The Matt Scrafton column: Blackpool finding their feet in the Championship and look ready to kick on

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The 10-game mark is traditionally the point at which you’re able to get a good gauge of how the league table is shaping up.


Sitting in mid-table and four points ahead of the bottom three (and above PNE!), you’ve got to say it’s been a really encouraging start to the season from the Seasiders.

After a slow slow start, Neil Critchley’s men have grown into their new division and appear to have adapted to their new surrounds – albeit there’s still a long, long way to go.

Blackpool's Shayne Lavery has taken the Championship by storm

Blackpool’s Shayne Lavery has taken the Championship by storm

I must admit, having never covered the Championship before, I have been taken aback by the step-up in quality.

Of course I was expecting an improvement – there’s a reason why promoted sides from League One tend to struggle in their first season after all.

But, and I don’t know if this is just me, but on the opening day Bristol City’s players appeared to be that extra inch taller, that extra split-second faster and that extra bit stronger. It was instantly noticeable.

It says everything you need to know about Blackpool’s mentality that, despite those disadvantages, they were still able to churn out a late draw.

Land of the giants Cardiff City then rolled into town and put the Seasiders to the sword with a clinical display. Mick McCarthy’s side looked very, very good on the day, which makes their current malaise all the more bizarre.

But since then, Pool have looked very assured and once again resemble the side that stormed their way to promotion from the third tier last season.

It’s no coincidence that Blackpool have conceded just one goal in the three games they’ve won so far this season against Fulham, Middlesbrough and Barnsley.

Defensive solidity was the hallmark of their promotion-winning campaign last season, when Critchley’s side kept the most clean sheets in the division and conceded the fewest goals.

At the other end of the pitch, Blackpool have looked dangerous and the creation of chances hasn’t been a problem.

But having scored just nine goals in 10 games, it’s fair to say the men in tangerine haven’t exactly been potent in front of goal. You dread to think where they’d be without Shayne Lavery!

The Northern Irishman has been a revelation since making the move from Northern Ireland during the summer.

I never thought I’d see another striker work as tirelessly as Jerry Yates but somehow the Seasiders managed to find one.

Not only that, the 22-year-old is so, so dangerous in front of goal. He simply comes alive whenever the ball is in the vicinity of the opposition goalmouth.

With six goals to his name from just 10 starts, Lavery couldn’t have made much of a better start to his Blackpool career. Things are going swimmingly on the international scene, too, having netted his first goal for his country last month.

The former Linfield man now looks to be Northern Ireland’s first-choice striker, which is only going to enhance his reputation.

You must, however, have some sympathy for Yates, who has endured a difficult start to the campaign.

The 24-year-old, who has yet to score from open play this term, was an unused substitute against Barnsley last weekend before getting just 20 minutes against Hull on Tuesday night.

Having been Blackpool’s star man alongside Chris Maxwell last season, Yates would have hoped to be firing on all cylinders to prove himself in the Championship, but it’s not worked out for him yet.

Saying that, it’s a squad game and we know Critchley likes to rest and rotate, so it’s surely only a matter of time until Yates is back in the fold.

Let’s not forget either that it took the ex-Rotherham United and Swindon Town man 11 games to get off the mark in League One last season, and look how he finished the campaign. So no-one will be writing him off any time soon.

Elsewhere, Richard Keogh has really stepped up to the plate after a shaky start to the season.

Keogh took a bit of time getting used to his new surroundings but he and Marvin Ekpiteta have struck up a formidable partnership in the centre of defence, so much so you struggle to see how James Husband, Daniel Gretarsson and Oliver Casey will get a look-in.

Now Demetri Mitchell and Gary Madine are back involved after injury, Pool’s squad depth is really beginning to pay off.

A cursory glance at the bench on Tuesday and we saw Husband, Kevin Stewart, Josh Bowler and Yates.

When Reece James, Matty Virtue, Grant Ward, Owen Dale and CJ Hamilton are back fit, Blackpool’s depth will be frightening, even at this level.

If the Seasiders can steer away from further injury problems – especially long-term ones like Virtue, Ward and Hamilton’s – then you’ve got to be confident Critchley’s men can stave off a relegation battle.

Before a ball was kicked this season, I predicted Blackpool would stay up relatively comfortably and would finish above the two sides that joined them from League One last season, Hull and Peterborough United.

So far, so good.