Blackpool fan Norman Ralph takes a look at Blackpool’s season so far and what they have up their sleeve for the second half of this already exciting season back in the top flight.
When I wrote a post on my own blog about Blackpool winning the English Championship play-off final with the title “Blackpool for the Champions League”, I was writing somewhat tongue in cheek, I could not have imagined that they would actually go out and perform the way they have done. The English Premier League season is nearly half way through and Blackpool lie in 12th place on 19 points. They are not going to qualify for a Champions League spot from here, but it is highly likely they will avoid relegation which is a major feat in itself as they were by some margin the bookie’s favourite to go down at the start of the season (average price around 2/7).
I have to admit that I was cautious at the start of the season about the team’s prospects, especially after the summer transfer activity that Ian Holloway undertook. It seemed to take an age for him to make any signings at all and with him releasing a large number of players at the start of the off-season, I was worried that he would struggle to bring in any players.
Ian Holloway said at the time that we was looking for the right sort of player with the right mentality to fit into his system, a system that many thought would contribute to the team’s downfall. Ian Holloway prefers an attacking style of play, as seen in the Championship play-off, and tends to employ an “we’ll score one more that you” approach. Eventually Holloway made some signings, which included picking up strikers DJ Campbell (Leicester) and Marlon Harewood (Aston Villa) along with Elliot Grandin (free), Chris Basham (Bolton Wanderers) and Luke Varney (on loan from Derby County).
Even with the additions to the ranks, most pundits thought Blackpool would struggle in their first Premier League season (and first in the top flight since the 1970s). Few would have predicted the start that Blackpool got off to beating Wigan by four goals to nil. The result actually led to Blackpool sitting in top spot in the league for a couple of hours until Chelsea won their opening game of the season by a bigger goal margin.
This start could not last and a couple of games later Blackpool were dumped out the League Cup and then humbled by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. However, wins against Newcastle, Liverpool, West Brom and Wolves have meant that Blackpool avoided the possibility of ending the season on the lowest ever points total and also ensured that pundits started changing their minds about them even getting relegated.
Before I get ahead of myself, I think it is important to mention that this is still going to a very tough season for Blackpool and if they do manage to avoid relegation this season, it is a real probability next year. Blackpool will always struggle to attract quality players, it is not the most attractive club in the world and it has no money so will never be able to match the wages that teams around them can offer to journeymen and promising lower league players.
The stadium, Bloomfield Road, is also a massive problem due its size and the lack of expandability. With a capacity at the moment of around 12000, it is the smallest ground in the league and will never generate the kind of match day income that the club will need to survive. The Blackpool hierarchy need to sort this out and sort it out pretty fast if they have any real chance of ensuring their continued stay at English football’s top table.
Where Blackpool have a fighting chance at the moment is their manager, Ian Holloway. Seen as a bit of a joker and an average journeyman coach/manager by most, he has transformed Blackpool in his relatively short tenure as Blackpool boss. His attacking philosophy and ability to make players play at a level higher than their underlying ability may allow are the reason that Blackpool won promotion the Premier League and their performances in the league so far. Holloway has a habit of adding extra attackers during games he is already winning, and often plays with three or four attacking players in his formations. Both of these tactics were obvious in Blackpool’s now famous victory over Liverpool in October.
The other ace in Blackpool’s hand is their skipper and last season’s top goalscorer, Charlie Adam. Signed for a once club record of £500,000 from Rangers, Adam has quickly become the keystone in Blackpool’s team. His goals, set pieces and on field leadership are vital for the team and Blackpool look a far weaker team when he is missing. Whilst at Rangers, Adam was never considered a particularly good player. He had a strong left foot but was deemed surplus to requirements at Ibrox. Many fans, myself included, questioned his move to Blackpool but we have been ecstatic to have been proved wrong!
By the New Year we should know whether Blackpool are going to stay up this season. They have a testing series of fixtures over the festive period, playing Liverpool, Man City, Sunderland, Tottenham and a very tough game away at Stoke. If Blackpool can come out of that series of games with four or five points then they will be a win or two away from securing their position for the 2011-2012 season.
Come on the Tangerines!
Norman writes about a whole host of issues on his own website, on a football note he writes of course about Blackpool and his adopted MLS side the Chicago Fire.