By Glen Kirkham
2:10pm, Saturday, 8 August 2009 - Sky Sports News Studio, Central London
Football Pundit A: 'Obviously Newcastle, Middlesbrough and West Brom will all be pushing to gain promotion this year, but who do you think will be battling at the other end of the table come the end of the season?'
Football Pundit B: 'I think the three to watch will be Peterborough, Scunthorpe and Blackpool. Grayson did a great job last year but I just can't see them fighting off relegation for another season.'
15 Games into an enigmatic and determined Mr Holloway tenure, and 'little' Blackpool find themselves in a rather unfamiliar yet contented position. Not only have the Seasiders beaten a near full strength Everton team, humiliated a local Wigan outfit, given a feared Stoke team more than a run for their money and utterly dominated against a £40m+ Newcastle dream team, Blackpool have seen an unimaginable growth, on and off the pitch into a side that is ever increasing it's ability to compete at the highest levels of football.
The central midfield trio of Southern, Adam and Vaughan have outplayed and out-passed midfields worth ten times their combined values, the goal keeper is increasing in confidence, Bloomfield road is becoming a fortress and the Jimmy Armfield stand is a towering monument to the progress of the seaside club. The transition from a standard 4-4-2 to a 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation has seen Blackpool play with a silkiness and poise that is foreign to us regular fans and allows us to surprise and interrogate bigger, better (editor: maybe a poor choice of word!) and more lucrative opponents. We have pace, we have skill, we have height and we have dominance all of which intimidates oppositions and theoretically should allow us to dictate possession and play in a game. There is desire to play football which we haven't seen at Bloomfield road for a while, and it is fairly honest to say, that this is the most exciting Blackpool side we have seen in a long time.
The focus on bringing players in such as Jason Euell, Hameur Bouazza and Neal Eardley as well as investment into the stadium and training facilities illustrate the fact that the Oyston-Belekon partnership want Blackpool to be competitive rather than act as a passive investment on the back end of their respective property empires. This has allowed the Tangerine faithful to hold their own in the top half of this incredibly difficult football league. We only have to look down upon the giants below us like Southampton, Charlton and Leeds to see what steady progress has made within the club and what the potential is over the next few years as we try to realise Mr Belekon's dream of Premiership football.
Of course it hasn't been all plain sailing for the Seasiders. Following a stint of three victories on the bounce propelling them up to fifth in the table, Blackpool are looking to stop the rot of two defeats (against a sub-par Bristol City and an unimaginative Crystal Palace side) as Holloway prays for the impending International break due to a bare bones squad caused by injuries. Despite a master-class in passing at times against Palace, Blackpool have yet to ease their trouble of 'the end product' and finding a 20-30 goals a season striker is an immediate requirement - the role filled by loanee DJ Campbell last campaign. With the square ball possession Blackpool now maintain on a regular basis, the side is still missing the opportunity to play through balls to a pacey striker who can bag one-on-ones for fun. Even though no one can question his love for the game, Ormerod is tired and cannot fill that role. Ben Burgess plays a Heskey style playmaker position and cannot fill that role despite being the clubs top scorer with 4. Demontagnac, Bouazza, Euell, Clarke are all natural wingers/attacking midfielders and cannot play that role. As for Mcphee and Nardiello, it will be another frustrating season watching the injury prone strikers return to full fitness and then display the form we have heard they are capable of.
Following a watertight display of defending earlier in the season, many Blackpool fans have begun to see issues in the back line who protect the safe hands of Paul Rachubka. Alex Baptiste has been a wonder in the defence and should be noted as a bargain of the century for the talent and desire he shows on the football pitch. Unfortunately, the latest string of games shows the pressure that Crainey is under with respect to dealing with the pace of what are usually the fastest men in the game of football - right-wingers. A team is only as strong as it's weakest link and many pool fans seem to think that although his crossing and dedication is unquestionable, his decision making process and commitment to players needs to be rectified before we drop any more points. For what my opinion is worth, I genuinely believe that our left hand side (Crainey&Ormerod) is the weakest area of our team and the opposition have been regularly exploiting us for that.
After the loss of some key players in the Blackpool setup (Ian Evatt, Gary Taylor-Fletcher, Ishmel Demontagnac) and a serious lack of away form, Holloway needs to re-structure and rethink his strategy over the International break, as Championship clubs face another gruelling run-in to the Christmas period. The positivity of a starting place for Adam with Scotland against Japan and an International call-up for a number of our players will give the squad a physical and psychological boost and give the players a chance to reflect on what has been a so far successful campaign.
Blackpool fans will be ecstatic at their position and hope to build on their current momentum in their next match against a struggling Plymouth side, but with big games against Boro, Reading, West Brom and the ever-luscious Preston fixture in the up coming months, let's hope Blackpool are still maintaining the thought of the ever taboo subject of 'Playoffs' by the time Santa comes to town.