'For the first time, Blackpool looked like they gave up': Matt Scrafton's verdict on Bristol Rovers drubbing
While stuck in the Saturday night traffic jams in Bristol for Massive Attack’s homecoming gig, it gave me chance to reflect on the Unfinished Sympathy that is Blackpool Football Club.
Left to rot and stew under the Oyston regime, the club’s future now looks bright and, all of a sudden, there is light at the end of the tunnel and hope among those thousands of fans who will flock back in their droves to Bloomfield Road next week.
But reviewing the disastrous 90 minutes of football I had just witnessed at the Memorial Stadium, I was on the verge of a single Teardrop rolling down my face.
Okay, Blackpool’s display might have been woeful, but it wasn’t that bad. But you catch my drift.
This was comfortably Pool’s worst display of the season. In fact, it was arguably their worst performance since 2016, which was the last time they were beaten by a four-goal margin when they suffered a 5-1 drubbing at the hands of Peterborough United, the defeat that confirmed their relegation to League Two.
It is ironic and unforgivable really, given Rovers’ lowly position in the league table, that Pool’s other poorest display of the season came against the same side back in November, when they also found themselves on the wrong end of the same scoreline. The caveat with that display was that it came on the back of Blackpool’s exhaustive efforts at Arsenal, but this time they had no ready-made excuse.
It is just typically Blackpool for this type of performance and result to come in the week of all weeks for supporters – who were able to celebrate the appointment of a new board, the removal of Owen Oyston and Natalie Christopher from their roles and excitedly start snapping up their tickets for the next home game.
So clearly there’s a feelgood factor around the town, but unfortunately that didn’t transpire down to the players on Saturday.
Blackpool were miserable, they were feeble and – this is not something I say lightly – they looked like they had given up. That’s something I’ve never even considered writing before during my time reporting on the club under the management of Gary Bowyer and Terry McPhillips. It’s comes as much of a surprise to me than it does you that I’m writing these very words now.
Once the third goal went in, it was like the players’ professional pride went out of the window and from this point onwards, the scoreline could have been anything. Pool were lucky it was only four.
That fourth goal epitomised everything that was wrong in their display, leaving Liam Sercombe in acres of space with only the unfortunate Mark Howard to beat and only one or two players chasing back and making an effort to stop another goal. But alas, it was all in vein and the damage had already been done.
That was thanks to Jonson Clarke-Harris, who claimed the match ball with three opportunistic efforts by taking full advantage of Blackpool’s laughable defending. Fair play to him.
What is most concerning about Pool’s back-to-back defeats, Oxford last week and now Bristol Rovers this week, is the fashion in which they have made largely average strikers look much better than they are.
They did the same against Jerome Sinclair last week, a striker who has scored just four goals all season, but still managed to terrorise Curtis Tilt for the 90 minutes.
Against Oxford Tilt looked nervy, he looked afraid every time Sinclair came near him and he looked nothing like the player who had previously courted so much interest from clubs higher up. Interest that is absolutely warranted, I may add.
Unfortunately it got even worse for the centre back against Bristol Rovers, the 27-year-old enduring his worst display in a Blackpool shirt by far. For someone so adept at bringing the ball out from the back, he was all-of-a-sudden transformed into a player that was unable to do the basics of the game. He was culpable for at least two of the four goals.
But by no means was he the only poor performer. In fact, goalkeeper Mark Howard was the only player to come out with any credit – the shot stopper making two or three superb saves only to be badly let down by those in front of him. It tells its own story when your goalkeeper is your Man of the Match in a game where you already conceded four.
Pool, normally so reliable at the back, produced a performance that was littered with defensive errors. And yet, at the other end, they still managed to create chances. Good ones, too.
Harry Pritchard should really have scored after three minutes, failing to hit the target with a close-range header. That came three minutes before the hosts took the lead. From there they never looked back.
Armand Gnanduillet missed with a similar chance, again failing to test the goalkeeper despite being left unmarked in front of goal. Jordan Thompson somehow managed to blaze over the bar from 10 yards out. Substitutes Joe Dodoo and Chris Taylor both should really have scored.
Scoring has been a problem all season for Pool and that’s now three games without a goal for McPhillips’ men.
But there are issues elsewhere, too. Donervon Daniels is not a right back, Ollie Turton is better suited to playing there and Pool are badly missing Marc Bola’s pace and dynamism on the left.
Does Saturday’s defeat take away from what is a hugely exciting time for the club? Of course not. But it was frustrating Pool saved their worst performance of the season at a time when they could really do with building up some momentum ahead of that Southend game, not hitting a patch of bad form at just the wrong time.
It needs to be put right at Accrington on Tuesday.