Tactical battle, penalty heroics and mixed feelings: Matt Scrafton's verdict on Blackpool's goalless draw against Accrington Stanley
When you survive an 88th-minute penalty to extend your unbeaten run to 15 games, the overriding emotion should probably be one of elation.
So why was it then that Blackpool’s players were slamming their hands to the floor and marching off the field in frustration? Why were so many supporters left feeling so exasperated?
It seems ludicrous to suggest this goalless draw was another case of two points dropped when it could have been so much worse.
When Colby Bishop placed the ball on the penalty spot with barely two minutes remaining, Blackpool were staring down the barrel of suffering their first defeat since February 6 and their first loss at Bloomfield Road in almost six months.
But Chris Maxwell, not for the first time this season, stood tall to make a vital save that could well prove crucial come the end of the season.
Yes, it wasn’t the ideal result, especially coming after the late setback against Lincoln at the weekend, where the Seasiders threw away a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 after dominating against their promotion rivals for virtually the entire game.
But our disappointment at Blackpool’s failure to beat a side that had been trounced 5-1 against relegation-threatened AFC Wimbledon in their previous outing must be tempered by the side’s great run and promising position inside the play-offs with just seven games remaining.
One thing I will say though is that I didn’t necessarily agree with Neil Critchley’s analysis of the game. It’s not often I can say that, in fact I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve disagreed with his post-match verdict this season.
Blackpool’s head coach insisted he was happy with his side’s performance, felt they played a lot of good football and were the side that was more deserving of the win.
While they certainly started the game well inside the opening 10 to 15 minutes, with some fast, incisive one-and-two-touch passing in and around the Accrington box, the visitors soon retreated and began to make life difficult for the Seasiders.
Had Sullay Kaikai capitalised on his early chance, when he was denied by Toby Savin after toe-poking the ball through the legs of his former teammate Michael Nottingham, chances are the game would have played out very differently.
But Stanley, who have been decimated by injuries in recent weeks, were well aware of Blackpool’s recent exploits and set out to spoil and stop them. It made for a fairly ugly encounter, but you have to give credit to John Coleman and his players for the way they stifled and nullified the hosts.
Had Bishop scored his late penalty, which probably shouldn’t have been awarded, Coleman would have been lauding a perfect away-day display.
Pool’s recent form has come largely as a result of their intelligent build-up play, often beginning with the two centre-backs feeding the ball to Kenny Dougall, who drops deep and recycles possession smartly.
But Stanley cut off this channel well, resulting in Pool taking the easy option far too often and playing long, hopeful punts up the pitch up to the front two of Ellis Simms and Jerry Yates, who struggled to make the ball stick against Accrington’s dominant defenders.
As a result, Accy began to make some headway and built up some belief they could cause Blackpool problems, rather than just sit it out and grind out a draw.
This is where Critchley’s side deserve credit because, other than Maxwell’s penalty save at the death, the away side didn’t really create anything of note despite hurling a number of long throws, free-kicks and corners into the Blackpool box.
Accrington were happy to slow the game down, which is why it was so frustrating that referee Samuel Barrott took no action and was seemingly happy for the game to lose all semblance of flow, with the ball spending more time on the sidelines than on the pitch.
Don’t get me wrong, this is no criticism of Stanley. When you’re playing a side that is currently flying like Blackpool are, why should you make life easy for them? But this is where you need a strong official to clamp down on their antics to make sure a game of football actually breaks out.
The Seasiders were the side more likely to make something happen though and were unlucky not to edge ahead following a well-worked move in the second-half.
Yates showed an unselfish streak to set up Kaikai when he could have shot himself, but Savin somehow flew across his goal to deny Kaikai when the winger looked odds on to slam home at the back post.
Luke Garbutt managed to beat the keeper with a 25-yard piledriver 17 minutes from time but on this occasion it was the woodwork that came to Accrington’s aid, as his shot slammed back off the post.
That’s as good as it got for the Seasiders.
It was a little odd that Critchley chose not to make any substitutions to mix things up. Demetri Mitchell seemed the obvious choice to come on, but other than that there’s not a great deal of attacking options in reserve at the moment.
I would have thought Critchley would have moved Elliot Embleton, who had struggled to get in the game as a result of Stanley’s decision to flood the midfield, into a more advanced central position and stick Mitchell out wide to utilise his directness and pace.
It was a move that paid off against Burton Albion last month when the Seasiders had also lacked ideas, guile and invention against a side that set out to sit back and frustrate.
It’s the ultimate sign of respect when opposition sides set up like this, but there’s no good moaning about it or labelling the approach “anti-football”, as some supporters have done.
When you enjoy an unbeaten run for almost a third of the season, you shouldn’t really be surprised when opposition sides try and stop you from playing your normal game.
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