It was arguably Blackpool’s best performance of the season and yet it ended it yet another goalless draw.
MATCH REPORT: Walsall 0-0 Blackpool
That seems to be the running theme for the Seasiders right now, who are caught in a catch-22 situation of feeling satisfied by their defensive solidity, but frustrated by their lack of quality in front of goal. That’s essentially what it all boils down to.
Blackpool were very good at getting the ball from back to front at Walsall on Saturday. It was a controlled display.
They passed the ball out neatly from the back but it wasn’t a case of eye-pleasing passing for passing’s sake. It was straight into midfield and, before you knew it, they were bearing down on Walsall’s goal.
But, as so often has been the case already this season, the final third is where it all broke down.
To be fair to lone striker Mark Cullen, he did everything right. He ran the channels, held the ball up admirably well and worked his socks off. But he just didn’t get the service he required from Nathan Delfouneso and Joe Dodoo on the wings.
There was no cutting edge and there almost seemed to be a lack of conviction from the pair of them. You were just willing them on to utilise their undoubted pace. Dodoo was hauled off at half time and replaced by Liam Feeney, who was an improvement and went close to scoring on a couple of occasions. But still Blackpool couldn’t find that breakthrough.
At the other end, Blackpool looked as solid as a rock. Curtis Tilt was his normal brilliant-self on his return to the side after failing to get his move to Ipswich Town, while Ben Heneghan alongside him produced his best display in a Blackpool shirt to date.
For whatever reason, Heneghan seems to struggle when he’s partnered alongside Paudie O’Connor. But on Saturday he was dominant, won the vast majority of his aerial duels and made a number of vital blocks and interceptions. He made easy work of Walsall striker Andy Cook.
Tilt and Heneghan were ably supported by Marc Bola and Michael Nottingham in the full-back positions, with both of them enjoying fine performances at either end of the pitch.
PLAYER RATINGS: Our marks out of 10 after Blackpool's goalless draw at Walsall
Walsall failed to produce a single shot on target and in truth, never looked like scoring. That’s some feat for Pool given Walsall came into the game bang in form, fourth in the league, unbeaten and with four wins from their opening five league games.
But there was only ever going to be one winner. It was just a shame for Blackpool they couldn’t find that breakthrough.
It wasn’t for the want of trying though, and they did have the chances. Curtis Tilt went close with two headers from set pieces – the main source of Pool’s opportunities at the moment. Cullen also fired wide on the turn from close range and Nathan Delfouneso had a last-minute goal ruled out for offside. It looked tight.
I can only remember one genuine chance for the hosts and it came with one minute of the game remaining. Blackpool’s normally reliable defence allowed Kane Wilson an unmarked header but thankfully the Walsall substitute headed wide when well placed in front of goal.
That’s now just the three goals conceded in the league this season from Pool’s six games. While only four have gone in at the other end, the fact that Blackpool are disappointed not to have taken more points from their opening fixtures – while still sitting 11th in the table – is a measure of the progress the side are making.
The Seasiders are now six unbeaten and while that run doesn’t include enough wins, Terry McPhillips has surely done enough to earn the manager’s job on a full-time basis.
An appointment is expected some time this week. Precisely when, we don’t know. I’d like to say I’d be surprised if it isn’t McPhillips who is given the role but I’m no longer surprised at anything that happens with this football club.
Other applicants, such as Owen Coyle and Richie Wellens, appear to have come and gone, leaving the door wide open for Terry Mac. But, as always, Gary Bowyer’s former number two was giving very little away when asked about the situation on Saturday. “I’ll continue to prepare for Macclesfield Town on Tuesday”, was the official line.
McPhillips could certainly consider himself unfortunate if he doesn’t get the gig. He’s surely done as well as anyone could have expected.
In the seven games he’s taken charge of, he’s lost just the once, with the other six results being shared equally between wins and draws.
He’s carried on Bowyer’s excellent work but he’s well aware of where Blackpool’s current problems lie. They’re missing that striker who can do a bit of everything: hold the ball up, run the channels, hustle defenders and of course, stick the ball in the back of the net when it comes their way. A Kyle Vassell-type, if you will.
Chuks Aneke could have been that man. Blackpool were close to sealing a surprise move for the MK Dons forward on Friday’s deadline day but the club couldn’t manage to get it over the line.
He could have made a huge difference to the Seasiders. The 25-year-old scored 10 goals in 35 appearances last season as MK were relegated from League One.
He certainly stood out during Blackpool’s 0-0 draw at Stadium:MK last season. Again, like Vassell, he’s a strong and mobile forward who will unsettle defences. His goals would just be an added bonus.