Preview: Blackpool

Two points from two games in which Coventry City were probably the better team on each occasion has put the Sky Blues in the position of needing a win in this last match before the international break if they are to preserve their status as play-off contenders. Maybe it is a bit much to expect a side that spent the first months of the campaign significantly behind the rest of the league both in terms of points and games played, and has a thin squad that has recently been blighted by injuries, to harbour hopes of making the play-offs, but there has been evidence over extended periods of this season that this Coventry side has the ability to put together play-off-worthy form.

The challenge in this game will be to puncture the optimism of a Blackpool side that broke a winless streak in midweek in rather emphatic fashion – beating Queens Park Rangers 6-1. While the Seasiders are currently in the bottom three on merit, they haven’t lost a home game since the turn of the year, including an impressive 0-0 draw with runaway league leaders, Burnley. This isn’t exactly the straightforward game against a relegation struggler that it initially looked to be.

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up (3-5-2): Wilson; McNally, McFadzean, Doyle; Dabo, Hamer, Sheaf, Eccles, Bidwell; Godden, Gyokeres.

Coventry City looked notably better on Tuesday night against Wigan Athletic once Ben Sheaf was brought on at half-time to make a midfield three with himself, Josh Eccles and Gustavo Hamer, and it’s hard to see that not continuing into this game. While there may be a question as to whether that trio boasts enough goalscoring presence to take some of the burden away from Viktor Gyokeres, it is a case of playing the most talented players available in place of lesser players who may provide a more natural tactical fit.

As for other changes, there is something of a dilemma at right wing-back, where Mark Robins can choose between Fankaty Dabo, who will be fit again after a rest on Tuesday night, and Brooke Norton-Cuffy, who was impressive from the bench against Wigan Athletic, having taken the bold decision of picking neither for the last game. That the loanee, Norton-Cuffy, didn’t start last time out when there was an opening for him to do so suggest that the manager may have half an eye already on next year’s team and wanted to see whether Jack Burroughs is capable of making the cut. If that is the case, then expect Fankaty Dabo to start this game.

There may also be a decision to make as to Matt Godden’s continued place in the starting line-up. The striker appears to be struggling to last 90 minutes and while the caveat with Godden is that he can be anonymous in games and then score, he spurned a couple of good chances in midweek with some pretty tired attempted finishes. The bench should not be considered a demotion for Godden, instead, an opportunity to make the best use of his current physical capacity. The problem is that Mark Robins does not seem to trust any of the currently available alternatives to Godden, as evidenced by Tyler Walker not getting on the pitch despite scoring from the bench two games ago against Huddersfield Town.

Last Time We Met

In the one Championship game this season that Viktor Gyokeres did not start in, a strikerless Coventry City looked disjointed and ragged against Blackpool, yet somehow took the lead through a pretty nice Kasey Palmer finish after a backheel from Callum O’Hare and a neat bit of skill from the makeshift centre-forward. Blackpool had been the better team in the first-half, yet only had a disallowed goal to show for it.

The Seasiders quickly corrected the wrongs of the opening 45 minutes by punishing some woeful Sky Blues defending in the second-half. First, Ben Wilson charged off his line to get to a loose Callum Doyle back-pass, was beaten to it, yet was given time to get back into his goal but was then beaten by a looping a header from the resulting cross. The game was then won as CJ Hamilton was given acres of space on the edge of the Coventry City penalty area to pick a cross towards the queueing Gary Madine and Jerry Yates that Jonathan Panzo should have got to, with Yates heading home to turn the game on its head.

The Opposition

The Manager – Mick McCarthy

Brought in as a firefighter with Blackpool mired in the relegation battle, Mick McCarthy’s approach has had limited success – Tuesday night’s big win against Queens Park Rangers, aside. While the veteran manager may argue that he has been handed a squad that was destined to struggle at this level, his approach of packing the team with defenders and knocking the ball into channels has looked as outdated as it did at the end of a spell last season with Cardiff City. Furthermore, recent comments about being unable to figure out star player, Josh Bowler’s best position (which is on the wing) further indicate a man who hasn’t been keeping up-to-date with football.

That 6-1 midweek win was fuelled by set-piece goals, which will surely be where McCarthy will look to double-down between now and the end of the season. The former Republic of Ireland manager has brought in quite a few big and/or experienced players in order to enact an approach of keeping it simple in open play and waiting on dead-balls to attack the penalty area, even if Blackpool have been hampered by the loss of target-man, Gary Madine, to a season-ending injury.

Who To Look Out For?

Possible Line-Up (3-5-2): Maxwell; Nelson, Thorniley, Husband; Lyons, Patino, Connolly, Fiorini, Hamilton; Rogers, Yates.

What is slightly strange about the appointment of Mick McCarthy at Blackpool is that the team had been built largely around young, technical footballers under the past two managers, Neil Critchley and Michael Appleton, which has perhaps been why McCarthy has had such a slow start to life at the club. Technical midfielders, such as Lewis Fiorini and Charlie Patino, along with nimble, skilful wingers, such as Josh Bowler, Morgan Rogers and Ian Poveda, have gone from being the core of the team to only being able to play at two or three at a time.

While those players are all capable of being dangerous in individual moments, the key name to watch out for from Blackpool is Jerry Yates in attack. A very quick striker who likes to burst off the shoulder of opposing defenders, Yates was in excellent form around October, before trailing off somewhat. While he is someone who would benefit from playing alongside the, now-injured, target-man, Gary Madine, Yates’ ability to burst in behind from the testing balls Blackpool’s defence will look to play into the channels is a key source of danger for Coventry City in this game.

At the back, Blackpool have tended to rely on key leadership figures such as James Husband, who can slot in at either left-back or centre-back, and Chris Maxwell in goal. The January addition of former Cardiff City and Oxford United centre-back, Curtis Nelson, has added to that leadership group, which can make for an imposing back-line when Blackpool have something to defend.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

Blackpool are likely to sit back and look to knock balls into the channels for their quick strike pairing of Jerry Yates and Morgan Rogers to chase, with set-pieces and long throws likely to be their key source of attacking threat. To defend against that, wide centre-backs, Luke McNally and Callum Doyle will have a big role to play for Coventry City in open play in sweeping up the space behind Kyle McFadzean and helping the team impose itself in Blackpool’s half. From set-pieces, McFadzean is going to be important, but the Sky Blues will have to maintain a high level of concentration throughout the team whenever the ball goes dead because Blackpool will look to exploit every opportunity to test with balls into the box.

At the other end, the mantle is likely to be on that trio of Ben Sheaf, Gustavo Hamer and Josh Eccles to both pick telling passes and support the attack with runs into the penalty area. Blackpool will be content with handing Coventry City a decent amount of possession as they look to sit in and defend their box, which will notably limit the space Viktor Gyokeres will have to run at opposing defenders. There is a danger that the Sky Blues won’t have the ability to play through a set defence, especially without players like Kasey Palmer or Callum O’Hare to play intricate passes in the final third, the team’s use of the ball and the supporting runs from midfield and defence will be crucial in breaking through the opposition’s defensive resolve.

2 thoughts on “Preview: Blackpool

  1. You should put this on substack. For one, because I like having their voice to text read me articles and for another, because I’d pay for this and maybe others would also make voluntary subscriptions.


    1. Interesting suggestion, Andrew. I might actually look into that.


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