Sunday, 31 October 2010

Beginning of the end for Adam at Blackpool?

As the saying goes, all good things come to an end, and the picture emerging this week is that Charlie Adam's days at Bloomfield Road look to be numbered. In addition to press reports linking the 'Pool skipper with a move away, the news this week of complex contract wranglings only serve to reinforce the feeling that Adam might not be wearing the tangerine shirt for much longer.

Barring his unusually poor performance at Birmingham last week, superbly analysed by BFC Blog, Adam has made the step up the Premier League level with ease. As the talisman of the side, Adam has won numerous supporters in the media, none more so than Jamie Redknapp. Concluding the Sky coverage of the 3-2 home defeat to Man City, Redknapp heaped praise on the Scottish midfielder, signalling Adam is set for a long Premier League career, even if the Seasiders are not.

This is not necessarily anything new, and most Blackpool fans would accept that failure to stay up this season would inevitably result in the loss of the captain. It now appears however that his departure could be hastened, with a move in January becoming ever more likely. The story emerging this week of a reported unpaid bonus is a damaging one for the club, especially as Adam's is supposedly a test case, with other players ready to take action should the ruling go in Charlie's favour. Who is right and who is wrong is not for me to decide - only the parties involved know all the facts. Quite simply though, things should never have been allowed to get to this stage, and it is another embarrassing PR failure for the club.

That the issue could not be solved internally by the club is a worry - it cannot be doing the relationship between player and employer any good whatsoever. Regardless of the outcome of the arbitration hearing on Thursday, no good can come of it. A ruling in favour of the club will surely the sour feeling among the whole squad, not just Adam. If the Premier League rule in favour of Adam, then the ramifications could be dire, with some quarters suggesting Adam's contract could be deemed null and void, effectively enabling him to move on for nothing in the transfer window. Such a scenario seems far-fetched, but the contractual issues are not likely to persuade Adam to see out the season at Blackpool with a big money move on the cards in January.

Should Adam leave in January, he will do so with the thanks of every single Blackpool fan, who surely recognise that he was the major key in the last season's promotion. It should not however be assumed that everything will go to pot without him. In recent years many influential players have moved on, only to be replaced with new heroes. A like-for-like replacement for Charlie is hard to imagine, but there are several players waiting in the wings, such as Ludovic Sylvestre and Chris Basham, who will be looking to prove their worth. 

If Adam stays, then it will be a massive boost for the rest of the campaign, but with the vultures circling, I rather suspect we might have to get used to playing without him. If injury keeps him out against West Brom tomorrow, it will be a good test of how the Seasiders will cope post-Adam.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

4-2-1-3, 4-3-3 or Something Else?

Last season the 4-3-3 formation employed by Ian Holloway was a revelation. Most teams faced in the Championship lined up in the traditional, if rapidly unfashionable, 4-4-2. While it took some time to get used to, once the players were familiar with the system most opponents struggled to cope with the way in which 'Pool attacked and the end of season form helped propel the Seasiders into the Premier League.

Despite the success under this system, Holloway opted to tweak the formation and instead play a 4-2-1-3 for the opening game at Wigan, sticking with this formation for every game aside from the failed experiment at Chelsea. This was perhaps forced due to Keith Southern's injury ruling him out of the first four weeks of the season - it's hard to imagine that Southern would have been dropped for Elliot Grandin if he had been fit.

Grandin has since dropped out of the side periodically however, with Southern yet to start in the Premier League. With the former Marseille player benched, it has been down to Gary Taylor-Fletcher to occupy the role behind the front three on two occasions, with little success - both games ended in defeat, to Blackburn and Birmingham respectively. Taylor-Fletcher has handled the step up to the top flight very well in my opinion, but has been noticeably less effective when playing in the more withdrawn role.

Below you can see how 'Pool lined up against Birmingham on Saturday.


As I wrote on Sunday, Marlon Harewood struggled out on the right, with the side often being overrun when defending. Following two disappointing results, it appears likely that Holloway may now choose to change not only personnel, but the system too. Ian Holloway has come out and said that different players may be given a chance, mentioning Southern and Ludovic Sylvestre among others. It doesn't take a genius to work out that a place in the starting XI for Southern or Sylvestre would mean a different formation, as neither David Vaughan nor Charlie Adam are likely to be dropped.

See the below diagram for how I expect Holloway to set out his side against West Brom.

It seems inevitable that Keith Southern will now get his first Premier League start and I can see him being reunited with his midfield partners from last season, Vaughan and Adam. The extra bite that Southern offers may be what the Seasiders require to be more combative on their own pitch. Elsewhere, following impressive cameos from the subs' bench, Matt Phillips could well earn his first start. Phillips' defensive awareness might not be the best just yet, but with Southern tucked in midfield giving the 'Pool backline more protection, it will give Phillips more licence to do what he does best...attack. With a wealth of attacking options at his disposal, Harewood may have to settle for a place on the bench after his disappointing display at St. Andrews, while Luke Varney's strong run in the side may come to an end. DJ Campbell is hard to drop, despite his mini goal drought, and Taylor-Fletcher would be the sole aerial outlet in the above scenario.

Then again, Holloway could throw us all a complete curveball. The manager has done it before, and I certainly wouldn't put it past him again. Sylvestre, Chris Basham and David Carney have all been unlucky not to make an impact since their arrival, and with the promise of changes from Holloway, it may be their chance to shine. Similarly, Dekel Keinan was probably unlucky to be dropped after his performance at Anfield. So many options...who'd be a manager?

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Seaside Strategy - Birmingham City Away

It only takes a cursory glance of the message boards to see that Ian Holloway has drawn criticism for his team selection, dropping Elliot Grandin for Marlon Harewood. In typical online fashion, the reaction was over the top, but the performance was way below par. In his defence, Holloway wasn't afraid to admit that he had to take responsibility for the way Blackpool were set up. Birmingham never let the Seasiders settle and choked the space that 'Pool have become accustomed to having this season.

Even the heavy defeats at Arsenal and Chelsea were not a total loss in performance terms. At the Emirates Blackpool started strongly, and until the sending off / penalty, had matched Arsenal and were unlucky not to be level. At Stamford Bridge 'Pool did not let their heads drop despite the 4-0 half-time scoreline and delivered a sterling second half performance to walk away from the champions' backyard with some pride intact. It's hard to take any positives at all from yesterday's game at St. Andrews however, in what was arguably the worst performance in over six months.

The decision to employ Harewood on the right of the three-pronged attack is surely one Holloway will be rueing. One gets the feeling that like Ben Burgess last season, if Harewood is to play it should only be at the centre of the attack. Neither players are mobile enough to fulfil the demanding wide role and it is to be hoped it is a lesson learnt for the manager. I feel Harewood will have a lot to offer this season, but if he is misused, he will quickly develop as a target for the 'boo boys', for want of a better term. As it is, Harewood's selection left 'Pool's right side exposed, particularly in the first half. The main benefactor was Birmingham's left-back Liam Ridgewell, as shown by the chalkboard below.

Time and time again Ridgewell found himself in acres of space, and Blackpool made him look like Ashley Cole who terrorised Neal Eardley a few weeks ago. Perhaps the comparison to Cole is going slightly overboard, but Ridgewell was given licence to act almost as a left winger, not helped by Harewood's inability to track back. 'Pool's ultimate downfall came from sloppy defending at set-pieces, but with a better final ball, Ridgewell could have put the Seasiders to the sword in the first half.

Changes are bound to made for the visit of West Brom to Bloomfield Road a week tomorrow, and Harewood is most likely to find himself dropped to the bench, having incredibly completed only four successful passes during his time on the pitch. Another potential casualty is Luke Varney. While appearing to be full of more vigour and energy than Harewood, the on-loan Derby man only managed five successful passes all game, and with plenty of attacking options to choose from, Holloway can afford to be ruthless with his selection against the Baggies. I'd be amazed if Matt Phillips didn't get his first start in a tangerine shirt. Whatever the starting XI is next week, the performance will hopefully be a vast improvement over the one witnessed yesterday.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Eight Down, 30 To Go

Just over a month ago, I wrote a post posing the question of whether Blackpool fans were getting carried away with the start to the season. At that point in time 'Pool were occupying 4th place in the league, with two wins and a draw to their name following the opening four fixtures. The only defeat, while a heavy one, came away at Arsenal - hardly a disgrace. I suggested that the next four games would perhaps be more challenging, and that we could draw more accurate conclusions following these games. 

Featuring three of the big name clubs (whether Liverpool deserve that accolade is an argument for another time) I thought that if the Seasiders could rack up more than four points from these fixtures, the euphoria could be justified. As it happens, 'Pool only picked up three points. It's still a respectable haul and save for the late, late goal conceded against Blackburn, and some dubious refereeing decisions on Sunday, that tally could have been a few points higher.

Eight games in then, and 10 points on the board. Even the most optimistic of Blackpool fans would surely have settled for that at the start of the season, especially when you consider there have only been three home games, and the away games have included trips to Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool. In fact, some of the so-called experts in the national media were of the opinion that 'Pool would struggle to reach double figures all season. Derby County's record looks set to remain for at least another year.

Looking forward, what do the next batch of games hold in store for the Seasiders? We are now going into a period of seven games that could be key to 'Pool's season. Away trips to Birmingham, Aston Villa, West Ham and Bolton aren't the most daunting the Premier League has to offer, while Ian Holloway will be eager to start picking up points at Bloomfield Road with the visits of West Brom, Everton and Wolves next in line. Doubling the current points total after these games appears to be a realistic target, whereby 20 points from the opening 15 games would see Blackpool well on the way to survival.

After 15 games the home / away imbalance will remain in place, with the Seasiders still only having played 6 matches on the Fylde Coast. The number of points picked up at home so far has been the major disappointment, even if performances have warranted more. If 'Pool can get to 20 points, or dare I say more, after playing 9 of the first 15 away from home, you'd have to start to believe that another miracle season is upon us.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Seaside Strategy - Manchester City Home

Deciding what to take a closer look at this week was no easy task. My first instinct was to analyse Charlie Adam's masterful performance, which signalled his arrival as a player of true Premier League ability. Adam has rightly drawn plaudits from all quarters, with Sky's Jamie Redknapp perhaps most vocal in his praise for the former Rangers man. The aim of this blog was always to try and view all things BFC from a different angle, so I'll refrain from lavishing yet more attention on the 'Pool skipper.

I was then tempted to pay tribute to the contribution of Adam's partner in crime, David Vaughan. Vaughan has been exceptional this season and perhaps the stand out player to date. Adam was deservedly man of the match, but Vaughan ran him a close second. His workrate has been key to the way the Seasiders play, starting a large proportion of Blackpool's attacking moves while also helping out the back four. Once again though, all 'Pool fans know how well Vaughan is playing, even if the national media aren't giving the Welshman the praise he deserves.

From a team perspective, the chalkboards show how 'Pool dominated the game with 349 successful passes to Man City's 262. Yet, in spite of all the positives Ian Holloway can take from an impressive performance, the cynic would say that there's only one statistic that really matters. For all the problems the Seasiders caused City, it was a failure in front of goal that was ultimately the difference between the two sides.

Whereas Mancini's side were ruthless with their chances, 'Pool's wastefulness in front of goal meant a third consecutive home game where the performance merited a better result. Of 16 shots only four were on target including the two goals. City also restricted 'Pool to mainly long-distance shots - 10 of the 16 attempts occurring outside the box. By contrast eight of City's 13 shots took place inside 'Pool's area, with the other five only just outside.

Just to be testing a Man City side assembled on a budget the Seasiders could only dream of is a feat more than anyone could have realistically expected. However, as a manager who is always seeking improvement from his side, it is the final third where Holloway will surely be focusing on in the weeks ahead.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Oyston In?

"A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." If this hadn't been said about Russia in 1939 by Winston Churchill, that phrase could aptly sum up the reign of the Oyston family. Shrouded in secrecy, it's fair to say nobody ever knows what's truly going on behind the scenes at Bloomfield Road. My very own blog post two months ago when Karl Oyston announced he would be stepping down spectacularly missed the reason for his decision. Days after that post, it emerged that Oyston had a bankruptcy order against him, and with Premier League rules barring directors from being bankrupt, the situation seemed clearer.

Quite how Karl Oyston, an heir to a massive family fortune, had become bankrupt wasn't so clear - the murmurs around the Fylde Coast suggested links to his personal life - but it at least explained why he could no longer continue as Chairman. The statement at the time said Oyston would stay on as Acting Chief Executive until a replacement was appointed. The weeks went by without any sense of urgency, a staple of the Oyston era, which appeared to draw the attention of the Premier League.

With no effective change in the stewardship of the club, the Premier League began investigating whether Oyston was operating as a shadow director, which goes against the league's ownership rules. It would appear that this investigation may have triggered a reversal of the bankruptcy order announced today by the club. This would open the door for the return of Oyston to the role of Chairman, albeit in rather embarrassing circumstances given the increased level of media scrutiny in the top flight. The way this saga has unfolded is amateurish to say the least, a term frequently aimed at the way the club has been run under the Oyston family.

Of course, this assumption could be wide of the mark, and the annulment of the bankruptcy order may just allow Oyston to continue as a shadow director in the role of Acting Chief Executive while a successor is sought. Oyston may well have had enough and be looking to leave, but I'm now not quite so sure this is the case. The likeliest scenario is that he will return as Chairman, restoring the former boardroom set-up.

What does this mean for the future? Well, not an awful lot in all probability. The frugal marshalling of the club will continue, and while such positive results are being achieved on the pitch, it's hard to make too much of a fuss. One thing's for certain however, I know this will not be the last post I write about Karl Oyston this season.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

The Great Premier League Away Ticket Swindle

By far the biggest difference about travelling away this season has been getting used to inflated ticket prices. Trips to Stamford Bridge (£46) and Anfield (£39) have hurt the wallet, although on the flip side, the games at Wigan and Newcastle were a reasonable £25. However, much has been said about ticket prices in the Premier League before, so I'm not going to re-tread old ground. We all know that the cost of attending football in this country has got out of hand and, unlike Germany, the fan culture here isn't strong enough to campaign against this.

My major gripe currently lies with the way some home clubs are allocating ticket numbers for away fans. Premier League rules state that away fans should be given 3,000 seats, or 10% of the capacity where capacity is below 30,000. Bloomfield Road is one of the few grounds in the top flight with such a capacity, which should ensure that the Seaside faithful get a minimum allocation of 3,000 at the majority of away fixtures. 

'Pool have always had a good away following, especially when you consider our home attendances have often fallen way short of our contemporaries, and the demand for tickets this season was always going to be increased for our first year in the big time. That said, the marquee games aside (Liverpool, Arsenal, Man Utd), 3,000 tickets would generally suffice. After all, the aforementioned cost will likely make it difficult for many to attend a high number of away games as well as financing a home season ticket. The problem we are beginning to discover is that some clubs are sneakily getting around the rules. The first such instance has occurred with the arrival of the tickets from Villa Park.

Aston Villa have issued Blackpool with an initial batch of just over 1,000 tickets. It is believed that further tickets are available (presumably upto 3,000 in line with the regulations), but that some or all of these will need to be bought by the club on a 'no return' basis. Therefore if 'Pool failed to sell the extra tickets, the club would potentially be out of pocket to the tune of thousands of pounds. 1,000 tickets will never satisfy demand, while 3,000 would probably be too many. It's certainly hard to fault Blackpool FC for not taking the risk of losing money.

Gerard Houllier's new club aren't the only team to take this stance on away tickets. Newcastle's NUFC Blog identified this issue right at the start of the season, suffering similar treatment at the hands of Man Utd and Wolves. With a larger fanbase to call upon, the problem is arguably worse for the Geordies who would surely sell out 3,000 for every away fixture given their fanatical support. This has given Newcastle reason to look internally for a scapegoat however, with Mike Ashley in the line of fire once again. The risk of losing money for Newcastle is minimal compared to that of the Seasiders, so turning my fire at the hierarchy of Blackpool FC probably wouldn't be fair.

This surreptitious ploy being used by some clubs is another sad indictment for a league that specialises in marginalising its core support for the sake of a quick buck. Before Blackpool reached 'the promised land' I found the inverse snobbery of our fans referring to the Premier League as the 'Greed League' irritating. Issues like this though only support that view though, and it is to be hoped this feeling doesn't grow within me should 'Pool have an extended stay at this level.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Seaside Strategy - Liverpool Away

In the immediate aftermath of the home defeat to Blackburn Rovers, Ian Holloway was quick to set out his plans for the following week's game at Anfield - all-out attack. The Seasiders had been criticised in some quarters for the way they approached the away fixtures at Arsenal and Chelsea - Blackpool's attacking policy was deemed naive rather than brave.

However, with Liverpool at an unprecedented low in recent years, it seemed like there would never be a better time to attack Roy Hodgson's side. The chalkboard below shows how the opening 20 minutes panned out in terms of the number of passes.

The top chalkboard shows Blackpool's data, with the lower displaying Liverpool's passses in the opening 20 minutes.

Amazingly 'Pool successfully completed more than double the amount of passes than their hosts. What is most evident is the amount of possession Blackpool were allowed in the middle of the pitch and at the back. This shows how Liverpool stood off the Seasiders, allowing Holloway's men time on the ball and giving the Seasiders the chance to play their natural game.

By controlling the opening exchanges, 'Pool were able to dictate the match and take the game to the under-pressure home side. Unlike at Chelsea where Kalou's early goal destroyed Holloway's gameplan, Liverpool allowed the Seasiders to settle down very quickly, which must have given the team the confidence to go on and put in the performance they managed on the day. In fact, the Blackpool manager may ultimately have been disappointed that the early domination didn't result in a more convincing half-time lead.

I'll let it slide this time though, I guess.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Away Day Memories - Brentford 2004/05

Listening to the latest Seasiders Podcast (which I thoroughly recommend), I particularly enjoyed the segment of the show where they took a walk down memory lane to discuss their all-time best and worst games as a Blackpool fan. Having somewhat neglected this blog over the last week or so, it has spurred me on to write about one of my favourite away trips, which I hope will be a regular feature.

For this post, I've decided to reminisce about the Seasiders' visit to Griffin Park a little under six years ago. The reason for recalling this game so fondly is down to a close friendship with a Brentford fan. In September of 2004 I had just begun my four year stint at university. On the first weekend in my new digs, I wore a retro 70s BFC shirt when I first encountered said Brentford fan, Will. He was quick to offend me by enquiring if it was a Barnet shirt, although being a Blackpool fan at this point was only a small step up from the side from Underhill.

Yes, it was the Colin Hendry 'era' and the big Scot had made an inauspicious start to his 'Pool tenure. The opening day defeat at Doncaster set the tone for his time in charge and marks a period I'd sooner forget. When the Brentford game eventually rolled around on 23rd October, the two sides lay at opposite ends of the league table. Under Martin Allen, the Bees were flying high in 2nd place, while Blackpool were struggling down in 21st.  Despite this, in the build-up to the game there was a lot of bravado on my part. It was blind optimism, nothing more, but Will was easily wound up by my insistence that it would be an easy win for the Seasiders.

We travelled down together from Sheffield on the Megabus, although nearly missed out on the trip altogether. In our student house Will was renowned for being rather lazy and failed to get up at the agreed time, resulting in a manic dash across Sheffield to reach the departure point. Upon arrival at Griffin Park, we sought refuge from the terrible conditions in one of Brentford's famous four pubs, one on each corner of the ground. Griffin Park is the sort of ground that it is easy to miss when attending the soulless new stadia we have visited since promotion out of League One. However, that day was not the sort of day to be stood on an open terrace. In the driving rain, the hardy 'Pool support (which I think numbered around 300) were hoping the team could provide them with something to lift their spirits.

The side that took to the field that day was largely still the one put together by Steve McMahon, with only a few of those players signed by Hendry himself. Rob Clare was one of those players who had been signed with a great deal of fanfare, but failed to impress, even he was perhaps cast aside a little too quickly in my view. The spine of the side was relatively strong though, with Lee Jones, Peter Clarke, Richie Wellens, John Murphy and Scott Taylor all being players who the tangerine faithful will remember positively, at least for their on-the-field performances.

The match itself was one of the few occasions where a Hendry-led 'Pool side clicked. Far from being a smash-and-grab, it was a game Blackpool fully deserved to win. The Seasiders took an early lead through Murphy and went in 1-0 up at the break. Some bizarre antics before the second half began saw the Brentford players warm-up in the 'Pool half, which bemused just about everyone in the crowd. Martin Allen was well known for his, shall we say, unique way of doing things in his time at Brentford, but this tactic to unsettle Blackpool failed miserably as Hendry's team secured all three points with further goals from Murphy and Taylor. The third goal was especially good with Wellens splitting the Bees' defence wide open to provide the assist for Taylor.

It was a sweet victory, and ultimately the wind and rain only served to elevate the game an 'I was there' status. No doubt there's probably thousands of 'Pool fans who now claim they were at the match. The enjoyment for me only increased given the bragging rights I was able to enjoy over my housemate. 'Pool went on to struggle around the lower reaches for the rest of the season, eventually finishing the season in 16th, 6 points above the relegation zone, while Brentford experienced another miserable play-off experience losing out to Sheffield Wednesday in the semis. 

Only one side have a worse play-off record than the Bees...I wonder who that could be!