A promising, albeit unusual start to Blackpool's pre-season - Matt Scrafton's verdict on Seasiders' comfortable win at Southport

Searing sunshine, bloated squads and mystery trialists galore, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was your typical first pre-season friendly of the summer.

By Matt Scrafton
Sunday, 9th August 2020, 11:34 am
Updated Sunday, 9th August 2020, 11:49 am

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Neil Critchley gives his verdict on Blackpool's winning return to action in pre-...

Of course, it was anything but. For a start, we’re now in August, rather than your usual July start date, and there were no fans in attendance, which made for an eerie, surreal encounter.

After a 151-day absence, it was good to be back watching Blackpool play football again. But without the loyal Seasiders there to witness it, I was left feeling a little hollow.

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Instead, 2,000 Pool fans watched on via a club stream provided by the club – a glimpse into what can be expected when the league campaign gets underway on September 12 and another reminder of the strange times we continue to live in.

Let’s hope those technical gremlins are sorted out for the all-important curtain raiser!

It goes without saying that much has changed since the last time we saw Blackpool in action in their 2-1 defeat to Tranmere Rovers on March 10.

At the time, no-one had an inkling what was about to hit, but just three days later the League was suspended as the true reality of the pandemic began to hit home.

Jerry Yates capped off a strong debut with a goal from the penalty spot

On the playing side, just eight individuals included in Pool’s 18-man squad on that night were involved here at Haig Avenue.

On the subject of trialists, the vast majority of them came from the Southport side – the National League North outfit introducing seven alone at the half-time break.

Gone are the days when Blackpool would begin their pre-season with a team packed full of unknown quantities.

Nevertheless, there were still two for Pool fans to get intrigued about. A former Manchester United academy shot stopper started the game before an ex-Middlesbrough man took the gloves for the second half.

As you would expect playing a side three divisions below, the Seasiders were on top right from the first whistle, impressing with some neat combination play, tapping it around confidently and working the ball around their counterparts in clever triangles.

You wouldn’t think it though, listening to the boisterous Neil Critchley in the dugout. Pool’s head coach was constantly at his players, always demanding more.

It’s no surprise then that Blackpool now resemble a team that is clearly well coached, the players all knowing their roles down to a tee. It sounds obvious, but that’s not always been the case in the past.

Southport, to their credit, were a tough nut to crack. Liam Watson’s side put up a strong fight in the first half thanks to their solid defensive block.

But, once Grant Ward thundered home a superb 25-year effort midway through the opening period, it was only a matter of when more goals would come, not if.

Former Fulham youngster Cameron Antwi, who signed a professional contract with the club in July, was the star of the show in the first half.

With the way Critchley likes to play, it’s imperative Blackpool have players that are able to beat the press and that’s exactly what Antwi did on more than one occasion.

He showed he was more than willing to take the ball in awkward positions and showed calmness and bravery in the face of Southport’s closing down. That bodes well.

Nathan Shaw, another youngster to come through the academy, was equally as impressive in the second half playing on the right of Blackpool’s front three.

Pool were much more of an attacking threat in the second half following the introduction of Keshi Anderson, Sullay Kaikai and Jerry Yates – although Southport’s wholesale changes at the break must also be factored into the equation.

The trio already appear to have struck up some sort of understanding between them and it was no coincidence they were the three to add Blackpool’s further goals.

Kaikai, who looked back to full fitness after having a frustrating time of it last season, doubled Blackpool’s lead with a tap-in at the back post, following up after Yates’ shot on the turn had been well saved.

The floodgates opened at this point and the Seasiders threatened to run riot. Adi Yussuf, filling in somewhat bizarrely at left back, tested the keeper with a low shot from the angle before Ben Garrity glanced a header just wide.

Just after the hour mark, Blackpool’s third goal duly arrived from debutant Anderson.

The former Swindon Town man embarked on a mazy dart from midfield and, thanks to Kaikai’s clever inside run, he was allowed to waltz into the Southport box before arrowing a smart finish across the keeper and into the bottom corner.

Anderson’s fellow debutant Yates added his name to the scoresheet with a well-taken penalty after his former Swindon teammate had been chopped down unceremoniously in the box.

On the subject of Anderson, it looks as though he will be deployed as part of Blackpool’s midfield three this coming season, rather than higher up the pitch. The same goes for Ward too.

The absence of Jamie Devitt was noticeable, while Chris Maxwell, Jack Sims and Oliver Sarkic were all ruled unavailable due to slight niggles. But it’s hoped they will be back for Blackpool’s next friendly on Saturday.

As for new signing Ethan Robson, he had to abide by testing protocols which meant he was waiting for the results of his test before being deemed available. He should also come back into contention for next weekend.

First-half XI: Trialist, Howe, Ekpiteta, Husband, Macdonald, Antwi, Virtue, Ward, Hamilton, Nuttall, Madine

Second-half XI: Trialist, Turton, Thorniley, Nottingham, Shaw, Garrity, Feeney, Anderson, Kaikai, Yates, Yussuf