Verdict: Job well done for Blackpool in season opener
Given the summer of ongoing chaos and uncertainty at Bloomfield Road, Gary Bowyer and his players should reflect on a job well done in earning a hard-earned draw in their League One curtain raiser at Wycombe.
MATCH REPORT: Wycombe Wanderers 0-0 BlackpoolThe club are now without a training ground to call home, they’ve lost the spine of their team that did so well to finish 12th last season and the despised man at the top still owes £25m to the Latvian former director.
This is far from a normal football club, but Bowyer continues to assemble sides that give that impression. For that, he deserves all of our admiration.
As the cliché goes, Wycombe is not an easy place to go to. They will have been full of confidence going into Saturday’s opening game, riding the momentum of last season’s promotion from League Two.
The Chairboys are also the type of side who are guaranteed to test everything you’ve got – and more. Even if they don’t play well, their direct, no-nonsense approach will cause problems for most if not all sides in the third tier this season.
With Adebayo Akinfenwa in attack, they’ve got someone who is a constant menace to opposition centre backs. It’s virtually assured he will win the vast majority of his aerial duels and give you a battering during the process – so how do you deal with him?
The way Wycombe play isn’t pretty. They get the ball forward, they win their one-on-one battles and they look for Akinfenwa in the penalty box. It’s League Two personified. But they do it very well and it’s easy to see why they enjoyed so much success last season.
But the fact Blackpool escaped with a deserved clean sheet with two loanee debutants up against Akinfenwa is testament to how well they stood up to the experienced frontman – whose is aptly nicknamed ‘The Beast’.
With Bowyer opting to leave Curtis Tilt out of the squad amid ongoing transfer speculation, it was up to Ben Heneghan and Paudie O’Connor to deal with the 36-year-old having been thrown into the deep end with jus two days of training together as a centre back pairing.
O’Connor, aged just 21, was superb – putting his body on the line time and time again. You can tell he’s the sort of defender that, if the ball is there to be won, he’ll do anything to win it, taking the man with him should it be needed.
Meanwhile Heneghan, just 24 himself, initially struggled against Akinfenwa, through no real fault of his own. He gave away a few needless fouls in and around his own box which is the last thing you want to be doing against this sort of team.
But he learnt from his early mistakes and improved as the game wore on. Eventually, Akinfenwa cut a frustrated figure and was subbed off with 10 minutes to go. Job done from that point of view.
While there was plenty to be impressed about from a defensive side of things for Pool, they will need to offer more going the other way in the coming weeks and months.
That’s not to say the Seasiders weren’t a threat going forwards, because they were. When they got the ball down and ran at Wycombe, they caused them all sorts of problems. Nathan Delfouneso especially was a major threat from the left. But they didn’t do it enough.
At times they got sucked into the sort of game Wycombe wanted to play – especially in the first half. The hosts were winning the second balls and at times had Pool pinned back in their own half, leaving them with no other option but to face the barrage of long balls coming their way.
When they did eventually win the ball back, they resorted to long chipped balls themselves up to lone forward Joe Dodoo. He never really stood a chance against Wycombe’s burly defenders. He needed the ball to feet or in behind, otherwise his abilities are wasted.
Towards the end of the opening period Pool finally settled and got the ball down on the deck. When they did that, Chris Taylor was a threat from midfield and Wycombe looked a lot more unsettled.
Gareth Ainsworth’s side clearly had the upper hand in the first half and were left to rue a number of fine saves made by Pool keeper Mark Howard, who was making his second debut for the club.
But the clearest chance of the half came Blackpool’s way, with Taylor curling a fine free kick against the post which left former Pool loanee Ryan Allsop rooted to the spot.
The second half was more of an even affair but the game ended with the Seasiders on top, but unfortunately they couldn’t find that goal to break the deadlock.
Wycombe were reduced to 10 men with just a minute of normal time remaining, when Michael Harriman needlessly brought down Delfouneso to receive a second yellow.
But the hosts managed to survive the four minutes of added time, leaving both sides to settle for an opening day point.
Pool can be satisfed with their efforts in what was a game played out in searing heat. Thankfully the referee saw sense and allowed a water break in either half.
Fielding a side with eight debutants, Bowyer will no doubt be very pleased with how his new-look side stood up to the physical challenge presented by Wycombe.
But he will be under no illusions that extra quality is needed in attack. Reinforcements are badly needed this week, with the transfer deadline closing at 5pm on Thursday. If nothing can be done by then, the club still have one loan spot left to fill before the end of the month.