Perennial underdogs, Blackpool continue to thrive under Ian Holloway despite defeat in the play-off final last season. Chris Walker from the Up the ‘Pool blog tells us what to expect from the home side.
Following last year’s play-off final defeat, what are your expectations for the season?
As with most sides who lose a play-off final, the goal the following season was to avoid the play-offs altogether and go up automatically. We managed to hold onto our better players and had only really lost Keith Southern and the on-loan Stephen Dobbie since the defeat at Wembley. We started well enough and occupied top spot after the first four matches, but since then the early season optimism has somewhat evaporated. Most Blackpool fans would still like to think promotion is possible, but a top two finish looks very unlikely – another play-off campaign looks the best route. However, given the current slump even that could be a big ask. I suspect we’ll finish somewhere between 5th and 10th.
How does Ian Holloway keep producing sides that compete for promotion?
Well, it still remains to be seen if he has done that this season, although the constraints under which Holloway has to work must be emphasised. Sub-par training facilities and repeated failure of the chairman to deliver his manager’s top transfer targets make Holloway’s life very difficult. Yet despite that, he has shown an ability to get the most out of players, produce entertaining football and foster a team spirit which has led to a successful three years in charge. The past two seasons may have ended in disappointment with relegation and a play-off final defeat, but Holloway has maintained near-universal support until now. Recently though, there are signs emerging of his frustration at the lack of financial backing and rumours are growing of an imminent departure to Blackburn. If Holloway does stay, he has a big challenge on his hands to mount another promotion push.
Have there been many changes since last season?
We didn’t really lose any key men so the starting XI most weeks hasn’t been too different from last season. The most significant new arrivals have been Isiah Osbourne (signed from Hibs), Tiago Gomes (signed from Hercules) and Nathan Delfouneso, who has arrived on a season long loan from Aston Villa. On top of those three we’ve signed numerous players intended for the development squad, or yet to significantly feature. Yet despite the number of signings, and the size of the squad – Blackpool have over 40 professionals on the books – the team is worrying light in certain areas. There is no genuine competition for Matt Gilks in goal and the defence that has been so porous in recent seasons hasn’t really been strengthened. Holloway has had to make do with shopping for transfers in a market that no other Championship contenders are forced to – free transfers and outcasts – and has to somehow assemble that into a winning formula.
What can we expect tactically?
The successful formula for blackpool during the Holloway era has been an attacking 4-3-3 and I’d expect that to be the way we line up on Tuesday night. It has created lots of goals during the past few seasons, but also leaked a fair few too. With both full-backs encouraged to bomb on and a high defensive line, the defence can be vulnerable. Blackpool are at their best when keeping the passing short and sharp, dominating possession and using pace in wide areas. However, the side have struggled lately and going long bypassing the midfield has clearly had an effect on this. In terms of variation, Holloway has been experimenting with a midfield diamond in training in the past few weeks, and briefly introduced it towards the end of Saturday’s match at Burnley. I suspect that will be kept as a Plan B though.
Who are the key players to watch out for?
Tom Ince is the obvious threat and attracted Premier League interest in August, although his early form has dissipated after a short injury. Matt Phillips also was the subject of transfer talk during the window, but his displays have been thoroughly disappointing and one wonders if we should have snapped Southampton’s hands off when they offered a reported £6m for his services. Gary Taylor-Fletcher has been one of the few consistent bright lights and providing he is used correctly – in the front three as opposed to the midfield three – he can be very effective. Ludo Sylvestre could be in line for a start in midfield after impressing from the bench at Turf Moor. Sylvestre has never established himself as a regular in over two seasons at Bloomfield Road, but on his day is capable of making Blackpool tick.
What’s going to happen on Tuesday?
Absolutely anything could happen. Last season we had a very similar low point after a derby defeat at Burnley in October with promotion written off by most. A year ago we bounced back from that with a 5-0 away win at Leeds, and while a repeat of that seems highly unlikely, you never know what this Blackpool side are capable of. The pessimist in me is inclined to expect a Forest win, but Holloway will be demanding a big performance from his side. Apologies for a cop-out, but it could genuinely go either way.
You can follow Chris on Twitter: @onedavebamber
Image: Terry Robinson (CC-BY-SA-2.0), via Wikimedia Commons