A new defence is what many fans of Blackpool Football Club have recently called for and that is what they have now got, but it remains uncertain whether it is a rearguard that will firmly close the door or one that will do nothing but paper over the back line’s sizeable cracks.
If anyone had been equivocating as to whether reinforcements were needed at the back then viewers of the Seasiders’ rain-sodden match with Lincoln City were left in no doubt whatsoever. Despite a far better attacking performance than the last home outing, a 2-0 victory over League One newcomers Swindon Town, Blackpool were left to rue further calamitous defending that has characterized the team’s two away defeats at Gillingham, and Plymouth Argyle’s Home Park.
At a point where The Imps were all at sea in a deluge and an exceedingly good javelin throw from South Promenade, a part-speculative but one suspects intuitive long ball pinged behind left back Demetri Mitchell by Liam Bridcutt caught the former Manchester United player too far forward, a habit this more midfielder than defender must iron out of his game should he wish to be known as a full back. Instead of shepherding his man to the byline Mitchell proceeded to needless dangle a leg out, leaving referee Thomas Bramhall little choice but to point to the spot. 1-1. Game on, when for Blackpool it should already have been out of sight.
Failure to take your chances, either glaring or needlessly snatched at will always run the risk at any level of football of coming back to bite you. And so it did. A poor second half, albeit with chances to consign Lincoln to their first league defeat of the season came and went, all the while encouraging the opposition that victory was there for the taking against an increasingly ponderous and nervous back line.
Mitchell thought he had secured redemption for his earlier gaff and an unlikely three points, but staring victory in the face Blackpool could not resist hitting the self-destruct button. James Husband, recalled to the side after overcoming injury and to replace Michael Nottingham, presumably taken out of the firing line after an error-strewn performance at the Priestfield Stadium, badly controlled the ball and attempted to recover the situation by bringing down his man. Stonewall penalty. Husband red carded. 2-2.
Even at this point Blackpool had a golden chance to snatch what by now would have been an equally unlikely three points as it would have been undeserved. Bizarrely brought on instead of Gary Madine, Oliver Sarkic looked reluctant to enter the fray and utterly bereft of confidence, and it has to be said ability, when presented with a chance to win the game. Opting to pass on a surface that was by now holding up the ball instead of putting his foot through the ball, Sarkic looked every inch a lower league player that had by accident found himself being involved in a third-tier game. With the game at this juncture being so delicately poised it was crying out for Madine’s experience and frame to hold the ball, rather than it keep coming back at Blackpool from a Lincoln now firmly with their tails up.
Sarkic looked unable to even hold up a trophy, let alone the ball, but in mitigation that is not his game, but Blackpool head coach Neil Critchley must shoulder the responsibility for the Montenegrin’s ill-timed introduction, just one of three baffling substitutions made on the day. At a point where most involved with Blackpool in any capacity would have accepted a draw there was a sense of foreboding that eight minutes could not be safely seen out with ten men, and with all substitutions having been used up. It was though not a piece of incisive play that garnered Lincoln’s winner, but a needlessly conceded corner that was defended in a manner which the exhibits of Madame Tussaud’s would have been ashamed brought about the decisive goal, one which Michael Appleton’s men had little problem protecting against a by now flailing and misshapen Blackpool.
Two of the players who will presumably go on to become half of a new look back four were part of the matchday squad against Lincoln, although only Luke Garbutt joined the action in the second half whilst Nottingham Forest loanee, right back Jordan Gabriel, remained benched. Centre back reinforcements in the shape of the relatively untested Arsenal loanee and Northern Ireland international Dan Ballard, and the permanent signing of Icelandic defender Daniel Gretarsson from Norwegian cannon fodder Aalesunds FK are not perhaps the experienced enforcers most fans craved, but it remains to be seen if they will walk into the team and permanently oust Husband and Nottingham from central duties, while it is assumed that outcast Jordan Thorniley will be moved on before the end of the domestic transfer window.
Many Blackpool fans do like the cut of Husband’s jib, a player who will not shirk on the pitch when it is going wrong, nor seek to hide behind excuses when culpability is there for all to see. It is though on technical merit, even at League one level, that players must be selected and whilst Demetri Mitchell might not have cemented Husband’s preferred left back berth as his own, it is presumed that the high profile signing of Luke Garbutt will have been with the left side of the back four in mind. There is though some flexibility in that both Mitchell and Garbutt are comfortable in a more advanced, left sided role, and that Husband could play as a wing back should Critchley dispense with his Liverpool-influenced 4-3-3 principles, although this seems extremely unlikely.
The prosaic Ollie Turton may also find himself out in the cold should Gabriel have been brought in to start, rather than to just put pressure on the former Crewe player. It is though a similar situation to Jordan Thorniley’s position at the club for right back Teddy Howe, whose move from Reading on the strength of two performances against Blackpool which apparently sufficiently impressed Critchley’s predecessor Simon Grayson has been an unqualified disaster. It is hoped the young player can reboot his career elsewhere, otherwise a disastrous stint at the seaside could have far-reaching negative consequences for his career.
The recruitment team at Blackpool, Jonathan Gibson, and Tommy Johnson, will hope that their and Neil Critchley’s collective judgement proves to be sound if the sourcing of Ballard and Gretarsson is to be a defining test of the team being given what it so badly needs. Again, a lack of recruitment from the Championship or even an experienced proponent of League One brings into question if a Arsenal youngster and an Icelandic player who operated in the worst team in Norway’s top division are the answers to the question.
This is without doubt Critchley’s squad. The time is now for he and it to deliver.