Neil Critchley on Kevin Stewart's international call-up, Reece James' fitness and Blackpool's conundrum at left-back

The timing of Kevin Stewart’s international call-up is far from ideal, Blackpool boss Neil Critchley has admitted.

By Matt Scrafton
Thursday, 27th January 2022, 10:47 am

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The 28-year-old will miss Saturday’s away game against league leaders Fulham after being included in the Jamaica squad for their upcoming triple header.

Stewart, who could earn his first cap, has only just returned from a lengthy ankle injury that has limited his game time this season to just three appearances.

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The Seasiders were already low on options in central midfield prior to Stewart’s departure following Ryan Wintle’s recall to Cardiff City and long-term injuries to Matty Virtue and Grant Ward.

Callum Connolly, predominately a defender, has filled in there in recent weeks alongside Kenny Dougall, while Ethan Robson has had to be recalled from his loan at MK Dons.

Jamaica face Mexico at midnight UK time, before taking on Panama (January 30) and Costa Rica (February 3).

The Gazette understands news of Stewart’s call-up only came late on Saturday night and communication has been fairly limited.

Stewart has made just three appearances this season

“Kevin’s gone away. He got on a flight yesterday,” Critchley confirmed to The Gazette.

“They’ve got some qualification games this weekend and just after, so he won’t be available this weekend.

“If you told me at the start of the season Kev was only going to play three games and not even three full games, I’d have been concerned about that.

“We’ve missed his experience and his quality for us in the middle of the pitch. He was a big player for us last season and I was hoping he was going to be a big player for us this season.

“We’ve just got him back recently as well and truthfully he was on the bench last week a little bit out of necessity. He hadn’t trained for that long.

“Ideally we’d like to get some more training into him and a game or two, maybe get a reserve game into him. But we’ve not been able to do that.

“But when it’s the international window and they’re recognised qualification games, there’s nothing we can do. If he’s called up and he’s fit, then he has to go and that’s what has happened.

“Jamaica are aware of his circumstances and hopefully they look after him, but he might get some valuable game time while he’s there as well.”

Elsewhere, the Seasiders will be without a recognised left-back this weekend with Luke Garbitt (knee), Reece James (hamstring) and James Husband (hamstring) all injured.

James is the closest of the three to returning, although Saturday’s trip to Craven Cottage is likely to come too soon for him.

“He’s not too far away, hopefully,” Critchley said.

“He’s been back on the grass, running, twisting and turning and stopping and starting, changing direction and doing some ball work.

“He’s a naturally fit fella anyway with good endurance, so he’s got a good baseline to start from anyway.

“I think Saturday will come too soon for him, but we’re hopeful he won’t be too far away.”

That leaves the Seasiders with a conundrum at left-back, although Dujon Sterling could shift over there as he did so well during the win against Millwall last week once Garbutt hobbled off.

“We could do that, we could change the shape, we could look to do different things,” Critchley pondered.

“Dujon went there and played well. Obviously he’s not a natural left-back but maybe we’re going to have to think outside the box for a game or two.

“That’s where myself and the staff come in. We’ve got some multi-functional players within the squad and if called upon to do the job, I’m sure they will.”

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