A lot has happened in the life of Blackpool Football Club since it last appeared live on BBC television. The tangerines’ 3-0 defeat of now established Premier League side Southampton nearly seven years ago formed part of Ian Holloway’s attempt to return to the top flight at the first time of asking, following an agonizing relegation on the last day of the season. The fact that Blackpool had to get a positive result at champions-elect Manchester United heavily stacked the odds against them, although at one point during the game they found themselves outside of the relegation zone before ultimately falling 4-2 to Sir Alex Ferguson’s all-conquering side. A run the season after to the Championship play off final saw an unjust defeat to West Ham United, a result which heralded the gradual but inexorable disintegration of not only Holloway’s tenure at the club, but also the club’s sad demise at the hands of perhaps the worst owners any English football club have had to endure.
Fast forward through the disappearance of the Premier League millions – much of which were allegedly squandered by the Oyston family on unrelated business interests, poor footballing decisions, and, frankly, their own material pleasures – and the unprecedented suing of a dozen or more fans who levelled unsubstantiated but ultimately vindicated claims against the Oystons, the club continues to have its good name dragged through the courts over a year since judgment was granted in favour of minority shareholder Valeri Belokon, the Latvian being awarded over £31 Million after unfair prejudice had been proven; the amount in effect corresponding to an in lieu of payment that had not otherwise been forthcoming on Blackpool’s, and the Oystons’, receipt of monies pertaining to the club’s time in the Premier League, and subsequent parachute payments. Bringing us to the denouement of 2018 but little end in sight as regards the Oystons paying up, and preferably leaving FY1 6JJ, the team have nevertheless performed wonders first under Gary Bowyer, and latterly his managerial successor and former assistant Terry McPhillips. A trip to Birmingham-based Solihull Moors under the lights, in front of the cameras, and in a tight, unprepossessing ground ticked all the ‘banana skin’ boxes so loved by TV executives and many of the viewing public.
In what was, it has to be said, a poor performance by Blackpool on the night, they can perhaps count themselves fortunate to be ‘in the hat’ for the third round. Solihull can conversely feel rightly aggrieved that their at times dominant attacking display and path to the next round were thwarted by a highly contentious offside decision, and several last-ditch blocks by Blackpool’s overworked central defenders. Both teams live to fight another day, but with widely contrasting emotions. Managed by former Blackburn Rovers and England goalkeeper Tim Flowers, Solihull will feel that their opportunity has passed, with their much-vaunted home form not being replicated on the road. Blackpool will not relish a game being added to an already crowded December and festive period, but will be relieved to have not suffered a humiliation exit to a non-league side live on terrestrial television. Owen Oyston will presumably be hoping, more for financial reasons than those of professional pride, that the ‘pool can negotiate their way past Solihull at the second time of asking and bag a tie at a large Premier League ground in January.
Last season Blackpool fell in the F.A. Cup with a barely a whimper to National League side Boreham Wood, adding further ignominy to the less than glorious defeats of the past against Altrincham, Yeovil, and Hednesford. Although conspicuous by its absence last night the team do though under McPhillips play with an elan missing from Bowyer’s more attritional tenure, coupled with a steely resilience that has yielded twelve clean sheets during the 2017/18 season. Despite Solihull representing, by non-league standards, a sterner test than Boreham Wood, Blackpool’s on field attributes gave some assurances that the team wouldn’t role over as was the case in Hertfordshire last season. Player ratings from last night, while far from collectively or individually spectacular, do to some degree bear out what a difference a year, and turnover of personnel, can make:
Mark Howard – 7. While all around threatened to lose their heads, Howard continues to represent a safe pair of hands and is one of Blackpool’s best ‘keepers for many years.
Michael Nottingham – 6. A muscular but unremarkable performance from the former Solihull player.
Marc Bola – 5. As is his wont Bola found himself in many advantageous and advanced positions, but time and time again delivery and end product were extremely poor.
Curtis Tilt – 7. A steady influence belying his relative callowness at the professional level. A performance characterized by timely blocks and astute positioning more in keeping with a highly experienced centre half.
Donervon Daniels – 7. Never put a foot wrong all night. Dominance, strength, and pace delineate the 25 year old’s performance.
Ben Heneghan – 5. Has never convinced since arriving on loan from Sheffield United, and last night continued in a similar vein. A nightmarish first half saw the Mancunian caught out in possession, outstripped for pace, and wasteful in delivery. If McPhillips continues to persevere with five at the back, a more trusted co-conspirator for Daniels and Tilt is needed.
Jay Spearing – 6. At times exposed in a midfield frequently overrun in the first half, the Liverpudlian exerted more authority in the second period, spraying an array of cross-field passes to those perhaps not fit to be on the same pitch as the 30 year old.
Chris Taylor – 5. Anonymous, save for his customary yellow card, Taylor has been a serious disappointment since arriving at the seaside.
Jordan Thompson – 6. Perhaps seeing more ball than any other Blackpool player, the Northern Ireland international will be disappointed in particular with a consistent lack of quality from his corners. One incisive through ball wasn’t taken advantage of by Harry Pritchard.
Joe Dodoo – 6. Not given enough opportunities by McPhillips – perhaps for good reason. Didn’t do any favours to his chances of snaring a regular starting spot in the team.
Armand Gnanduillet – 5. Allegedly only back at the club after a mix up at South African side Baroka regarding its quota of overseas players, it was suggested the volte face was more a case of a change of heart once the Ivorian’s ‘abilities’ became apparent. Forever less than the sum of his parts, Gnanduillet’s display was again frustrating and conistent only in its inconsistencies. Should have left the club a season before – had anyone shown interest!
Liam Feeney – 4. Replaced the anonymous Taylor with his own brand of anonymity. Looks terrified, disinterested, and incredulous to be in a tangerine shirt.
Harry Pritchard – 5. Fluffed his lines when put through on goal by Thompson. Has though made the transition from National League football with Maidenhead to the professional ranks with some success.
Solihull Moors 0 Blackpool 0 Attendance: 3,005
Serving as something of an ironic footnote, the day I wrote this post Manchester United squared off with Southampton in the Premier League. The Saints’ squandering of a two-goal lead hammered the last nail in manager Mark Hughes’ tenure at the St. Mary’s Stadium; the Welshman subsequently relieved of his duties little more than 36 hours later.