At any time of the season, going six games unbeaten and picking up 12 points is a good run of form. Whether this indicates that we are capable of staying around the top end of the division for the remainder of the campaign is hard to gauge at this stage, especially as we are yet to take on a side currently in the top half of table.
This is what makes this upcoming game against Blackpool so interesting, this will be a genuine test against a side that has both quality and form. At this stage of the season, the result isn’t ultra-important but if we are able to put in a competitive and coherent performance, it will add a level of legitimacy to our start to the season.
With most of those who started against Oxford United last Saturday rested on Tuesday night, Mark Robins has a fresh squad with options to choose from in just about every position. Jodi Jones and Jamie Allen are the only injury absentees, although it is not clear whether Brandon Mason is fit enough to start this game having been ruled out for a week after the Watford game 10 days ago.
It seems doubtful that Mark Robins will change a winning team, but there must be a temptation to find a starting role for Callum O’Hare, who was electric during a cameo appearance against Oxford last week and threatened to beat Walsall almost single-handedly in mid-week. Given O’Hare’s versatility, he could be coming in for any of the wide or central midfield roles, but it is hard to identify anyone there who deserves to be taken out of the side just now.
After scoring two own goals last week, the psychological condition of Fankaty Dabo may well be a consideration heading into this game. While there may be some merit in taking a player out of the side who may be feeling downtrodden or perhaps over-eager to prove himself, it has to be balanced against whether dropping them may have a bigger negative effect. Given that Dabo has shown over the opening weeks of the season that he is a very talented player, I wouldn’t want to take him out of the side unless absolutely necessary.
Last Time We Met
In one of several home games last season where we struggled to break down a determined defensive opposition, the game against Blackpool back in January was one of the most egregious examples. Having bossed the first-half – with Conor Chaplin most notably missing a golden opportunity – Blackpool scored with their first shot and then made it 2-0 with their second five minutes later and that was that.
Manager – Simon Grayson
Simon Grayson has been appointed Blackpool manager for two chief reasons. Firstly, he successfully managed the club in the past and symbolises a start of a new, post-Oyston, era looking to get fans back in love with the club. Secondly, he is a serial promotion winner at League One level, having done so with Preston, Huddersfield, and Leeds, as well as Blackpool.
With Grayson, and new owner, Simon Sadler, having arrived relatively late in the summer, some kind of transitional period was probably to be expected – with players recruited earlier in the window who didn’t fit in with the new level of ambition at the club. Instead, Blackpool have started the season with moment, building on a campaign last year where they threatened the top six for long spells.
Who To Look Out For?
Blackpool’s best piece of summer business was bringing in the talented former Crystal Palace youngster Sullay Kaikai back to the country after a short spell at NAC Breda (where he played with Gervane Kastaneer). As someone who has already proven himself to be better than League One level during loan spells with Shrewsbury and Brentford, it is surprising that Blackpool were able to sign him this summer. Kaikai is the level of player to build a promotion-winning side at this level around.
Kaikai adds attacking flair, inventiveness and unpredictability to what has been a Blackpool side built around defensive solidity and physicality over the past three years under Simon Grayson’s predecessors Gary Bowyer and Terry McPhillips. Adding to that attacking threat is the in-form journeyman winger Liam Feeney, who has often been labelled a one-dimensional pace merchant during his career but has stepped up this season with a level of intelligence in his final ball. Additionally, Blackpool have recently recruited ex-Bradford winger Sean Scannell, who was mightily impressive against us for his old club last April.
The defensive solidity and physicality remains a key feature of Blackpool’s threat, with two dominant centre-backs in Curtis Tilt and Ben Heneghan who win headers in both boxes and the giant and surprisingly mobile Armand Gnanduillet leading the attack. Blackpool are the kind of team who’ll know they can sit back and absorb pressure before hitting teams with a sucker punch from a set-piece, as well as the pace they now have on the counter-attack.
Areas To Exploit
Blackpool are a side right now where it is hard to identify many apparent weaknesses, having been built from a very solid defensive base and having more recently added a greater level of attacking threat to their squad. As much as this is going to be a test of our ability to go toe-to-toe with an in-form opponent, it has the potential to be a very frustrating game against a team that knows how to defend very well.
This is likely to be a game where we’ll need to be clinical if and when we get chances, while making sure that we avoid gifting Blackpool the kind of opportunities they’ll want to go ahead and sit on the lead. It may be an interesting test to see how we react to falling behind first, but Blackpool are the kind of side you wouldn’t want to risk making things interesting against.