'Take the three points and run': Matt Scrafton's verdict on Blackpool's hard-fought win against Oxford

Take the three points and run. Run as fast as you can and don’t look back.

Saturday, 17th August 2019, 11:10 pm
Harry Pritchard shows his relief at full time
Harry Pritchard shows his relief at full time

Read More

Read More
The Gazette's player ratings for Blackpool's hard-fought win against Oxford

That would be my advice, for this was a theft as brazen as the Great Train Robbery in 1962.

Let’s cut to the chase, Blackpool were dominated by a very good Oxford side, who produced 23 attempts on goal to four and dominated possession by a margin of 70:30.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

How Simon Grayson’s side are still able to boast a 100 per cent record is beyond me. But will they care one jot? Of course they won’t.

There is a certain sense of irony that, after the one-sided display against Macclesfield in midweek that somehow resulted in them being dumped out of the cup, Blackpool found themselves on the wrong end of a beating and yet not only survived, but emerged victorious.

The win caps off a perfect start to the new league season for the Seasiders, who, despite slipping down to second by way of goal difference, are able to boast three straight victories for the first time since the 2012/13 season.

On that occasion, the third victory in the run came via a 6-0 thrashing of Ipswich Town. The three points were earned by very different means this time around.

From the fifth minute onwards, which is when the Seasiders edged ahead courtesy of Ryan Edwards’ emphatic header – his first for the club – it was one-way traffic.

Oxford were hungry, they were well-drilled, they knew exactly how to keep Blackpool quiet and they did everything right. Well, up to a point anyway, because for all their dominance and for all their attempts on goal, they were only able to find the back of the net on one occasion.

That goal, which came with the final action of the first half, was a soft, avoidable one from Blackpool’s point of view.

It changed the whole outlook of the game, too, as Grayson’s men had doubled their lead just 60 seconds earlier, Armand Gnanduillet making it three goals from four games from the spot after being brought down in the box.

From what looked to be a comfortable second period became an awkward and tense one in one fell swoop.

But Oxford’s goal, a back-post header from Josh Ruffels, gave the visitors something to fight for. And boy, did they fight.

It would have been easy for the Seasiders to crumble, but they didn’t. That’s not in their make-up.

But it’s no exaggeration to say they were barely able to keep hold of the ball. Every time they looked to make a pass, an Oxford player was there in an instant. The only way out was to go long with hopeful punts, but they came back as quickly as they were sent out in the first place.

Hear me out here, but I don’t think Blackpool actually performed poorly. Or if they did, it wasn’t of their own doing.

They clearly didn’t hit the heights of Bristol Rovers and Southend United, but they quite simply weren’t given a chance to.

For example, Nathan Delfouneso and Sullay Kaikai – two of Blackpool’s brightest sparks so far this season - both endured a quiet, frustrating afternoon. But that’s because Oxford didn’t give them the opportunity to do anything – good or bad.

Karl Robinson had clearly done his homework, identifying the duo as Pool’s main threat going forwards.

But the pair were starved of space and starved, most importantly of all, of the ball. The visitors swarmed around them at every opportunity.

And when Pool did look to pass it out from the back, the U’s pressed as aggressively as I’ve seen any side press, sending four, sometimes five players sprinting to close down the back three of Curtis Tilt, Ryan Edwards and Rocky Bushiri.

It made for a breathless game that was tiring just to watch, never mind play in. It was the sort of encounter you couldn’t afford to take your eyes off, even for a split second.

And as strange as it sounds, victories like this, where players have to throw their bodies at everything to grind out a win, can be just as satisfying - if not more so - than the type of wins Blackpool have already secured against Bristol Rovers and Southend.

As much as we’d all like it to be the case, it’s simply not realistic to expect the Seasiders to blow teams away every week with slick, stylish football.

League One is a relentless division and you have to have the right ingredients to succeed in it.

When games aren’t going your way, make sure to fight and scrap for every ball. Do that effectively and results can still come your way, even when you’re not playing as well as you’re capable of.

There will be occasions this season when the Seasiders perform just as Oxford did on Saturday and come away with nothing. It happens, it’s football.

But if you’ve got a set of players that will stick at it even when the chips are down, you’ve got half a chance.

One thing this game might have taught us is Pool’s lack of depth. When a handful of injuries and suspensions occur, as they undoubtedly will throughout the course of the season, is the quality there for others to step in?

There’s certainly quantity, but the quality is questionable. Pool certainly missed the tenacity and know-how of Jay Spearing in midfield, who Grayson will hope will be fit for Tuesday night’s mammoth journey to Gillingham.

One man who has certainly demonstrated his quality so far this season is Liam Feeney, who looks like a different player to the one we saw last season in his new right wing-back role.

While he and goalkeeper Jak Alnwick were in fine form on Saturday, for the rest it was about battling to secure that win. And battle they did.