snatch the Seasiders a point against a very good Oxford side.

But it didn’t and Blackpool lost, again.

It’s time for Grayson to let his players loose, release the handbrake and allow his side to play with freedom.

A game really can’t be considered “must-win” when we’re barely a few days into February, but for Grayson that really is the case.

Lose – or even fail to win against a Southend side that has only won three games all season – is inexcusable and Sadler will probably have no option but to wield the axe.