Oliver Sarkic has become the latest player to leave Blackpool during the January transfer window.
The 24-year-old’s contract at Bloomfield Road has been cancelled by mutual consent, freeing him up to join another club.
It comes after a similar situation with Teddy Howe, which allowed the defender to sign for National League side Barnet.Sarkic departs the Fylde coast without making a single appearance under Neil Critchley in the last 12 months.
In fact, his last cameo for the Seasiders came exactly a year ago to the day, coming on as an 88th-minute substitute during the 5-0 thrashing of Wigan Athletic on January 26, 2021.
The forward, a free transfer from Burton Albion in the summer of 2020, made just 10 appearances for the club, failing to register a goal.
He spent a brief spell on loan with Mansfield Town last season, making four appearances before his stay was cut short as a result of injury.
It’s anticipated that Joe Nuttall will be the next player to head through the exit door, with a move to League Two side Scunthorpe United close to being finalised. It was expected the striker’s switch would be completed today, but we’re still awaiting official confirmation.
Sarkic failed to score a goal during his time at Bloomfield Road
Former Seasider Liam Feeney has also joined the Iron today, agreeing a permanent switch from Tranmere Rovers.
In other transfer news, Blackpool are closing to sealing the signature of Charlton Athletic winger Charlie Kirk as a replacement for Demetri Mitchell.
Scottish side Hearts are reportedly interested in a move for former Blackpool striker Ellis Simms.
Robbie Neilson’s side are in the market for a forward during the final days of the January transfer window following the recent departure of another ex-Blackpool player, Armand Gnanduillet.
The Frenchman was allowed to return to his homeland following an unsuccessful spell north of the border, joining second tier side Le Mans.
According to The Gazette’s sister paper, the Edinburgh News, Hearts are now considering a loan swoop for Everton’s Simms. Hearts have made an enquiry and talks are expected to continue over the coming days.
The 21-year-old is part of the under-23 squad at Goodison Park and it’s understood the Oldham-born man is available for a loan move this month.
The Seasiders were keen to bring Simms back to Bloomfield Road in January, but Jake Beesley’s arrival from Rochdale now means a move seems unlikely.
Neil Critchley’s side were previously confident of sealing a return for Simms during the summer, only for the striker to undergo surgery on his groin.
Simms helped fire Blackpool to promotion last season
It followed the injury he picked up on the eve of Blackpool’s play-off final win against Lincoln City back in May.
Simms enjoyed a prolific spell at Blackpool during the second half of last season, scoring 10 times in 19 starts to help fire Neil Critchley’s side to promotion.
The powerful forward made his Everton debut last month against Chelsea and is keen to play more regular first-team football.
A regular goalscorer for Everton’s academy side in Premier League 2, Simms recently signed a new long-term contract to keep him on Merseyside until 2024.
With injuries to the likes of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison, Simms has been a regular in Everton’s match day squads in the past couple of months.
Should Simms make the move to Hearts, he will link up with former Seasiders Taylor Moore and Ben Woodburn, who are currently on loan at Tyncecastle from Bristol City and Liverpool respectively.
Neil Critchley has explained why he wanted to give certain players the chance to redeem themselves during Blackpool’s win against Millwall.
Pool’s head coach largely named an unchanged side from Blackpool’s last outing, which was the dreadful 2-1 defeat to League Two side Hartlepool United in the FA Cup.
The only two players to drop out were James Husband and Keshi Anderson, who suffered hamstring injuries during that encounter.
It meant Critchley kept faith with the likes of Dujon Sterling, CJ Hamilton and Shayne Lavery, who were particularly poor in Blackpool’s third round tie.
But the trio repaid Critchley’s faith, all producing superb displays during Saturday’s 1-0 victory against Millwall.
Sterling was the standout performer on the day, while Hamilton was heavily involved in the winning goal which was put away by Lavery.
When asked if it was a conscious decision to keep faith with the players that struggled against Hartlepool, Critchley told The Gazette: “I felt some players at this moment in time need to feel my support and need to feel the trust of the coach.
Dujon Sterling repaid Neil Critchley’s faith with an outstanding display on Saturday
“After a defeat like that in the FA Cup, the easy thing to do would be to make wholesale changes. But I have to look at the game and the bigger picture.
“There wasn’t a lot wrong for the majority of the Hartlepool game and if you play that game another 10 times, I think we’d win quite a few of them.
“But we didn’t win the game and we didn’t deserve to win the game because of the 15 to 20 minutes where we didn’t compete.
“Some of the players got another opportunity against Millwall to put that right and they’ve gone and done that.”
While the defeat in the FA Cup will have come as a major disappointment, the Seasiders have started 2022 well with back-to-back league wins.
But Critchley, whose side head to league leaders Fulham on Saturday, knew how imperative it was to issue a response to the Hartlepool setback.
“It was vital and it was something we stressed to the players in the build-up to the game,” he added.
“We wanted to redeem ourselves (against Barnsley) last week but that was taken out of our hands. We got the chance to do it in front of our own supporters instead.
“This is a big victory for us. Any win in this division is so hard fought, it’s so tough to win games. You have to work extremely hard for anything you get and we had to do that against an established Championship team in Millwall.
“The support was fantastic and they were right behind us. It’s always a great feeling when you send our fans home happy.”
Transfer deadline day is now looming on the horizon, with just five days to go until the window shuts.
It’s already been a hectic January for the Seasiders, with a number of comings and goings.
Jake Beesley made the switch to Bloomfield Road from Rochdale, while Owen Dale’s loan move from Crewe was made permanent as per the terms of his initial agreement.
Jordan Thorniley and Ethan Robson, meanwhile, were recalled early from their loan spells at Oxford United and MK Dons respectively.
Heading for the exit door have been Teddy Howe (Barnet) and Demetri Mitchell (Hibernian), while Ryan Wintle (Cardiff City) and Tyreece John-Jules (Arsenal) were recalled from their loans by their parent clubs.
But it’s expected there will be plenty more to come between now and 11pm on Monday night.
Here’s where we currently stand:
Neil Critchley’s side have five days remaining to complete their transfer business
Joe Nuttall’s permanent switch to Scunthorpe United is expected to go through today.
The striker’s move to Glanford Park was initially expected to be announced on Tuesday, having travelled to North Lincolnshire to complete the paperwork.
However, Keith Hill’s side were in action against Bristol Rovers last night, which might have been the reason behind the slight delay.
Another player who should follow Nuttall through the exit door is Daniel Gretarsson, who has been strongly linked with a move to Polish side Śląsk Wrocław.
Speaking after Saturday’s win against Millwall, Neil Critchley confirmed there had been interest in his player – and it now appears just a matter of time until his departure is confirmed.
In a perfect world, the Seasiders would like to move on Oliver Sarkic this month, just as they did with Teddy Howe who had his contract cancelled by mutual consent.
The former Burton Albion man is not in Blackpool’s plans and hasn’t even been registered in their 25-man squad this season, so they’ll be hoping to finalise an exit between now and Monday night.
In terms of potential incomings, Charlton Athletic’s Charlie Kirk is a player that could arrive at Bloomfield Road.
Blackpool’s interest in the winger, which was first reported by The Gazette earlier this month, was sparked by the exit of Demetri Mitchell, who recently finalised a move to Scottish side Hibernian.
Addicks boss Johnnie Jackson recently admitted Charlton are willing to listen to loan offers for their player, although there could be an option to buy included as part of any deal.
The League One outfit appear close to bringing in Marcus Browne from West Ham, although The Gazette understands the winger’s potential arrival at The Valley has no bearing on Kirk’s situation.
There’s of course the ongoing saga of Blackpool’s interest in Cameron Brannagan to consider as well, which seems to have stalled in the past week or so.
While there’s been no update in recent days, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this is one that’s revisited during the final days of the window – much like the club’s pursuit of Jordan Gabriel during the summer window.
If the Seasiders fail to get their man for the second window running, they’ll have to turn their attention elsewhere as bringing in a central midfielder is a must.
While Ethan Robson has been brought back from his loan spell at MK Dons, he didn’t even make the squad at the weekend.
While Critchley insisted that was just squad selection and nothing else, it has been rumoured that MK have come back in with bids to take him on a permanent deal, so that’s another one to keep a close eye on.
The same goes for Thorniley, for that matter, as Oxford boss Karl Robinson has previously gone on record with his desire to bring the defender to the Kassam Stadium permanently.
Whether that’s as part of a potential Brannagan deal or not, who knows?
Elsewhere, it seems unlikely that Blackpool will strengthen at left-back despite being without a recognised player in that position.
With Luke Garbutt joining Reece James and James Husband on the sidelines, that prompted suggestions from supporters that the club could look to rectify that in the transfer market.
But chances are Dujon Sterling will cover there, as he did so well against Millwall on Saturday after Garbutt was forced to hobble off, until either James or Husband return.
And finally, The Gazette understands there’s no substance to the bizarre rumours of a potential Jerry Yates departure, which appeared to spring up out of nowhere.
The 24-year-old only signed a new three-year deal as recently as July 2021 and is considered an important part of the club’s plans.
It’s fascinating how much of a role fortune, or in this case misfortune, can play in football.
Demetri Mitchell was absolutely flying in pre-season. He was by far and away Blackpool’s standout performer during their friendlies and looked set to play a leading role for Neil Crithcley’s men in the Championship this season.
His impressive summer displays, which included goals against Southport, Carlisle United and Accrington Stanley, also came off the back of a strong end to last season.
While Mitchell wasn’t a regular starter during the run-in, he still made a major impact when he came off the bench – which was during most games.
The 25-year-old did start in the victorious play-off final though, a fact that is often overlooked.
Fast forward six months from the aforementioned pre-season campaign, Mitchell found himself backup at best and was allowed to make a January move to Scottish side Hibs.
How quickly things can change.
Mitchell should be remembered for the role he played in helping Blackpool win promotion from League One
The turning point for Mitchell was the cruel knee injury he suffered in Blackpool’s penultimate friendly of the summer at Morecambe, a setback that kept him out until the end of September.
Timing can be everything.
By that point, Josh Bowler had already established himself as a rising star in the second tier, while the likes of Keshi Anderson and Owen Dale were now ahead of him in the pecking order.
When he did get onto the pitch, it must be conceded Mitchell’s displays were mixed. But in his defence, he’s hardly been given a consistent run of games to get back up to speed.
That’s not a criticism of Critchley at all, by the way. That’s just the harsh reality of football at the highest level where, if you don’t take your opportunities however fleeting they may be, you won’t find yourself sticking around for too long.
But the former Manchester United man has only made 14 appearances in all competitions this season, with only six of them coming from the start.
As a result, the prospect of regular game time couldn’t be guaranteed, so a move north of the border perhaps suits all parties involved. It’s just a shame it all unravelled so quickly for Mitchell, because at his best he was a really dangerous player.
Perhaps his costly error in the recent defeat to Middlesbrough didn’t help his case, but we all make mistakes.
To me, this move strikes me as a way of guaranteeing Mitchell more game time, while affording Blackpool the chance to bring in a superior replacement in the final days of the transfer window. At least, let’s hope that’s the plan.
Initially brought to the club as a left-back in League One, it soon became clear Mitchell had excellent attacking instincts and a willingness to drive forward at opposition full-backs, but wasn’t suited to going the other way. Defending really wasn’t his forte.
Critchley, as he so often does, adapted and turned Mitchell into an introverted right winger, where he was given the license to cut inside from the flank and wreak havoc.
This is where he had his shortcomings though, especially in the Championship where the step-up in quality was noticeable.
Too often Mitchell’s decision-making let him down in the final third, resulting in him picking the wrong pass or opting to shoot when he should slip a teammate in or vice versa.
His end product wasn’t quite up to scratch, either. One goal in 53 appearances is testament to that.
I also lost count of the number of times he cut in from the right to unleash a swerving long-range effort that initially promised so much, only to soar into Row Z.
But, like so many of Blackpool’s recent signings, he was a player with huge potential, some of it potentially untapped. You don’t spend seven years at Old Trafford as a youngster if you don’t have something about you.
But sometimes these moves just don’t work out. That’s fine, that’s life. Perhaps Hibs will get the best out of him.
A promotion winner that always gave his best for the cause, Mitchell should depart Bloomfield Road with all of our best wishes.
He’s managed to bag himself a great move to a Hibs side that currently sit in fifth place in the SPL, so I’m sure he’ll do just fine.
Shayne Lavery’s focus is on delivering strong performances for Blackpool, not the number of goals he scores.
The striker netted his 10th of the season for club and country with Saturday’s winner against Millwall.
A summer signing from part-time Northern Irish side Linfield, the 23-year-old has adjusted impressively to life in the Championship.
Shayne Lavery has scored 10 goals this season
But rather than get too caught up in his goals tally, the forward just wants to ensure he’s doing the best he can for the good of the team.
Lavery told The Gazette: “I just keep looking to play well more than the number of goals, but as a striker you’ve just got to keep getting into positions to score.
“With the quality of players we have out wide we will create chances, so it’s just about getting into the right position. I keep trying to get into those good positions, keep trying to close defenders down and it’s been working okay for me so far.”
Lavery scored the only goal 10 minutes into the second half to secure a richly deserved three points for Neil Critchley’s side.
The Northern Ireland international rifled home after CJ Hamilton’s effort rebounded off the keeper.
“The lads dug in massively at the end to secure the three points,” Lavery said.
“It was a tough game. We knew it was going to be a good fight against these lads, so we’re buzzing to get the three points.
“For the goal, I just thought I’d hang back as CJ got to the goal pretty fast. He had a shot which was saved, but luckily it ricocheted back to me.
“My first thought as a striker is just to take a touch and hit it because I knew the keeper was out of position. Thankfully it went into the bottom corner.
“All strikers will say they need to get into a good position to get the strike off and that’s what I did.”
Saturday’s win, which takes the Seasiders back up to 12th in the table, was the perfect response to the FA Cup exit at the hands of Hartlepool United.
“We were still hurting from that because it was tough,” Lavery said. “With the chances for myself and a few of the other lads that we missed, we were itching to play Barnsley so we were gutted that was called off.
“It was a big reaction from the lads, though, and we’re all happy with the three points.”
Mercifully, we’re now into the final week of the January transfer window.
It’s already been a busy month for the Seasiders, with Jake Beesley arriving from Rochdale while Owen Dale’s loan move from Crewe was made permanent.
Ethan Robson was recalled early from his loan at MK Dons to bolster Blackpool’s options in central midfield following the untimely return of Ryan Wintle to parent club Cardiff City.
Tyreece John-Jules, meanwhile, returned to Arsenal after an unsuccessful loan spell on the Fylde coast.
There was a further departure in the form of Teddy Howe, whose contract was cancelled by mutual consent to allow the defender to seek pastures new.
But the business completed so far is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg, with a hectic week of potential ins and outs anticipated.
There’s so many moving parts, it’s hard to keep up at times. But here’s the current state of play with seven days until the window shuts:
Demetri Mitchell is expected to make the move north of the border
INS AND OUTS
Demetri Mitchell is likely to be one player that departs between now and next Monday, although we shouldn’t have to wait that long for his exit to be confirmed.
The winger was strongly linked with a permanent switch to Scottish side Hibs last week.
The Gazette understands the 25-year-old, who was left out of Blackpool’s squad for their 1-0 win against Millwall on Saturday, travelled to Edinburgh on Friday to finalise his move and undergo a medical.
As yet, there’s been no official confirmation, but again The Gazette expects this to be one deal that does go through.
Should Mitchell depart, it will leave Blackpool with two free spaces in the 25-man squad they must formally register to the EFL within 24 hours of the window closing.
The Seasiders will have lists of possible targets drawn up for every position on the pitch and for every eventuality.
The Gazette has learned that Charlton Athletic winger Charlie Kirk, formerly of Crewe, is a player on Blackpool’s radar should they lose a player in that position.
Speaking in the press last week, Addicks boss Johnnie Jackson admitted the League One side are willing to listen to loan offers for their player.
Another player that was conspicuous by his absence at the weekend was defender Daniel Gretarsson, who has been the subject of interest from Polish side Śląsk Wrocław.
Neil Critchley confirmed to The Gazette after Saturday’s win that Gretarsson, as well as Mitchell for that matter, have been the subject of interest in recent days.
While the 26-year-old is well liked by the club’s fanbase, the Icelandic international has largely been a bit-part player since joining from Norwegian side Aalesunds in October 2020.
Two others that will need to move elsewhere for regular game time are Oliver Sarkic and Joe Nuttall, with the club actively looking to move them on to free up their wages.
There appears to be more confidence in Nuttall leaving than Sarkic, with a move to League Two side Scunthorpe United mooted, but the club will hope both are able to find new clubs between now and 11pm next Monday.
While it looks like Ethan Robson is now in Critchley’s plans, a potential bid from his loan club MK Dons can’t be discounted – so that will be one to keep an eye on.
There’s also the curious case of Jordan Thorniley, who currently remains on loan with Oxford United despite recent reports of a potential recall.
From the outside looking in, it appears Thorniley is being used by Blackpool as a pawn in Blackpool’s pursuit of Oxford midfielder Cameron Brannagan.
It’s understood Blackpool have offered Thorniley as part of a potential swap deal, but as yet the Seasiders have failed to make much headway.
However, don’t be surprised if that’s one that goes right down to the wire as Critchley is a long-time admirer of Brannagan, who Pool also tried to lure to Bloomfield Road during the summer.
If they’re unable to agree a fee with Oxford, they will have other targets in mind.
A host of other names have already been linked, including Jeando Fuchs (Dundee United), Stuart McKinstry (Leeds United), George Thomas (QPR), Ebou Adams (Forest Green), Jay Fulton (Swansea City) and Tashan Oakley-Boothe (Stoke City) – basically every central midfielder under the sun.
Bringing in a central midfielder will be absolutely imperative for the Seasiders, who remain low on numbers in that position despite Robson’s return.
In terms of a potential unwanted outgoing, the Tangerines might have to bat away further offers for Josh Bowler, who has been strongly linked with Championship rivals Nottingham Forest virtually all month.
The winger, who is still only 22, let’s not forget, has been in sterling form in the past few weeks and Blackpool will be desperate to hold onto their prized asset at all costs.
Forest want to bring in both Bowler and Jed Wallace, of Millwall, as they prepare to lose star player Brennan Johnson to Premier League side Brentford, with a fee as high as £18m mentioned in some reports.
Another question to consider is whether or not Pool will need to strengthen at left-back after Luke Garbutt hobbled off with a knee injury at the weekend.
If a scan reveals a serious injury, that will leave Critchley without a recognised left-back as James Husband and Reece James are already sidelined with hamstring injuries.
Is it worth bringing in another left-back as a short-term fix though, when you’ve already got three on the books? What happens when they’re all available?
Chances are, Blackpool will probably look to get through the situation as best as they can for a few weeks with Dujon Sterling filling in there, as he did so well on Saturday after Garbutt was forced off.
James is back on the grass, to coin Critchley’s favourite phrase, and doing some running, so he’s probably not a million miles away.
And if Thorniley does return, as a left-sided centre-back he could always provide emergency backup if required.
I think that just about covers everything for now, although I’m sure something else will crop up. Strap in for a busy week…
Gary Rowett felt his Millwall side lacked “spark” and “energy” during their 1-0 defeat to Blackpool.
Shayne Lavery’s second-half strike, his 10th of the season in league and cup, ensured a 1-0 win for Neil Critchley’s men at Bloomfield Road this afternoon.
Blackpool leapfrog their opponents thanks to their second consecutive league win, while Millwall have now lost their last four games in league and cup.
“It’s disappointing,” Rowett told Millwall’s official website.
“When you look at some of our recent away games, we’ve just not done enough in some of the games.
“You just can’t come to places like this and concede soft goals, because that’s what we’ve done.
“I thought in the first-half we were relatively solid. But because of our lack of bodies at the moment we tried 3-5-2 and planned to remain competitive before bringing on our attacking players late on and see if it can open the game up. That was our plan.
Millwall boss Gary Rowett
“What you don’t want to do is be 1-0 down at that point.
“We’ve come away from being that horrible team to play against, that really organised team that keeps clean sheets, that team that really fights to get results away from home. We haven’t done it well enough or often enough.
“Yes we’re having a tough time at the minute in terms of injuries but we have to come to places like this and show what good players they are.
“I’m disappointed because our fans turned up in good numbers. We had nearly 1,000 fans make the journey all the way from London, but we didn’t give them enough spark in the game.
“We huffed and puffed a little bit and didn’t create enough chances. We had some good moments in the game but we didn’t make enough of them.
“When you concede a poor goal, that one goal can be the difference and at the moment that one goal is going against us, rather than for us.
“I see (Josh) Bowler get the ball, it feels like he’s going to do something. I didn’t feel as though we had that same spark or that same level of energy to make something happen.
“We have to accept that, but it’s not good enough.”
Neil Critchley was delighted with the manner his Blackpool side ground out a hard-fought three points against Millwall.
Shayne Lavery’s second-half strike, his 10th of the season in league and cup, ensured a 1-0 win at Bloomfield Road.
Critchley, whose side have won back-to-back games in the Championship, felt his troops just about deserved the victory.
“It was really hard fought and it wasn’t particularly pretty at times, but we got the job done,” he said.
“I felt if any team deserved to win the game on the balance of chances it was us.
“We’ve followed the Hull result with another 1-0 win, so it’s always pleasing when you win and keep a clean sheet.
“In the first-half, I felt we worked the goalkeeper more than they worked ours and then we started the second-half on the front foot and scored on top.
It’s a thumbs up from Blackpool boss Neil Critchley
“Other than Grimmy making one save, we saw the game out relatively comfortably. But you know when it’s only 1-0 they can throw men forward and get balls into the box. But generally we protected the goal really well.
“The players give me everything, they give the club everything and the fans, who were fantastic again. They got right behind the team.
“As I’ve said on many occasions, any win in this division is hard fought and you have to be right at it for 95 minutes and today we were.”
The pivotal moment came 10 minutes into the second-half, when Lavery drilled home into the bottom corner after CJ Hamilton had been thwarted by goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski.
On Lavery’s match-winning strike, Critchley added: “He’s a constant menace, he causes problems.
“At half-time, we just said ‘come on, give us that little bit more’, get a few more crosses in, get the ball forward more, create some momentum in the game, get the North Stand behind us.
“We started the second-half really well and Gary (Madine) has played a lovely ball behind the defence. It’s hard to get behind Millwall’s defence, particularly in a back five.
“But CJ has used his pace, the major asset he’s got, and he’s had a big hand in the goal.
“It was a centre-forward’s finish from Shayne. I couldn’t see it clearly from where I was, it looked like he hit it and maybe mishit it a little bit. But he found the bottom corner, so I’m delighted for him.”
Critchley, meanwhile, revealed Luke Garbutt was withdrawn with a knee complaint during the second-half.
The defender will now be assessed over the next 24 to 48 hours but is likely to require a scan to reveal the full extent.
It leaves the Seasiders without a recognised left-back in their squad with James Husband and Reece James already sidelined.
Shayne Lavery’s 10th goal of the season in all competitions handed Blackpool a richly deserved win against Millwall.
The Northern Irishman reacted quickest to pick out the bottom corner 10 minutes into the second-half.
The goal, which followed great play from Gary Madine and CJ Hamilton in the build-up, was enough to separate the two sides as Blackpool made it back-to-back wins in league action.
Bouncing back from the FA Cup disappointment, the Seasiders have maintained their 100 per cent Championship record in 2022.
Unfortunately the victory came at a cost though, as Luke Garbutt was forced off with an injury leaving Critchley without a recognised left-back in his squad – as James Husband and Reece James are already sidelined.
There was a noticeable absence in the Blackpool squad in the form of winger Demetri Mitchell, amid speculation linking him with a move to Hibs.
The Gazette understands the 25-year-old travelled to Scotland on Friday to finalise a move, however an official announcement has yet to be made.
Shayne Lavery now has 10 goals in all competitions this season
Elsewhere, Neil Crithley opted to make two changes from his side’s last game, which was the surprise FA Cup defeat to Hartlepool United.
James Husband and Keshi Anderson, who both suffered hamstring injuries during that cup tie, were replaced by Luke Garbutt and CJ Hamilton.
New signing Jake Beesley started the game on the bench, alongside the likes of Jordan Gabriel, the returning Kevin Stewart, Owen Dale and Jerry Yates.
Daniel Gretarsson and Ethan Robson, who was recently recalled from his loan at MK Dons, were both left out.
Chris Maxwell (quad), James Husband (hamstring), Reece James (hamstring), Matty Virtue (ACL), Grant Ward (achilles), Sonny Carey (metatarsal) and Keshi Anderson (hamstring) all remain sidelined.
Millwall, meanwhile, were without former Seasider Dan Ballard, as well as their captain Alex Pearce, star player Jed Wallace and top goalscorer Tom Bradshaw.
Despite losing their last three games in all competitions, Gary Rowett’s side began the day level on points with Blackpool in the league table, ahead by virtue of goal difference.
It was no surprise then that there was little to separate the two sides in a quiet but evenly-contested opening to proceedings.
Kenny Dougall had the game’s first shot, seeing his effort charged down after being teed up 25 yards from goal.
The Seasiders were denied a 19th-minute opener by a wonderful Bartosz Bialkowski save to deny Josh Bowler.
The winger’s low effort on the edge of the box looked to be heading in after taking a deflection, but the Millwall keeper somehow managed to stretch a leg to turn it over.
The two sides exchanged a chance apiece in quick succession, as Blackpool countered at break-neck speed after Shaun Hutchinson’s back post header was comfortably claimed by Dan Grimshaw.
The hosts attacked immediately, switching the ball to Bowler on the right flank whose eventual shot took another heavy deflection, taking the ball behind for a Pool corner which came to nothing.
Pool, who were enjoying a good spell at this point, tested Bialkowski again as Shayne Lavery had a powerful drive beaten away from a tight angle.
While Blackpool were on top for the majority of the first half, it wouldn’t be fair to say they were dominant because Millwall still offered a threat.
The Lions almost took the lead five minutes before half-time too as Murray Wallace slashed a first-time effort inches wide of the far post.
Millwall were also the first side to threaten at the start of the second-half, as Benik Afobe got in behind Blackpool’s backline after beating Richard Keogh for pace – but thankfully his centre-back partner Marvin Ekpiteta strolled across to make the block.
The Seasiders responded with a goal spell, as frontmen Lavery and Gary Madine both went close.
The first came the way of Lavery, who somehow managed to turn the ball wide from a matter of yards from Luke Garbutt’s corner.
In the striker’s defence, he didn’t seem to know a great deal about the chance and the ball hit him more than anything.
A moment later, the Northern Irishman turned provider as he laid the ball off to Madine, who volleyed just wide.
Pool maintained the pressure, delivering a dangerous ball into the box from the left where both Callum Connolly and Keogh fluffed their lines in front of goal.
Just when you thought this might be another case of Blackpool living to regret all their misses, the hosts finally got the opener they deserved in the 54th minute.
It all started with a sublime piece of play by Madine, who set CJ Hamilton free. The winger surged through on goal only to be thwarted by Bialkowski, but Lavery responded quickest to drill home into the bottom corner – sending Bloomfield Road into raptures.
Blackpool were dealt a big blow a few moments after their breakthrough as Garbutt was forced off the pitch through injury.
It left Critchley’s men without a recognised left-back, forcing Sterling to shift over and cover out of position as Jordan Gabriel came on in Garbutt’s place.
With just over 20 minutes remaining, Pool came so close to grabbing a second when Madine’s close-range effort was deflected agonisingly wide after Lavery had dummied Hamilton’s pullback.
As we entered the final 10 minutes, Millwall inevitably caused more problems as they threw men forward in a desperate bid to get back in the game.
They almost found what would have been an undeserved equaliser when substitute Tyler Burey curled towards the bottom corner, only for Grimshaw to make a stunning save to tip the ball wide.
As it transpired, it proved to be Millwall’s final chance of the game as the Seasiders saw out the remainder of time to hang on for a richly deserved second straight league win.
Only time will tell if Blackpool’s unscheduled week off will work in their favour.
The general consensus is that the postponement of the Barnsley game probably came at a good time for Neil Critchley’s men.
Unlike most other clubs in the Championship, the Seasiders managed to fulfil their hectic schedule over Christmas and New Year, even when their squad was stretched right to the limit.
That clearly began to take its toll and injuries and positive Covid-19 cases were mounting up, so a weekend off might have even been welcomed by Critchley and co.
The counter-argument, of course, is that Barnsley are bottom of the table and have only won two league games all season, so it was arguably the perfect game for the Seasiders to get back to winning ways after their FA Cup humbling the previous week.
It leaves Critchley’s side in a curious position heading into the final four months of the campaign.
Out of all the cups, nine points off the play-offs and 14 points ahead of the bottom three, you could argue there’s very little to play for between now and the end of the season.
Neil Critchley’s side take on Millwall at Bloomfield Road tomorrow
Critchley obviously won’t be adopting that attitude and, by extension, the players won’t be either.
Nevertheless, while it’s a shame to be out of the cup at the first hurdle, it’s a nice position for Blackpool to be in given this is their first season back in the Championship.
Compare their situation to Peterborough United, who are facing the prospect of a return to the third tier at the first attempt despite beating the Seasiders to automatic promotion last term.
Last season’s title winners Hull City, meanwhile, are facing a relegation battle of their own as they’re only seven points better off than Darren Ferguson’s team.
Having seen both sides in action this season, they’ll do well to avoid the trapdoor.
Barring a shaky start, Blackpool – meanwhile – have never really looked in danger, have they?
A period of adjustment at the beginning of the season was to be expected, especially when you factor in the injury and Covid issues that plagued pre-season as well.
Since then, the Seasiders have looked at home and even threatened a play-off push at one point.
While their form tailed off over Christmas, they’re still well positioned in the table and a top-half finish would certainly represent a fabulous first season back in the second tier of English football.
This weekend, Blackpool face a Millwall side in the midst of a mini-slump having lost their last three games.
The Lions are level on points with Critchley’s men, but sit a place higher owing to their superior goal difference. Gary Rowett’s side have also played a game fewer.
Unfortunately I wasn’t at the reverse fixture at The Den as I had Covid at the time but, by all accounts, Blackpool performed well and were unfortunate not to hold on for a draw despite being down to 10 men.
Blackpool will want to put that result right back on home turf, where form has generally been good, helped by an electric atmosphere at Bloomfield Road.
It’s a shame Dan Ballard isn’t available because he would have got a richly-deserved healthy reception from the home fans on his return to the Fylde coast.
The defender is on loan at Millwall from his parent club Arsenal, who were in touch with the Seasiders this week to recall Tyreece John-Jules from his unsuccessful loan spell.
Being brutally honest, I was surprised the 20-year-old didn’t return sooner.
There is plenty of ability there but he failed to find the back of the net and was clearly out of Critchley’s plans, having not taken to the pitch since mid-October.
An England Under-21 international, you can’t question if the forward has the ability but, for whatever reason, it just didn’t work for him at Blackpool.
One suspects John-Jules will have to drop back down to League One, where he previously enjoyed more fruitful loan spells with Doncaster Rovers and Lincoln City, if he wants to get his career back on track.
Elsewhere, it was also fascinating to see Blackpool recall Ethan Robson from MK Dons.
In one respect it wasn’t much of a surprise, given Blackpool’s lack of options in his position.
Up until this week, everything pointed to the Seasiders using the transfer market to bolster their ranks in central midfield, rather than bring back a player deemed well down the pecking order at the start of the season.
Saying that, the 25-year-old has enjoyed a strong spell in League One this season and, by all accounts, has been one of MK’s standout performers in helping Liam Manning’s side to fifth place in the table.
If his chance arises back at Bloomfield Road, fingers crossed he grasps it with both hands.
Unless Nottingham Forest come in with a ridiculous offer that can’t be refused, I don’t see why Blackpool would want to sell Josh Bowler.
I don’t think he’s shown his full potential yet but that’s also a good thing, because it means there’s a lot more to come from him.
It wouldn’t be a sidewards step because Forest are a big club at this level, but I just think he’s better off at Bloomfield Road for now.
If he wasn’t playing or not involved, I could see why he would want to move but, like I said, I don’t see why Blackpool would even consider letting him go.
It’s been a busy week of transfer news.
Tyreece John-Jules went back to Arsenal, which probably wasn’t a major surprise as the move didn’t really work for him.
He came in at the start of the season and he did alright to begin with, but Neil Critchley has a good, competitive squad and it didn’t work out how the lad would have wanted it to.
Bowler continues to be strongly linked with a move to Nottingham Forest
It’s probably best for all parties involved that he goes back to Arsenal and perhaps goes out on loan to another side.
Ethan Robson has come back to Bloomfield Road after having his loan spell at MK Dons cut short early.
I must say, I like Ethan. He’s a good player. He didn’t get a good run in the team last season for whatever reason, but he’s a good player so hopefully he can come back and make an impact.
Given the lack of options in midfield, there’s every chance Robson will become an important member of the squad – but I did like what I saw from him last season.
It’s been another week of transfer speculation with Blackpool, which is what you get with the January transfer window.
When I played, I didn’t make too many moves during the January window, so I can’t comment too much, but it depends on your situation as a player.
When you’re not involved, it’s a good chance to sort that out and get a move, but if you’re playing really well and there’s a lot of interest in you, it can be distracting.
I just got on with my performances and, if there was speculation, try to put it to the back of my head.
If something was going to happen, I was of the mindset that whatever will be, will be.
If you dwell on things like that too much, it can get in your head and affect your performances. You just have to get your head down and keep working hard.
Football moves so quickly. They say a week is a long time in football and I know players that have been out, not involved in the team and looking to move then, all of a sudden, the manager changes, a new man comes in and suddenly they’re back involved, playing and everything is rosy again. That’s just the nature of the game.
It was a shame Blackpool’s game against Barnsley was postponed last week but, by the same token, it might have been welcome in terms of the timing of it, because they have got a few players out with injury.
Blackpool had a hectic Christmas schedule. They were probably one of the busiest sides in the Championship.
Aside from Huddersfield Town, I think they were the only side to play all their games.
Hopefully they’ve been able to get two or three players back fit and they can go again against Millwall this weekend.
I haven’t seen too much of Gary Rowett’s side this season, although I did watch a bit of them in the FA Cup against Crystal Palace the other day.
They’re 13th in the table and just above Blackpool, so they’re a decent team, but they all are in this league.
They’ve lost their last three in all competitions, but sometimes form doesn’t even matter that much in the Championship because anyone can beat anyone.