Stuck to the bottom of the table, and still a club in turmoil, relegation looks a certainty for Blackpool. As Nottingham Forest head to the Seasiders, Chris Walker from the Measured Progress blog tells us what to expect from the home side
Based on your last preview, is it fair to say this season’s pretty much gone as you expected?
I had to look back to my last contribution to Seat Pitch before the first game of the season, and having done so to see I’d written that ‘we’ll probably go down’ it would appear I was a little too optimistic. There should have been no ‘probably’ about it – relegation was always a certainty with the way we prepared, or rather didn’t, for the season. It’s been a complete shambles from the get-go and the club’s owners should frankly be ashamed themselves, although shame is a word that does not appear to exist in their vocabulary.
José Riga was never given the backing that he expected he would receive when he took the job, and very quickly he became disillusioned and the relationship with chairman Karl Oyston was non-existent. It was no surprise when Riga was sacked and, being bottom of the league, gave Oyston a cheap excuse to get rid of a manager who was pointing the finger of blame towards the directors’ box. It wasn’t a logical decision though, because as poor a start as Riga had in terms of points, when you consider he had to scrape by with virtually no players — only having a 14-man squad at the City Ground, for example — he did well to ensure we were rarely hammered. We were slowly improving under him, at least trying to play football the right way, and while it might never have been enough to keep us up, making a change of manager while still employing the same non-strategy of doom was never going to help; and thus we find ourselves on a course set for oblivion, otherwise known as League One.
Is relegation a formality now or do Blackpool fans still harbour hopes of an escape?
If there is a Blackpool fan who still thinks we can stay up, then I have yet to meet them. Most will accept we were effectively down before a ball had even been kicked, but once we got to January still 10 or so points off safety that was that. The form we now need to get to the magic 50-point mark is simply unachievable, given we would need to win 10 of our remaining 16 matches. I do think we can possibly sneak a few scrappy 1-0 wins at home, but probably only two or three out of the remaining eight left to play at Bloomfield Road. We’ve also not won on the road all season, and with mainly top-half sides left to play away, I don’t see that changing any time soon. Our survival hopes are deader than a fossilised dodo.
What’s the fans’ opinion on Lee Clark after replacing Jose Riga?
Even though we were bottom of the league, the overwhelming majority of the supporters were disappointed, even angry, to see Riga get sacked. Riga had engendered a high level of support for his blunt honesty at the atrocious working conditions Blackpool managers face and his cries for more backing to bring in players of the required quality were indisputable. Rather than act upon what his manager was telling him, which might have actually got to the root of our various problems, Oyston opted to bring in Lee Clark who had only recently been sacked by fellow strugglers Birmingham. The Blues brought in Gary Rowett, who Oyston had previously courted while Riga was still in a job, and since Rowett has been there they have soared up the league with very little change in personnel, which doesn’t say much for Clark’s abilities as a manager.
Since he’s come in, Clark has tried to take things back to basics, which is a polite way of saying he has made us bloody awful to watch as well as hopeless. He’s been backed a little more than Riga was in terms of transfer funds, but rather than take the best of the inherited players and supplement that with some extra quality in the transfer market, he’s cast most of Riga’s signings to one side, regardless of quality, and brought in an absolute bucketload of new players who for the most part are no better, and in many cases much worse. He’s used a staggering 43 players in his 16 matchday squads during his time in charge, and the turnover of players has made a chaotic club even more bonkers.
In addition, he’s also managed to antagonise most of the supporter base by essentially acting as a shield for the chairman with shouts of ‘collaborator’ and ‘stooge’ thrown at him from the terraces. He has tangled himself in knots with differing stories about what is going on with various absent players to try to cover for the chairman, and has then acted with incredulity at the number of rumours floating around the place. Sadly, he seems bulletproof as long as he toes the party line and while he has ground out a couple of really ugly wins, he’s still going to get us relegated in early April (at best) and continue to infuriate the supporters in the process with his awful interviews with the press.
How do you think things will develop at Blackpool — is there a power struggle between the Oystons and Valeri Belokon?
You could easily write a book on the boardroom strife alone, but the decisive factor is that the Oyston family are majority owners and as such the club is theirs to do with as they please. Footballing authorities seem powerless to step in and as much noise as Belokon seeks to create, he’s still at the mercy of the Oystons. Only when they decide to sell up and move on will things change, and it’s hard to know when that might happen. The only scenario I can see that involves them leaving is a tumbling down the divisions which results in crowds evaporating away to nothing. When the club begins to cost them money to run, rather than earn them even more, they may decide it’s more trouble than it’s worth. They will probably still want a golden goodbye however, so somebody will have to be willing to pay over the odds for a broken football club and a poorly-maintained stadium. Any takers?!
Who are the players to watch out for?
Obviously when you’re bottom of the league there isn’t much to shout about, which means picking out a top player is something of an arduous task. However, there is someone who has really come to the fore in the past couple of months and been a massive help in us winning three of our last six home games. He goes by the name of A. Pitch and has been a real handful for the opposition, so much so that Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka cited his presence as being the main reason why their 2-1 win was the best of his managerial career.
This Pitch guy, maybe a relation of this very website (?), has been crucial in breaking up play all over the playing area and has also made some crucial goal-saving interventions in our own box. It’s believed that A. Pitch will be at his most effective ever for this weekend’s game with the Blackpool players spending extra time training with him during the week. He has been known to cause a few injuries though, so your players better watch out given he never seems to pick up so much as a booking. Elsewhere, Jamie O’Hara is probably the best of a bad bunch.
What do you think will happen on Saturday?
It will be 90 minutes of something that only faintly resembles the sport of football as the playing surface disrupts any attempts to create anything close to a scoring chance. At some point, the ball may bounce favourably for one of the two sides. It will be 0-0 or a tight 1-0 win for either team and everyone will go home bored and pray to God that they never have to return to Bloomfield Road ever again.