Pool Stop Rot With Villa Draw
12th February 2011; 15:00
Blackpool ended their horrific run of defeats with a steady performance against Aston Villa.
The Seasiders came from behind to draw 1-1 at Bloomfield Road through an Elliot Grandin header. Gabby Agbonlahor had given Villa the lead on 10 minutes, who had Jean Makoun sent off in the second half.
Right from the off Ian Holloway's team looked far more assured and composed in possession and a tougher unit to break down, which is something obviously addressed in the week after shipping five goals at Everton last Saturday.
Richard Kingson came in for the injured Paul Rachubka in goal and as the club couldn't manage to sign an emergency goalkeeper, youngster Chris Kettings made the tangerine bench.
Neal Eardley was dropped to that bench, replaced by Craig Cathcart, whilst Marlon Harewood operated from out wide in place of James Beattie. Luke Varney was preferred to Jason Puncheon.
Despite the changes, they were behind inside 11 minutes thanks to Agbonlahor's prowess on the break. Pool were attacking when a move broke down, leaving right back Alex Baptiste stranded up field as Villa broke. A simple ball out to the vacant left hand side found its way to the England international who raced clear to round Kingson before slotting the ball past the despairing defensive dives on the goal line.
However, the away side's lead didn't last long. Four minutes later an expertly taken corner by Charlie Adam found the unlikely hero Elliot Grandin who flicked his header beyond Brad Friedel to revive most of the 16,000 inside Bloomfield Road.
From then on it really was anyone's game, with both teams committed to attacking football. It wasn't pretty for lengthy spells thanks largely to the appalling condition the pitch currently finds itself in.
The touchline running along the West Stand - where substitutes warm up - simply isn't visible due to the mud which made the linesman's day pretty tricky, especially with Marlon Harewood doing most of his bidding tight to the line.
And it was Harewood who was proving to be the key link for the Seasiders. Surprisingly, the former Villa man was causing all sorts of problems down the right hand side for young Ciaran Clark whilst tracking back to help Baptiste out regularly.
One problem in the opening period was the width used. Harewood was playing well but the distance between him and DJ Campbell in the middle was too great and it was up to DJ to hold the ball for longer than he would want.
Ironically enough, Pool lacked the width later in the game which would've opened Villa up once they went down to 10 men. The sending off did look harsh (having not seen a replay of it yet) as Jean Makoun lunged in late on DJ Campbell as the striker flicked the ball away from him. Howard Webb - who in truth had been dreadful for both teams all game - was itching to give the decision and sent the midfielder off without hesitation.
Then the onus was on Pool to take the game to the Villans - who had sat in and were content to hit the hosts on the break.
Andy Reid and Matt Phillips came on in place of Varney and Harewood (whilst Puncheon had earlier replaced the injured Grandin), the latter probably deserving to stay on with Campbell in a 4-4-2. But as it was, Ollie kept faith with the 4-3-3 but in reality this never really worked in trying to break down Gerard Houllier`s men.
Reid looks short of match fitness and more importantly practice with various attempted balls not coming off for him which stifled possession.
With regards to width, you would hope that the wingers Puncheon and Phillips occupied the fullbacks whilst Campbell holds one centre half with Reid actually being the spare man in behind.
Unfortunately there was a lack of spark or positional awareness about our game in the final 20 minutes which meant Pool were reduced to shots from outside the box rather than creating decent chances.
Charlie Adam and Matt Phillips both went close but Villa arguably went closer when they got winger Ashley Young into the game late on. He might have won a penalty on another day and had a wonderful chance in the final minute as he had time and space 15 yards out in front of goal to pick his spot but spurned the opportunity, scuffing the ball wide.
All in all, this could go down as a well earned point for Blackpool in the continuing quest for survival. It was important to stop the rot - especially with teams around us picking points up today - which just sees the points total ticking over again.
It is important to build slowly and look to do the simple things well, which has evaded the team in the past weeks. They generally looked more solid and organised (with communication from the goalkeeper for a change) and kept possession much better. Craig Cathcart coming back at the heart of the defence was a huge boost and he was my man of the match.
Progress is the name of the game at this stage of the season - we will need draws as well as wins if we are to stay in the division.