The Vital View
It's a sad state of affairs when I have to ask for time off work to go to a Blackpool game but, alas, it's been the case for the last two years. In fact, the last away trip I can remember going on was Sheffield United away on Boxing Day the season before last (or Barnsley in the FA Cup...that's how long ago it was, anyway!). This Saturday then, was a long time in coming.
I've been to St Helens for rugby league games (I can hear the chorus of boos now) in the car, but never have I ventured any further than there for a sporting event when I've been behind the wheel, so I was determined to take in the Leicester game one way or another and go by my own steam on my own terms, not dictated by coach drivers or train timetables!
Me and my mate managed to get to the Crisp Bowl stadium in plenty of time via a lovely Full English breakfast at Charnock Richard Services (lovely, apart from the price... £8!) - I only spotted another 6 'Pool fans other than ourselves roaming about outside the ground when we arrived - and we actually parked on the site of City's former home, Filbert Street, which was within easy walking distance of the ground, thankfully, because by the time we'd got there our buttocks were numb from the car journey and the sun was beating down as if to suggest it was still summer, heaven forbid!
Tickets were bought, we wandered inside the stadium, orchestrated our bets in such a way that we were bound to lose money either way, then waited for the rest of the Tangerine Army to congregate en masse in the away corner of the ground. It was good to see that the stewards who had placed themselves strategically along the end of blocks of seats either side of us had to move not just once, but twice, to accommodate the extra fans who had obviously decided to pay on the gate. Our away attendances are generally quite large given the amount of exiled fans across the country, so it's always good to see it in person, rather than read about it!
Onto the game and, given I'd read about Burgess' supposed injury before the game, I was surprised to see him not only warming up, but also taking a starting role. The rest of the team almost picked itself after the Coventry victory just two weeks before, except for Gary Taylor-Fletcher's replacement which could've been anyone from Vaughan, Emmanuel-Thomas, Bangura or Bouazza who was in the squad, having been given the number 16 shirt, after signing on a free on deadline day. As it happens, Emmanuel-Thomas was given the nod in a more central role than he has been used in the past - or so I'm led to believe - while Ormerod continued on the left early on, with Euell on the right and JET and Adam supporting from just behind Burgess. Obviously, the confusion sets in with a formation like this because they swap around more often than we, seemingly, swap sponsors!
The first 10 minutes were fairly even, end-to-end stuff with some good interchanges between Adam and the front-men, JET spreading the ball to the wings brilliantly bringing Ormerod into the game on the left and, while City had a couple of early chances that were straight into the hands of Rachubka in the 'Pool goal, it was the visitors that had the 'keeper beaten first, only to be denied by the upright - Keith Southern hitting the far post with a looping shot over the 'keeper and Jason Euell's follow-up was blocked.
For the next 20 minutes, it would be all Blackpool. Forcing corner after corner but never troubling the defence with every single one of them either being headed to the edge of the area and the attack breaking down soon after, or being gathered by the 'keeper and launched up-field for Edwards to deal with.
Before City scored their goal through Matty Fryatt, the linesman on the nearside touchline had flagged offside against the Foxes prolific youngster which had the City fans up in arms both times - despite being clearly offside for at least one of them from my view. However, when he needed to raise his flag, he didn't, as a quickly-taken Wellens (more on him later) freekick through the defence was pounced on by Fryatt who slotted past Rachubka to the bemusement of the entire Blackpool defence who were convinced of an offside - as were the commentators for Sky Sports News and the BBC round-up as well, I was informed later that evening - and couldn't believe the decision stood. Personally, I think he bottled flagging for it after his two previous decisions riled the home supporters behind him, coupled by his poor positioning. Either way, the goal stood.
It was completely against the run of play, but Holloway's lads had to push forward and they got the equaliser from a superb goal from Charlie Adam (again...) who played a tricky one-two through a crowd of players with Jason Euell and rounded the 'keeper to knock it into the open net. It was a deserved goal and at the break, a 1-1 draw was a fair reflection on the first 45 minutes and probably, had it ended like that, I think we all would've been fairly happy.
The second half though, it went all downhill. As a team, we were second to every ball, we were devoid of any ideas up front and we lost all shape. Eardley did his best from right back to bring the midfield into the game and push forward, put people went missing - Adam, JET, Burgess, Ormerod among others - not being overly critical, just pointing out my observation.
Obviously the killer blow was their second goal and the way it came about. On the break, they were looking very dangerous, balls through over the top of the defence to Howard and Fryatt were leaving Evatt and Crainey down the left hand side for dead and, in truth, if it wasn't for Rachubka coming out to claim many of those long-balls, City could've - and probably would've - had about 4 or 5. We know our central defence isn't the quickest in the world and it would seem that City figured that out in the first half and exploited it to perfection in the 2nd.
Up to the point of his mistake, Edwards was pretty solid at the back. He reminded me a bit of Peter Clarke in the sense that he did the clearing up after everyone else - Eardley was skinned in the area in the first half and he slid in to perfection to clear the danger - and he was actually my Man Of The Match as a result of his sometimes heroic defending. But the adrenaline must've been pumping after a great challenge just seconds earlier because he jumped, tried to cushion the ball away from goal and down in front of him, but instead he saw the ball skim off the top of his boot, into the path of Fryatt who tapped in from close range past Chubs. A Leicester fan that I'm mates with text me straight after which simply read; "freebie" and that's exactly what it was. More importantly, it's what won them the game and consigned Holloway and the lads to their first league defeat of the season and ended the unbeaten run that stretched back to the Preston game at Deepdale last season when Charlie Adam was again on the scoresheet scoring the only goal.
In an ironic parallel to the week before the International fixtures, towards the end of the game the City fans were belting out chorus after chorus of "E-I-E-I-E-I-O...", a complete turn-around from when the 'Pool fans were singing it to the Coventry fans late in the game just two Saturday's prior.
Hammeur Bouazza, David Vaughan and Billy Clarke all came off the bench in the second half and, despite Bouazza's best efforts to turn the left full-back inside out and get balls into the area, 'Pool couldn't capitalise and lacked that cutting edge in front of goal - like at the start of the season - and when the referee blew the final whistle, it was greeted by a collective sigh of relief from the away supporters after a less than impressive half of football.
To say it was a long drive home would be an under-statement. Missing out on three valuable points seems to add a figurative hundred miles onto the journey down the painfully straight motorways as you try and decipher in your head exactly what went wrong and what needs to be addressed in order to put it right. Hopefully, the same rings true for the players because they've got to bounce back immediately from the defeat and make sure it was just a blip on the radar and pull out a performance to quell any negativity from certain sections of the crowd - and it won't be easy, next up are Newcastle United who beat City before the International break 1-0 to continue their blistering start to the season.
It's interesting to note how much of a difference an International break can make to a team. Perhaps next time, Ollie won't be so quick to send the players on a mini-holiday and will keep them in the footballing mindset with some more training and practice games - not to say their minds were off the game on Saturday - or, maybe it's just the break in general stops the momentum dead and we have to build that again. If that's the case, then coming away with a win on Wednesday night will be the perfect way to roll on to Nottingham Forest on Saturday afternoon.
The defeat to City wasn't the end of the world as we know it, but it was certainly an un-wanted set-back after the great start to the season and big results in previous weeks. How the players and management kick on from it will show us exactly how we are likely to cope this season when, inevitably, unexpected defeats come our way. There's still an awful long way to go...