Out of sorts and devoid of ideas, but still well placed: Matt Scrafton's verdict on Blackpool's frustrating defeat to Rochdale
We’re now at that funny stage of the season where results elsewhere are just as important as Blackpool’s, if not more so.
Somewhat perversely, despite losing at Spotland, the league table now looks better for Blackpool than it did prior to kick-off.
In terms of the promotion and relegation outlook, it was a better night for Blackpool than it was for Rochdale, although it obviously didn’t feel like that...
Neil Critchley’s men started the night in fifth place, three points ahead of seventh-placed Portsmouth with a game in hand.
Thanks to results going their way, the Seasiders remain fifth and three points ahead, but it’s now Oxford United who sit in seventh and they’ve played two games more.
And while relegation-threatened Rochdale overcame Pool to claim a third straight win, with virtually every other side down at the bottom also winning, they remain five points adrift of safety. Instead, they only have one game fewer to cut the gap.
Thankfully Pool are already in the top six and aren’t having to win as a necessity to play catch-up. They’re at a stage where one, maybe two wins from their final five games should be enough to get them over the line.
That’s not to say supporters shouldn’t be frustrated or concerned about last night’s defeat, because they have every right to.
But the bigger picture remains positive and Blackpool’s destiny is very much in their own hands as they approach the final straight.
If they are to finish in the top six, they’ll need to perform a lot better than they did against Brian Barry-Murphy’s men. Otherwise they’ll limp over the line.
Not for the first time this season, the Seasiders struggled to break down a so-called poorer side who set out to sit deep and frustrate them.
That’s a little harsh on Rochdale though, because tactically they got it spot on and deserve credit for stifling Blackpool, who looked bereft of ideas and only managed two shots on target all evening.
Let’s be honest though, this was a bit of a nothing game. The two sides set up in a similar manner, pressing high and trying to stop the other side from playing it out from the back. As a result, Dale and Pool simply cancelled each other out.
If the game had finished 0-0, no-one would have blinked an eye. Blackpool would have taken the point, moved on and the game would have been forgotten about within minutes of the final-whistle.
But again, let’s give credit to the home side for taking their chance when it came. It was a good strike from Ollie Rathbone to beat Chris Maxwell from the edge of the area, albeit Blackpool were far too slow to get out and close him down.
There wasn’t a great deal Maxwell could have done given the power and accuracy of Rathbone’s strike.
The Pool keeper was on top form early on though, when Pool had to do plenty of defending as Rochdale came flying out of the traps.
Maxwell turned Jake Beesley’s poked effort around the post before doing well to rush off his line to deny Conor Grant, who looked odds-on to score.
The Seasiders saw off Rochdale’s bright start and slowly but surely began to take control, but too often their play was slow, ponderous and too predictable.
Of course, it’s easy for us to say that when we’re not out on the pitch trying to find a way through a deep block of players that shut down space within a split-second.
But Blackpool should be used to this now, they should know to expect opposition sides, especially those below them in the league table, will set out to stop them first and foremost.
Ollie Turton glanced a header wide of the upright from Sullay Kaikai’s corner, but other than that Pool struggled to create anything of note in the first-half.
To their credit, they came out with more urgency during the start of the second period and wasted two good chances to break the deadlock.
Jerry Yates side-footed agonisingly wide of the upright after breaking well from a corner, before Ellis Simms had a powerful drive parried away from goal by ex-AFC Fylde man Jay Lynch.
In truth, that was as good as we saw from Blackpool’s front two, who were starved of any service all night.
As the second-half wore on, it became increasingly clear that Blackpool needed a change. Even if it was a like-for-like replacement, they were crying out for some fresh impetus to provide some much-needed urgency.
Jordan Gabriel and Demetri Mitchell were being readied prior to Rochdale’s breakthrough, but they didn’t come on until Blackpool found themselves going a goal down. By then, it was too little, too late.
Pool rallied for five minutes or so after the goal, but in truth they never looked likely to get back on level terms. Rochdale looked fairly comfortable and saw out the remaining minutes without too much commotion.
When you’ve enjoyed a 16-game unbeaten run, a streak the club hasn’t managed since 1968, you’re allowed one bad night, aren’t you? Blackpool have just got to make sure this doesn’t turn into two or three defeats, otherwise it’ll be a nervy finish.
It would be too easy to blame this result on tiredness and fatigue as a result of Blackpool’s hectic schedule, so I don’t buy that excuse.
For me, this was just another example of the Seasiders struggling for creativity against a side that stops them from playing. Chances are, that’s exactly how Shrewsbury Town will set up at Bloomfield Road this weekend...
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