'This was the culmination of a thoroughly miserable festive period': Matt Scrafton's verdict on Blackpool's New Year's Day defeat at Rotherham

The Seasiders can only watch as Dan Barlaser thunders home Rotherham's late winner
The Seasiders can only watch as Dan Barlaser thunders home Rotherham's late winner
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This wasn’t so much a New Year’s Day hangover, rather the culmination of a thoroughly miserable festive period for the Seasiders.

READ MORE: Simon Grayson reads the riot act to Blackpool players after New Year's Day defeat to Rotherham

Prior to Blackpool’s home clash against Shrewsbury Town on December 21, Simon Grayson’s men were sitting pretty in fifth place in the League One table and harbouring hopes of a strong end to 2019 that would see them challenging the top two.

But defeats to Shrewsbury, Accrington Stanley and now Rotherham United have since followed as well as a laboured draw away at lowly Tranmere Rovers - who have since been pummelled 4-1 at home by Coventry City.

It leaves the men in tangerine in 10th place, although any long-lasting damage has been avoided with plenty of other sides in and around them dropping points, meaning they’re still only two points off the top six.

In isolation a narrow defeat against a thoroughly efficient Rotherham side, whose victory sees them climb up into second in the table, is far from being the end of the world.

But when it means just one point has been gathered in a run of four games in 12 days, it only serves to highlight the current malaise.

Judging by Simon Grayson’s indignant post-match comments, he’s well aware that this is not merely a poor run of form. There’s deeper lying problems at play here.

His cutting remarks, where he said players that don’t “buck their ideas up” won’t play a role in the club’s journey, suggests he’s come to the realisation certain players aren’t up to the required standard if Pool are to challenge for the play-offs this season.

This isn’t an overreaction to Pool’s recent slump, these are comments Grayson has consistently been making throughout the campaign.

Grayson, who is now coming under pressure from a section of the club’s fanbase, deserves lee-way and a full transfer window to make the necessary additions to put things right.

Let’s not forget ‘Larry’ only returned to Bloomfield Road on July 6, 28 days before Blackpool’s season got underway. A lot of the club’s transfer business had already been done prior to his arrival.

That’s not to say he’s immune from criticism, because the additions of Rocky Bushiri, Sean Scannll and Joe Nuttall in particular clearly haven’t worked out. All three were his signings.

But the side that began this New Year’s Day encounter in South Yorkshire was largely made up of players Grayson inherited from Terry McPhillips.

As Simon Sadler said in his New Year’s message to supporters, the club is currently experiencing a transition period where change is necessary across the pitch, but particularly in the attacking areas.

That doesn’t mean Grayson will get a free pass because promotion is still the aim and League One is still there to be taken by the scruff of its neck this season, but - as always - context is key.

If Blackpool manage to finish in close proximity to Rotherham this season they’ll have done well. While they competed well with the Millers, the home side always looked to have that extra bit of quality.

The Seasiders looked second best right from the off against a Rotherham side that were clearly in buoyant form having enjoyed back-to-back wins in their previous two outings.

Paul Warne’s side are primed for an instant return to the Championship and look every-inch promotion contenders.

Their football isn’t free-flowing and it won’t win many plaudits from neutral observers, but there’s a clear plan on show and they have the players to carry it out down to a tee.

On the flip side, Grayson, as he admitted himself after yesterday’s game, perhaps doesn’t have the right individuals for how he wants his side to play.

Set pieces and getting high-quality balls into the box is a key asset for the Millers, so it was no surprise to see the home side take an early lead via that route after 21 minutes, the 6ft 3ins striker Michael Smith rising highest to nod Dan Barlaser’s fizzed corner into the back of the net via the underside of the crossbar.

It was a soft goal to concede from Pool’s point of view, but there was no arguing the Millers deserved their breakthrough.

When Pool did register a goal of their own, just their third in their past five games, the only surprise is that it was an equaliser and not an early consolation.

To their credit it was a well-worked affair, Jordan Thompson and Ollie Turton combining well from a corner before the former put it on a plate for Armand Gnanduillet at the back post for the striker to head home his 14th goal of the campaign - matching his tally from last season in the process on the first day of January.

Pool didn’t really deserve to be level, as conceded by Grayson post-match. But it provided a platform to attack the second half and take the game to their frustrated opponents.

That’s what Grayson at least attempted to do by making a double change at the break, bringing off Thompson and Sullay Kaikai in a game where the Blackpool boss knew his side couldn’t afford to be bullied off the ball.

On came Curtis Tilt, to allow Pool to revert to a back three, and Nuttall - who endured another frustrating cameo.

The 22-year-old, who has still only scored one league goal all season, looks completely bereft of confidence. So much so, his strike partner Gnanduillet ran over to him and offered him a double high-five after Nuttall’s attempted long-range effort bobbled into the turf and well wide of goal.

That effort came not long after the former Blackburn Rovers man had squandered a priceless chance when he had again failed to trouble the keeper despite Nathan Delfouneso putting it on a plate for him just 10 yards from goal.

While Pool were improved in the second half, Rotherham remained just as effective as before and inevitably came on strong towards the end in search of that late winner.

It appeared as though Pool would be successful in their attempt to keep the Millers at bay thanks to some desperate, last-ditch defending, Ollie Turton heading off the goalline in what was an impressive, battling display from the defender.

But Pool’s luck with officials in recent weeks has been lacking, I think it’s fair to say.

And, with just five minutes left on the clock, Rotherham were gifted the softest of free-kicks 25 yards from goal after Jay Spearing had been adjudged to have brushed Carlton Morris off the ball.

It wasn’t a free-kick at all, the Rotherham striker was clearly looking for it. But not for the first time that afternoon the referee, who was poor for both sides it has to be said, bought it.

To Barlaser’s credit, he stuck the resulting set-piece away with some aplomb, thundering an effort into the top corner.

When Rotherham needed someone to step up and provide a moment of quality, they had players who could do the business.

Do the Seasiders possess that trait? Not just yet, but watch this space...