'Shrewsbury played the role of Christmas Grinch to perfection': Matt Scrafton's verdict on Blackpool's frustrating not-so-festive defeat

Any lingering pre-Christmas cheer was sucked out of Bloomfield Road as Shrewsbury Town expertly played the role of Grinch in this not-so-classic festive encounter.

Sunday, 22nd December 2019, 6:00 am
A controversial penalty was the difference between the two sides

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The Gazette's player ratings from Blackpool's 1-0 defeat to Shrewsbury

Those of a Blackpool persuasion will describe their win as “smash and grab”, while Sam Ricketts and the Shrewsbury faithful will view it as the perfect away performance.

It was a tough watch but, given Shrewsbury’s goals for and against columns, this was always going to be an encounter low on entertainment.

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Fejiri Okenabirhie’s disputed second-half penalty was only the 19th goal they’ve scored all season, a record bettered by everyone in League One other than struggling Bolton Wanderers and MK Dons.

At the other end of the spectrum, they’ve only shifted 20 goals all campaign - and you can see why. They defended superbly and limited the Seasiders to very little.

That being said, the clearest chances from open play did come the way of the Seasiders - both falling the way of Armand Gnanduillet.

Unfortunately the Frenchman was unable to extend his impressive scoring run and match last season’s total of 14 in all competitions, coming oh-so-close with two headed attempts. He remains on 13 goals for now.

This game had 0-0 written all over it given Blackpool are hardly the most prolific of scorers themselves.

Unfortunately the referee had other ideas, ignoring Pool’s penalty appeals just moments before pointing to the spot at the other end of the pitch to decide this dogged third tier battle.

Seb Stockbridge is not likely to be the recipient of a Christmas card from Simon Grayson and he was probably wise to remain in the officials' dressing room for almost an hour after kick-off.

Gnanduillet, involved once again, was the man adjudged to have handled the ball as Shrewsbury punted a long ball into the Pool box.

A similar incident went unpunished in the Shrewsbury area just two minutes previously despite Nathan Delfouneso’s impassioned appeal.

It was a disappointing way to bring an end to Pool’s seven-game unbeaten streak, a run that stretched back to mid-October.

Grayson will be disappointed they were unable to penetrate Shrewsbury’s strong resistance, but he won’t have been surprised by their defensive solidity.

For this is a side that has now added the Seasiders to a growing list of scalps, with the likes of Sunderland, Peterborough United and Coventry City all falling victim to their Wycombe-lite style of play.

It’s certainly not pretty on the eye, but you can’t question its effectiveness. It was down to Blackpool to find the answers and they were unable to do so.

That’s not to say Grayson’s men played poorly, it was just a lacklustre affair in general.

The Pool boss will rightly complain about a lack of creativity once again but that isn’t a new phenomenon, it’s been a running theme of the campaign.

That being said, Shrewsbury barely threatened in the opening period other than a 10-minute spell where Donald Love came close with a couple of efforts.

Pool were arguably the better side despite looking a little unbalanced with the absence of Sullay Kaikai, who was only fit enough to be named among the substitutes due to his pelvic issue.

Grayson stuck with four at the back, dropping Curtis Tilt back down to the bench in place of the returning Ben Heneghan - who served his one-match suspension at Sunderland last week.

Elsewhere, Jordan Thompson entered the fray in what was a rare recent start in place of Kaikai.

The Northern Ireland midfielder played in a more advanced central midfielder’s role alongside Matty Virtue, with Jay Spearing holding a little deeper just behind.

In theory there’s no reason why a midfield three shouldn’t prove effective, with Liam Feeney and Nathan Delfouneso flanking them out on the wing behind Gnanduillet.

But it didn’t quite work out that way, and things only became more fractured and confusing when Grayson opted to revert to what was possibly the most attacking three at the back with wing-backs system I’ve ever seen.

Again, at least that’s how it ought to have been, but it didn’t transpire that way. For as soon as Shrewsbury edged their noses in front after Okenabirhie’s spot kick - which Jak Alnwick almost kept out with his legs - they managed the game superbly.

Pool barely managed to reach their 18-yard box in the dying stages, never mind fashion a late opportunity that would have kept their unbeaten run intact ahead of the busy schedule from Boxing Day onwards.

The first goal in any game is crucial, but none more so than this when you’re playing a side that give absolutely nothing away.

While Pool are a good outfit and remain well-positioned to launch a play-off push in the second half of the season, it’s been plain to see from the start of the campaign that they’re crying out for added creativity and guile.

As many observers have remarked going as far back as August, the success or failure of the upcoming transfer window will likely decide Pool’s fate this term.

Let’s remember, Saturday’s defeat was only their fourth of the season. While it’s disappointing to drop out of the top six, especially in their final match before Christmas, the Seasiders only remain three points adrift of second-placed Peterborough United.

Meanwhile, the sooner we’re able to forget about this turgid affair, the better. The Shrews continue to remain Pool’s bogey side, having avoided defeat against the men in tangerine in the last 11 outings - a run that stretches back to 1997.

Pool’s recent record against the Shrews makes for such depressing reading that Saturday’s defeat was the ninth time they’ve failed to even score in this fixture since that last win.

Let’s hope for better luck in the return fixture in March.