'Pool Sharper Than Blades
Bloomfield Road, Blackpool
18th September 2007, 7.45pm
Last night, Simon Grayson's men showed they were no pushovers against a side with Premiership pedigree who are one of the bookies favourites to bounce back up at the first attempt.
Following on from the game against Burnley, Ben Burgess once again forced himself into the starting line-up in place of Keigan Parker, while Danny Coid - sent off mid-week in the reserves - replaced Michael Flynn on the bench. New signing Andy Welsh also had to settle for a place on the bench after impressing on Saturday at Turf Moore.
Just looking at the names in the United line-up (including former 'Pool loanee, Chris Armstrong) made you realise just what a challenge it would be to get anything out of the game.
They lined up;
Barker - Jackson (C) - Evatt - Crainey
Taylor-Fletcher - Fox - Southern - Hoolahan
Morrell - Burgess
Subs; Gorkss, Coid, Welsh, Parker, Vernon
Bromby - Morgan - Kilgallon - Naysmith
Gillespie - Tonge - S. Quinn - Armstrong
Beattie - Stead
Subs; A. Quinn, Webber, Carney, Lucketti, Sharp.
'Pool started the brighter of the two teams in front of a sell-out crowd, forcing a corner in the early stages and creating openings as the Blades struggled to get a foothold on the game. United continually pushed players forward on the counter with their Premiership experience showing, getting 3 or 4 players into the 'Pool box on a number of occasion in an attempt to get their heads on the ball.
David Fox flashed a long-range shot over the bar in the early stages from 25 yards, which we all know on another day, can rocket into the back of the net.
On 13 minutes and against the run of play, James Beattie rose above the 'Pool defence 8 yards out and headed the ball into the far corner, leaving Paul Rachubka rooted to the spot.
This put United in the ascendancy, pressing the 'Pool defence with a couple of headers that ended up over the bar and letting rip with a few long-range efforts which were comfortable for Rachubka between the 'Pool sticks.
Ben Burgess went close from the edge of the area, getting hold of the ball at his feet, the front-man turned onto his left foot and let rip from the edge of the area, stretching to hit the ball as he went to ground. The shot only just missed the left hand post as 'Pool went in search of an equiliser with numerous counter-attacks.
At the other end, there were flashbacks to Burnley last week at one point where a shot from a United player clattered off Shaun Barker's chest and towards goal. Paul Rachubka was wrong-footed as he was moving to his left but he pulled off a magnificent reflex save to his right hand side to keep Blackpool in the game.
On the stroke of half time, they got just that. Referee Mark Halsey - Lancashire born and bred? After last night's performance, it wouldn't surprise me if he had a 'close' family from Yarkshire! - gave 'Pool a rare freekick on the edge of the United area after a shirt pull (yanking to the ground...) on Andy Morrell.
David Fox and Stephen Crainey lined up to take the freekick before Foxy left the scene and took up a position in the middle of the wall to disrupt the United defence. The tactic worked a treat and Crainey slotted the ball into the near post with Paddy Kenny stranded in the centre of the goal. Another left back who can score from freekicks...
Seconds later and the half time whistle blew to send the teams into the half time break all square, just what the Seasiders deserved for their efforts.
With the goal on the stroke of half time, it gave 'Pool all the confidence in the world and they came out in the 2nd half rejuvenated and attacked towards the Kop with a purpose.
A golden chance fell to the feet of Gary Taylor-Fletcher mid-way through the 2nd half. He picked up the ball on the edge of the area, let it come across onto his favoured right foot, dropped a shoulder to open up space for the shot...but his shot was weak at best and just trickled along the deck into the arms of Paddy Kenny.
Andy Morrell recieved a wakeup call towards the end of the game, following a corner, he went to head the ball towards a 'Pool player from the edge of the 6 yard box before he was clattered in the head by a Sheffield United boot as the defender cleared the ball with a bicycle kick! Mark Halsey allowed play to go on until it dawned on him that it was a head injury and Morrell was still down - not surprising, seeing as though I could hear the contact from my seat at the back of Block B!! Boos rang around Bloomfield Road for the referee for not taking action straight away - were some calling for a penalty for a high foot? I know I was... - as Morrell walked off the field with Phil Horner to get back his senses!
Wes Hoolahan was fantastic on the left hand side in the 2nd half and caused defenders all sorts of problems, turning inside and out, using tricks to get out of trouble and play the ball to the overlapping Stephen Crainey and bringing more defenders to him, opening up space for the rest of the midfield to get involved.
Andy Welsh was brought on for his home debut for Taylor-Fletcher late on and made an immediate impact. Linking up with Shaun Barker on the right, he attempted to whip crosses into the area at all times (with both feet!).
Not long after, at the third or fourth time of asking, one of his crosses resulted in what 'Pool fans thought was the winner. Cutting inside on his left foot, he whipped an inviting ball into the United area where Ben Burgess once again rose and sent the 'Pool fans into raptures as he flapped his wings in celebration.
That elation turned to shock and despair not 30 seconds later. James Beattie picked up the ball 35 yards out, let rip with a shot which was at a comfortable height for Paul Rachubka to gather into his chest as he knelt on the goal-line. However, the ball somehow escaped his grasp, bounced off his shoulder and trickled over the line to leave the entire 'Pool support in a stunned silence.
Paul is by far one of the best 'Keepers I've seen at Bloomfield Road (that is from Tony Caig to present day...) and has hardly put a foot wrong since his loan deal from Huddersfield last season.
There are positives to take out of the game though. For 45 minutes, we played a Premiership-quality team off the pitch and should have won it if it wasn't for a terrible mistake by our usually steady-hands shot stopper!
I don't know what I was more gutted about walking away from the game. Conceding a goal under those circumstances to cost us the win...or the fact I predicted the first scorer and correct scoreline before the game but had no change to put a bet on! That £42 could have come in handy...
But, I digress, one point is better than none and a statistic that will be like music to 'Pool fans everywhere is that we have only lost 1 game in the last 18. That game being Wolves of course where Mick McCarthy stated after the game that they were lucky to get the win.
The team has come on leaps and bounds in such a short amount of time under Simon Grayson and the progress on the pitch now needs to be matched off it. With the emergence of Simon Grayson as a top, young manager, it is essential we tie him - and indeed his backroom staff - down to permanent deals to underline the commitment from the club to the best management team we have had for quite some time!
Colchester United are next up for 'Pool on Saturday at Bloomfield Road and Ian Evatt and Michael Jackson will come up against former Manchester United hero, Teddy Sheringham as he continues to defy the 'laws of football' by still playing regularly into his forties.
Here's hoping for a win and a clean sheet. UP THE 'POOL!