Matt Scrafton column: Blackpool’s promising start to life back in the Championship

Home | Blackpool Gazette

Once the final whistle is blown at Bramall Lane on Saturday, we’ll roughly be one-third of the way through the Championship season.

 

By whatever metric you use, you’ve got to say it’s gone extremely well for Blackpool.

Six wins, three draws and five defeats is a very encouraging start for a side who came up through the League One play-offs.

Whenever you ask Neil Critchley about how he rates his side’s progress, he often umms and ahhs, and has a good think about it for a few seconds, before deciding it’s been ‘okay, could be better’.

Neil Critchley has overseen an encouraging start to the season
Neil Critchley has overseen an encouraging start to the season

Perhaps that’s how he is. You often get the feeling that if Blackpool won nine games out of 10, he’d be peeved by the fixture they didn’t win. He’s a perfectionist like that.

Even Critchley will be delighted with Blackpool’s current run, which has seen them win six of their last nine. Only leaders Bournemouth have collected more points during that time.

We’re getting to that dangerous territory, as we did in February and March of last season, where the regular victories go beyond a purple patch. It’s more than that.

If the Seasiders have a good November, for example, then we’d be looking at a prolonged, three-month spell of consistency, rather than a decent short-term upturn.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves because Critchley and co will know full well football has the ability to bite you in the backside just as you’re beginning to get carried away, especially in the Championship.

However, let’s double down into some of the facts and figures. Are Blackpool where they deserve to be?

Let’s start by analysing their points return, which is 21 from their opening 14 games.

So far that gives them a points-per-game average of 1.5. Repeat that over 46 games, you’re looking at a tally of around 69 points.

Last season, that would have been enough to finish eighth in the table, just outside the play-offs.

Again, this could all mean diddly squat and we’re still very early into the season, so I’d take these numbers with a pinch of salt – but they give us a general idea of how well Blackpool are performing.

In terms of Expected Goals (xG), one analytical site has Blackpool down in 14th, while a couple of others have them in 16th.

That suggests the Seasiders, who are 11th, level on points with the six sides ahead of them, are over-performing a little, but only slightly.

The numbers remain fairly similar to what they’ve actually produced and all metrics have them comfortably clear of the bottom three, as they are in ‘real life’, so to speak, boasting a 12-point gap.

What will also really encourage Critchley is that his players are getting better all the time.

They’re improving game by game and adapting to the level. I expect them to get stronger as the season goes on, not weaker.

Blackpool’s xG for their away games alone puts them 13th, while they’re 16th at home.

Again, they’re fairly similar figures and, as we’ve seen throughout Critchley’s tenure, the Seasiders tend to perform consistently irrespective of whether they’re home or away.

Despite Blackpool’s impressive return to the second tier, I still get the feeling opposition clubs – ones who are more established at this level – still see Blackpool as that side who were in League One last season.

“We should be beating teams like Blackpool,” is a phrase I hear and see regularly on my travels. More fool them.

Not to blow my own trumpet, but within the subsequent hours and days that followed Blackpool’s play-off triumph in May, I said Critchley’s men would be absolutely fine in the Championship.

I also predicted Blackpool would finish higher than their fellow promoted sides Hull City and Peterborough United, too. So far, so good in that respect.

Of course, all of this means Blackpool’s head coach is finally beginning to get noticed outside the Fylde coast.

It was inevitable really, I’m just surprised it’s taken this long.

We live in strange times when the Blackpool boss is infinitely more qualified, and by some distance, too, than the man in charge of Manchester United.

Liverpool supporters are now beginning to take more notice of him too, picking up on the likeness of his post-match fist pumps to what Jurgen Klopp regularly does at Anfield and beyond.

Is it just a case of enjoying him while we can or is Critchley here to stay for the long haul?

Personally, I suspect it’ll be the latter but, either way, it’s a good problem to have.

If your best players and your head coach aren’t wanted and sought after by clubs above you, you’re doing something wrong.

It goes without saying Simon Sadler and Ben Mansford will be desperate to tie Critchley down to a longer-term deal, with his current contract due to expire at the end of the 2022/23 season.

Put the pen to paper, Critch…