'This team can do better': Matt Scrafton's verdict on Blackpool's dismal final day defeat to Gillingham
The phrase “the players are on the beach” is one that’s constantly bandied about in the closing stages of a season.
Normally I’d dismiss it as a lazy cliché and a convenient excuse for a poor performance.
But in the first half on Saturday, where the Seasiders saved their worst 45 minutes of the season for the last day, Pool’s players looked like they wanted to be as far away as Bloomfield Road as humanly possible.
Not for the first time this season, Blackpool made an average League One side – Gillingham finished 13th – look very, very good.
That’s a little harsh on the Gills because they did play well and dispatched their chances clinically, scoring three goals from their three shots on target. But boy, Blackpool couldn’t have made life much easier for them.
They were static, they were passive, they were blunt in attack and the defence and midfield simply parted like the Red Sea whenever the visitors came forward.
You can excuse a poor performance every now and then because, over the course of 46 games, it’s inevitable standards will drop from time to time.
But what is simply inexcusable is a lack of effort and commitment, which all players were guilty of bar one or two.
That’s why it’s harsh to pick out individuals, but Harry Pritchard – normally such a reliable performer – simply standing by and allowing the Gillingham left back to tee up a cross for Tom Eaves to tap home perfectly summed up Blackpool’s malaise.
Curtis Tilt had an afternoon to forget too, arguably being at fault for Gillingham’s opening two goals, again standing by as Brandon Hanlan waltzed past him before slotting home, and then slipping at the crucial moment allowing Eaves the chance to curl beyond Christoffer Mafoumbi for the first of his two goals.
Pritchard and Tilt were by no means the only guilty offenders, this was an all-round abject display from start to finish in the opening period.
The Seasiders, as you’d expect, rallied in the second half but by then the damage was done and while the performance did improve, it was too little, too late.
And even then, despite creating three or four good chances, it was telling the Seasiders failed to find the back of the net once again, which means Pool end the season by failing to score in 37 per cent of their league encounters.
It would also be a little harsh to read too much into this result, given it was a game with nothing riding on it and Pool have enjoyed a positive season in the main.
But this sort of display is no longer a one-off, it’s been happening far too often for it to be merely a coincidence.
Rather than witnessing a joyous occasion to celebrate what has been a seismic season off the field for the club, the fans traipsed out of Bloomfield Road wondering if Terry McPhillips is the right man to take the club forward under new owners.
The number and strength of dissenting voices is certainly beginning to grow.
McPhillips tactically got it wrong once again, something he held his hands up to in his post-match press conference. His team selection also left a lot to be desired, too.
Two or three worrying trends simply aren’t going away. There’s Pool’s failure to pick up points against the league’s poorer and more average sides, their failure to score, their poor home record, and there’s the poor quality of football on offer to factor in too.
But the thing is, this team can do better. Yes 10th is progress and an improvement on last season, but is McPhillips getting the most out of this squad? It’s a question the fanbase are certainly asking themselves.
It’s not just been a poor end to the season, with a run of four points from the final five games seeing Pool drift away from the top six places.
But the Seasiders have also claimed just two victories in 11 games since the departure of former assistant Gary Brabin at the beginning of March.
It might just be coincidental, I might be reading too much into it, but the loss of such an affirmative, strong voice from the dressing room has been telling.
The only positive to take from Saturday’s horror show was the re-appearance of Jimmy Ryan, who provided a passing masterclass in the second 45 minutes.
I’ll hold my hand up and admit that, after a 12-month absence, I was expecting it to take Ryan a while to get up to speed in the blood and thunder of League One football.
But I was gladly proved wrong, with Ryan showing an impressive willingness to get on the ball before displaying his wide range of passing to full effect.
The man he replaced, Antony Evans, had another poor day at the office. He was certainly under-par but it was a shame to see him singled out by some supporters.
The issue has been McPhillips’ unwavering keenness to keep giving Evans opportunities, more than he’s probably deserved, when there have been others who haven’t been given the same number of chances.
But that’s not Evans’ fault and he certainly wasn’t the only player to have performed to such a low standard in that opening half.
All in all, this was an opportunity wasted to end the season on a high and continue the off-the-field momentum into what will be a defining summer for the football club.
In reality this result will soon be forgotten about and there will be bigger and brighter news soon gaining our attention, but there are certainly issues to iron out.