Report: Boro 2-2 Blackpool
It would appear that the international break came just at the wrong time for the Seasiders; just as we'd got our momentum going, we had a two week break... and there were times that it told today.
It would also appear that Ian Holloway is even more confused about what his strongest team is following the return of Matt Phillips and Billy Clarke from their loans at Sheffield United and the return to fitness of Gary Taylor-Fletcher. Who knew having too many options could cause such problems?
Following the Burnley defeat, Ollie said that he would stop picking players on what they've done for him over the past two years... yet Taylor-Fletcher walked straight back into the side today following a lengthy spell on the sidelines through injury, when, in Lomano Tresor LuaLua's absence (dropped after being late for a team meeting), Kevin Phillips clearly should have come into the side.
Instead, Fletch drifted from centre forward to both wings in an attempt to get into the game, leaving the Seasiders often looking disjointed and playing a type of 4-6-0, relying on the likes of Jonjo Shelvey, Callum McManaman and even Keith Southern to break forward into the centre forward position. As fluid as our system is, we do need someone to lead the line and GTF is not that man.
Still, griping aside, no matter how ropey we looked at times today, you cannot fault twice coming from behind against a side above us in the league who are now unbeaten in 16 at home.
Tony Mowbray's side play effective, attacking football, and only wasteful finishing allowed the Seasiders back into the game twice - 'Pool levelling the scores just minutes after conceding on both occasions.
Birthday boy Ian Evatt returned to the side on his 30th birthday due to Neal Eardley's hamstring injury, meaning that Alex Baptiste again reverted to right back. The aforementioned M. Phillips and Clarke also returned to the squad, albeit on the bench. Their return meant no place for the very unlucky Tom Ince... if only we were still allowed seven subs!
'Pool started shakily, devoid of any shape, and the hosts built up a head of steam - Steven McManus heading Barry Robson's freekick onto the post inside the first ten minutes.
A couple of minutes later Alex Baptiste entered the book for a challenge on Marvin Emnes, who looks a completely different player following his loan at Swansea. His form - coupled with Boro's tight defence - have seen Mowbray's side make their best league start in years.
And it looked like that start was going to get even better when Scott McDonald headed them infront after 15 minutes.
A long ball over the head of Stephen Crainey (who had a poor game) found Barry Robson and his cross was headed home by the unchallenged McDonald.
But five minutes later 'Pool were level. Jonjo Shelvey squared the ball to Gary Taylor-Fletcher, who in turn laid the ball back to Ludovic Sylvestre who fired home from the edge of the area via a deflection.
It was another good performance from Ludo, who has quickly become a fans' favourite.
At the other end though, Boro were still causing us plenty of problems. With Keith Southern anonymous in the middle of the park, the hosts found themselves with plenty of time on the ball, and their mobile frontline caused heart in mouth moments on more than one occasion. Only really Craig Cathcart coped admirably with the challenge presented by Boro's strikeforce.
Barry Robson missed an absolute sitter whilst Matt Gilks made a tremendous save from McDonald as the hosts kept knocking on our door. Come half time, 'Pool were grateful to both Boro's wasteful finishing and the linesman's flag for allowing them to get in at the break all square.
'Pool started the second half with more verve - the ever impressive Callum McManaman turned the Boro defence inside out before laying the ball back to Taylor-Fletcher, whose shot was deflected out for a corner.
At the other end, 'Pool were grateful to Matt Gilks for keeping the scores level. Although his distribution was very poor at times today, there can be no faulting his reflexes as he made three great saves, including a superb double save from McDonald and Emnes.
With 25 minutes left, Matt Phillips replaced Taylor-Fletcher who, despite showing flashes of what he's about, wasn't really at the races today, like so many of the other 'Pool players in all white.
Second later though, Boro were 2-1 up; McDonald firing home from a low cross after 'Pool failed to clear their lines adequately.
That prompted a double change - Kevin Phillips for the jaded McManaman and Billy Clarke for Sylvestre who appeared to have picked up an injury.
'Pool were soon level again - M. Phillips got behind the Boro defence a few times in his 25 minute cameo, and this time his pullback found Jonjo Shelvey who bundled the ball home.
Shelvey didn't have his best game, but you can't fault what he's contributed since joining from Liverpool, and he's clearly enjoying his time here judging by his reaction to the goal and at full time. Fingers crossed we get him until the end of the season.
Matt Phillips twice nearly set up a winner for the 'Pool in the closing stages as we finally looked to have regained our swagger and really stretched the hosts, but Billy Clarke could only fire over, whilst Kevin Phillips' goalbound strike was blocked by some brave Boro defending.
All in all, a good point against a good team. Ian Holloway faces a big week though; does he recall LuaLua, does Taylor-Fletcher drop to the bench, does Kevin Phillips get a start against his ex club? I guess we'll have to wait a week to find out...
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