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Lancashire Red: Kicking Habits

6 April 2013

Hmm, getting to be a habit, this. And no, I’m not talking about Lewis McGugan’s sixth successive game he’s made the scoresheet (welcome though that achievement is of course). The fourth in a row we’ve had to come from behind, and although it was generally accepted the winning streak couldn’t last for ever, the third successive game drawn (each time courtesy of late equalisers) has started more than a few uneasy feelings as the final run-in gathers pace and where the next win is going to come from that will at least keep us on track for the playoffs.

Not that we’re alone of course, and our unbeaten run under BD is, after all still intact. Elsewhere though, wheels have been flying off all over the place recently, most notably at Leicester, whose fall from likely title contenders to missing out altogether is starting to look like our calamitous capitulation in the playoffs against Yeovil six years ago; and Palace seem to have attached the word ‘nil’ to their name in their last four games – another case of us looking back at when that applied to us and feeling relieved it’s happening to someone else for a change, and potentially to our benefit if things go our way.

And with five games still to play for most teams there’s still time for further twists and turns, especially as teams involved in battles at both ends of the table face teams in a similar predicament, demonstrated by Bolton narrowing the gap between themselves and 6th place after no-one in the playoff places won today.

And what about the game today? Rather similar to (albeit several degrees warmer than) last Saturday in a game we really should have won for all the possession we enjoyed, especially against a side whose season, on the face of it has been one massive anti-climax given their position a year ago, and to a point they’ve been sucked into the huge relegation dogfight – it’s almost as if we’ve changed places given what we went through last season. Add to that of course both sides’ involvement in the great managerial merry-go-round and how that has helped shape both sides for the remainder of the season, especially when you consider BD was within a hairs breadth of appearing in the dug-out for the visitors today given how events unfolded two months ago. Blackpool of course look nothing like the side that powered their way right up to the Premiership three years ago, with only a couple of names from their line-up from that campaign remaining. Instead we find ourselves up against an entirely different prospect built in the image of their new gaffer, or, more accurately ‘Guv’nor’. As a result, it was a case of get used to plenty of gamesmanship and cynical tactics under the stewardship and tutelage of Paul Ince (never a popular figure in these parts) with his son Tom providing the main threat up front on the field (sorry, but he may be far and away Blackpool’s leading scorer this season, but if he’s worth £25 million then my name’s Brian Clough).

FLC, Saturday 6th April 2013, KO 1500hrs
Nottingham Forest 1 – 1 Blackpool
The City Ground

Bright, dry, similar to last Saturday, only much warmer
Away fans
Only 600 diehards bothered to make the trip – a reflection of a disappointing failure to build on last season’s journey to Wembley, and the lack of noise a stark contrast to the playoff game here in 2010.
Another tardy start – two minutes late. Time-wasting tactics by Blackpool caused seven 2nd half minutes to be added, though unlike at Burnley on Monday I’m not convinced the full time was actually played amid further stoppages.
The Match
But it was eventually a penalty which came to our rescue when Cox was upended after an earlier goal attempt had been thwarted, and with nine minutes to go it was our ‘game-changer’ once again who stepped up to calmly slam the ball past Gilks. That ought to have been the platform to help us go on and win it, especially with seven minutes of added time making a further 15 minutes of play possible. But it didn’t, and the lack of penetration is a suitable case for treatment before the trip to Cardiff next week.
The game continued in a similar pattern as in the first half, only Blackpool were now well dug-in and the disparity in numbers was making little difference as we struggled to make any real impact in the final third. With the arrival of Sharp with ten to go we now had four strikers on the pitch but Gilks was hardly tested and we began to stir uneasily. The atmosphere, distinctly subdued all afternoon had a feel more of quiet desperation than expectation, add to that the frustration each time a Blackpool player employed delaying tactics through a discarded ball or an assassination victim impression, which failed to impress the ref.
So what changed things? Arguably the dismissal just on the hour mark of Isiah Osbourne (once one of us of course) for a lunging tackle on Halford, or the timely introduction of McGugan and Blackstock. Given McGugan’s goals in recent games I’m sure Tangerines’ fans’ hearts must have sunk at this move, and if Lewis prefers not to be regarded as a ‘super-sub’ then a game-changer, perhaps?
Rather like the weather, this was a slightly warmer version of the Brighton game in which we totally dominated the first half yet had nothing to show for it. Blackpool were happy to sit deep and defend in numbers with the hope of catching us on the break. As a result we went in at HT trailing by a distinctly soft goal which came just before the half-hour when MacKenzie fed Sylvestre just on the edge of our penalty area, and the number of players between him and goal did not deter him from unleashing a curling shot which evaded everyone and landed in the top left hand corner, well beyond Darlow’s reach. Totally against the run of play, yet well within Blackpool’s game-plan. There had been an earlier warning after nearly ten minutes in Blackpool’s only other major foray into our half had seen an effort from Delfounesco come off the crossbar with Darlow beaten. In contrast, at the other end we had plenty of the ball only without any cutting edge in a situation we’ve long been used to. It was fine watching Blackpool chase shadows in the middle of the park, but our lack of movement ensured we were never really going to penetrate, which restricted us to half-chances – one from Cox from 20 yards, and a Lansbury cross just managing to evade Henderson. Set pieces were producing little, and coupled with refereeing decisions going consistently in Blackpool’s favour it looked like we were in for another long frustrating afternoon.
Probably the possession football (must have been around 60-40 today) when played at its most fluent, which given tight defending was not as regular as we’d enjoyed previously. Lewis’s sixth consecutive game in which he scores, and, with the exception of Bolton beating Wolves, results elsewhere were kind enough to keep us in 5th place. Oh, and avoiding defeat on Grand National day was achieved once again (though I’m sure Dexter Blackstock will be only too pleased to remind you of the one year we failed to do this).

Lack of movement has been a recurring theme over the last three games which may account for little in the way of goal-punch. Lofting the ball into the box repeatedly invites the ‘keeper to pluck effortlessly out of the air, a move Reidy is the most guilty of (though he’s not the only one). Set pieces seem to have lost their potency of late, with corner kicks repeatedly being wasted. Being caught on the hop by another soft goal is becoming a worrying trend. Blackpool’s time-wasting antics was sickening, though no surprise when you consider who the manager is.
Guedioura being restored to the midfield following injury was a welcome sight, and Lewis’s goal from the spot helped spare our blushes.
Would be hard to single anyone out.
Craig Pawson – another display of one-eyed refereeing with some very selective free kicks awarded in Blackpool’s favour. Also lacked authority by stamping on all the time-wasting. Even the sending-off I wasn’t totally convinced about, though at the time the only break we were likely to get.
Entertainment Value5/10 – take away the goals and you’d have an even more frustrating stalemate than it actually was.
Promotion Rating2 – With Hull winning again, I think it’s safe to say the automatic places have sailed, with only Watford in with a real chance of still catching them. With eight teams realistically in the promotion race now (and with Cardiff almost home and dry) the target now has to be 3rd or 4th place for the obvious advantages that brings come the 2nd leg ties, and the increased chance of avoiding Watford. Whilst this isn’t any kind of choosing game that’d be my view of the playoffs at this stage, albeit we know we still have to get there first!
Today’s ‘Wouldn’t Wish it on Your Worst Enemy’ award:  Whilst we may have celebrated D3rby’s virtual elimination from any playoff reckoning following their home defeat by Ipswich, their tribute to those six poor children killed by the utterly feckless ‘Shameless Mick’ deserves a hats-off mention, as no football fan (and those children were avid D3rby fans), irrespective of who they support deserves to suffer the kind of fate they did.

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