The key talking points and observations from Blackpool's first pre-season friendly of the summer against Southport
Blackpool got their pre-season off to a solid start yesterday with a 2-0 win against National League North side Southport at Haig Avenue.
Demetri Mitchell and debutant Shayne Lavery were the men to grab the goals on what was Pool’s first taste of action since their Wembley triumph, 41 days ago.
Here, The Gazette’s Blackpool FC writer Matt Scrafton takes a look at some of the key talking points from the Seasiders’ opening friendly of the summer…
Connolly at right-back
The summer recruit hinted in his interview with The Gazette last month that Neil Critchley fancied him at right-back, and that’s exactly where he played when he came on at half-time during Saturday’s game at Haig Avenue. The former Everton and Fleetwood Town man has predominantly played most of his football in the centre of defence or as a defensive midfielder, but it appears the 23-year-old has been earmarked for the right-back slot - for now at least. The Seasiders are currently short in that area of the pitch following Ollie Turton’s surprise move to Huddersfield Town and Jordan Gabriel’s return to parent club Nottingham Forest (who he started for yesterday during their 2-1 win against Alfreton Town). Jack Moore, a 17-year-old from Pool’s academy, took up that role during the opening 45 minutes, but you’d expect right-back to be high on the club’s list of priorities when it comes to recruitment between now and the end of the summer transfer window. Lack of depth is certainly not a problem over on the other side of defence. Judging from yesterday’s runout, Luke Garbutt and Reece James appear to be the two left-backs of choice, with James Husband being preferred for the left-sided centre-half role.
It was only a short runout for those involved, each player - other than Kevin Stewart, who was forced off with a knock - getting 45 minutes each. With all due respect, the opposition wasn’t of the highest calibre, either, although Southport did create one or two problems with their direct approach. Nevertheless, Marvin Ekpiteta looked calm and assured in the centre of defence during the first-half, while Demetri Mitchell was a livewire on the right wing, a position he excelled in during the latter stages of Blackpool’s promotion-winning campaign. Mitchell took his goal in emphatic fashion, could have easily had another and almost grabbed an assist or two as well during his 45-minute cameo. It was a good day’s work for the former Manchester United academy graduate, who will be looking to build on his stop-start campaign where he was often in and out of the side, despite doing little wrong, purely because of the talent ahead of him in the pecking order. Despite being seen as a left-back when he first arrived, Mitchell looks best served to be playing higher up, especially on the right where he can cut in on his preferred left foot. If CJ Hamilton is preferred on the left, which is where he played on Saturday, then Mitchell might have a chance of making the right wing position his own, albeit recent recruit Josh Bowler will also provide healthy competition.
Oliver Sarkic back from the cold
The 23-year-old donned a tangerine jersey for the first time since January 26, a gap of 166 days. The forward did himself no harm and was clearly out to impress, often dropping deep from his number 10/free role to help link up play. In fact, perhaps the former Burton Albion was trying too hard at times, as there were a couple of occasions where Sarkic lost possession of the ball trying to be too cute and clever. There was one particular moment where Sarkic gave the ball away needlessly near Pool’s own box, which could well have been punished by Championship opposition. Nevertheless, Sarkic certainly looked leaner and in better shape and a full pre-season will do him the world of good, having had his season ended early last term, returning from an unsuccessful loan spell at Mansfield Town with a hamstring injury. Sarkic was a bit-part player for the Seasiders last term, making just nine appearances (and just five of those were in League One). Chances are, the Grimsby-born Montenegrin will need to head out on loan to be assured of regular first-team football.
There’s nothing better for a striker than scoring on your debut, even if it’s ‘only’ a friendly. Shayne Lavery did exactly that, heading home smartly at the near post from a cross from another debutant in Josh Bowler. Lavery looks like the sort of player that comes alive in the box and he showed some real intelligent, well-timed runs. Just minutes prior to scoring Blackpool’s second of the afternoon, the summer recruit came within inches of scoring when his stooping header was well turned away by the Southport keeper. He’s the type of striker that has an uncanny knack of finding himself in the right place at the right time, with the ball almost gravitating towards him. That’s some skill to have for a number nine. He’s clearly got something about him and Pool fans will be excited to see more of him during the remainder of pre-season. Elsewhere, Daniel Grimshaw did well in-between the sticks during the second-half, distributing well and making two or three smart stops. It was a confident display from the former Manchester City youngster, who will provide backup and competition for number one Chris Maxwell in the Championship this coming season. As mentioned, Bowler was a direct threat over on the right flank, although his final end product was lacking at times, other than his cross for Lavery’s goal.
Strength in depth
Neil Critchley was without eight players on Saturday (Chris Maxwell, Daniel Gretarsson, Teddy Howe, Kenny Dougall, Matty Virtue, Bez Lubala, Joe Nuttall and Gary Madine), yet Pool’s head coach was still able to name two strong XIs in either half. There were no trialists on show (this is a new Blackpool we’re dealing with here) and only three youngsters in Jack Moore, Cameron Antwi and Brad Holmes. Dougall will come back into the fold next week, having been given extra time to rest following his international excursions with Australia. Maxwell is said to be fine, Critchley simply wanting to take a look at his two backup goalkeepers. Daniel Gretarsson is making in-roads in his recovery from shoulder surgery, as is Gary Madine in his recovery from groin surgery. It’s hoped both will play some part towards the back end of Blackpool’s pre-season. That won’t be the case for Matty Virtue though, who will remain sidelined with his serious ACL injury for some time yet. Like Sarkic, you’d imagine Teddy Howe and Joe Nuttall will depart at some point during this transfer window and their futures lie elsewhere. As for Lubala, the seriousness of the situation means Critchley is still unable to provide a meaningful update for supporters - other than that the issue is ongoing and remains a private one.
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