The Matt Scrafton column: Blackpool making progress on and off the pitch

The Seasiders are a proper, established Championship team now, aren’t they? It certainly feels like it.

Friday, 26th November 2021, 12:30 pm

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My individual award pales into consideration to Blackpool FC Community Trust rec...

That might appear to be quite a bold statement to make given we aren’t even in December yet, but why hide from the truth?

Neil Critchley’s men have taken to the second tier like a duck to water.

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Shayne Lavery and Blackpool held their own against a West Brom side that played two levels above them last season

I said Blackpool would be the best performing side of the three teams to get promoted from League One last season.

Did I expect them to adjust to their new level so quickly and so impressively?

Absolutely not but this Blackpool side never ceases to amaze me under Critchley and co.

Even though the Seasiders are without a win in their last four outings, there is still a real buzz around the club and rightfully so.

The performances remain to a seriously high standard, evidenced by Tuesday night’s draw against promotion hopefuls West Brom.

The men in tangerine aren’t just holding their own in these games, they’re competing and, with a bit of luck or fine margins on their side, their three straight draws could quite easily have been turned into wins. They look like they belong at this level – and that’s because they do.

It’s no coincidence that Critchley’s men have yet to taste defeat against West Brom, Fulham and Bournemouth, the three sides who occupied the top three spots prior to their midweek encounter.

There’s nothing to fear at this level whatsoever and, when they have tasted defeat, it isn’t like they have been battered.

I don’t recall one game where they were well and truly beaten and made to look ordinary.

People might point to the 3-0 home defeat to Huddersfield Town back in September, but people forget how good the Seasiders were during the first half of that game.

They really ought to have been ahead at the break, but the Terriers simply blitzed them with some clinical finishing during a 10-minute blitz at the start of the second half.

That made the scoreline look terribly one-sided but take the game on its merits over the course of the 90 minutes and, again, Pool were well in it.

Aside from that, Blackpool were fairly comprehensively beaten by Cardiff City of all sides in their opening home game of the season.

Despite going on a dismal run shortly after that game that ultimately resulted in the sacking of Mick McCarthy, the Bluebirds were a step above that game and it looked like a case of men against boys.

Blackpool were still adjusting to the division at that point though and the squad that took to the field that day doesn’t resemble the one we see now, so that defeat was certainly an exception rather than the rule.

Coventry City were another team who caused the Seasiders plenty of problems, but that game only ended 1-0 to the Sky Blues and Critchley’s men had their chances to snatch a draw.

Aside from those relatively rare examples, Blackpool have looked every inch a Championship team and a very good one at that.

Off the pitch, meanwhile, the club continues to make great strides.

It was great to see Blackpool’s Community Trust recognised for its sterling work at the start of the week with a trophy at the North West Football Awards.

Critchley was also in attendance for that showpiece event, claiming the manager of the season award.

Knowing Pool’s head coach relatively well, I’m sure he will have hated being the centre of attention like that, speaking on stage in front of a crowded room.

As he likes to emphasise, it isn’t about him, it’s a team effort.

Individual awards mean very little in the grand scheme of things in what is a team game.

Critchley richly deserved that accolade and, given his rising stock in the game, it’s something he’ll probably have to get used to.

It was great to see pictures and footage from the event of owner Simon Sadler, director Brett Gerrity and other members of the club’s staff.

As Critchley was quick to point out, the community award is probably of more significance than his managerial gong.

While it’s great to see the club taste success on the pitch, and long may that continue, it’s imperative the Seasiders connect with the local populace and build back that support of a lost generation.

Win, lose or draw, the supporters have a club to be proud of nowadays. It’s now about sustaining that.

Further development and investment is on the way in the form of the training ground and, looking longer term, a new East Stand and the potential regeneration of the wider Revoe area.

All this won’t come cheaply and it won’t happen overnight but Pool fans can be rest assured Sadler and co will be doing all they can to make sure they come to fruition.

That’s as exciting as any victory.

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