A sublime display doused in controversy: Matt Scrafton’s verdict on Blackpool’s pulsating yet frustrating draw with QPR

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It was only a few weeks ago that Neil Critchley told The Gazette about his displeasure about the way his Blackpool side were being treated by officials in the Championship this season.

 

At the time it took me by surprise. Not because what he said was wrong, far from it.

But because he’s normally very careful with his choice of his words and he’s not the type of person to complain or use external factors as an excuse. Everything Blackpool do is about controlling the controllables, as the modern buzzword goes.

But, whether you risk a fine or not, which appears likely, sometimes you reach the end of your tether and you just have to say it as it is, to coin a more old-fashioned, clichéd phrase.

It must be frustrating for Critchley to put in so much hard work and effort on the training ground, and for all those plans to come to fruition on a match day, only for the result to be taken out of your hands and placed at the discretion of officials who continually manage to get the big calls wrong.

Now I’m no advocate of VAR, I detest it in fact. I’m a firm believer that the game we play on a Sunday morning, in terms of rules and regulations and how decisions are made, should be exactly the same as the game that is played in the Premier League. But it’s clear referees need help and have done for quite some time.

This is where I do have sympathy, because the sport is played at such a frantic pace and it’s easy to get contentious calls wrong. We’re all human, mistakes happen.

Referee Joshua Smith was the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons

Referee Joshua Smith was the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons

Saying that, the officials already have a level of assistance. In the Championship, goalline technology is enforced. But on this occasion it appears to have failed quite spectacularly.

When Kenny Dougall’s sixth minute header hurtled towards the back of the net, surely it should have picked up Gary Madine’s touch came when the ball was over the line?

So yes, Madine might well have been offside, but that was completely irrelevant as his touch had no bearing on the ‘goal’, or what ought to have been one anyway.

I’d have some sympathy for the referee and his linesman if what followed wasn’t so utterly abject, because one-off mistakes can happen. But they didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory.

In their defence, there were bodies in the way and you could see the linesman on the far side was craning his neck to get a clear view. Unlike the rest of us, he only got one shot and had no benefit of slow-mo replays.

But it was the same official who missed a fairly blatant foul in the box on Jordan Gabriel in the first-half, which was allowed to go unpunished.

And then, right under his nose, Moses Odubajo was allowed to cynically scythe through the back of Josh Bowler with unreasonable force, making no attempt to win the ball whatsoever.

A yellow card was flashed in his direction, but it could quite easily have been red. It was probably one of those awkward decisions where an ‘orange’ card might have come in handy.

Even when a decision finally went Blackpool’s way, when referee Joshua Smith awarded them a penalty at the start of the second-half, the Seasiders still weren’t entirely satisfied.

It all began with a pinpoint ball forward from James Husband, who silenced his doubters yet again (seriously, when is he going to get the respect he deserves?!) by producing a faultless display at centre-back.

Gabriel raced onto it, surged past the keeper only to be hauled down in the penalty area. Spot kick given.

But why wasn’t the goalkeeper Seny Dieng sent off? If Gabriel had taken the ball past him, as was about to happen, the right-back would have had an open goal in front of him.

The man in black will argue the double jeopardy rule applies on this occasion, which states referees can give a yellow card rather than red when the player punished makes a legitimate attempt to play the ball when denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.

Dieng throws his arm out to stop Gabriel though, not the ball. So that’s another one that doesn’t wash. And in total, that’s four major calls that all went against Critchley’s side, so it’s no wonder if he was so animated and angry come full-time.

It’s a real shame we’re having to focus so heavily on referees, because Blackpool’s performance deserves recognition.

In terms of controlling a fixture from start to finish, it was arguably their best display of the season. Yet it only wielded a point, rather than all three.

What made it all the more impressive is that it came against a QPR side that are free-scoring and are known for their possession-based approach.

But, as Critchley said, the Seasiders simply steam-rolled them. The men in tangerine were simply too much and their energy levels were off the charts.

Pool were guilty of not creating enough chances in their midweek defeat to Stoke City, but the same accusation couldn’t be levelled at them on this occasion.

To go along with the penalty appeal and the ruling out of Dougall’s header, Marvin Ekpiteta – who was utterly fabulous once again, by the way – was denied from close range, Husband headed just over, substitute Sonny Carey rattled the outside of the post with a ferocious drive and a teasing Demetri Mitchell cross was almost inadvertently turned home by a QPR defender.

It was one-way traffic for the lion’s share of this encounter, which was televised by Sky Sports (about time you checked out what was going on at Bloomfield Road, eh?).

QPR, meanwhile, offered very little. Until the last five minutes, I struggle to recall a single opportunity they created.

Their goal, however, was a moment of true quality. Chris Willock, a former Arsenal and Benfica youngster, cut in from the wing and curled a sublime effort that flew into the back of the net in off the post.

Dan Grimshaw, who had nothing to do all night, could do little else but watch and admire as the ball soared past him.

The Seasiders could easily have sulked about their predicament and lost all discipline. But they simply got back on the horse, so to speak, and unleashed wave after wave of attack on the QPR goal.

They were ably assisted by the spine-tingling home support, too. Blackpool were utterly relentless on the pitch but off it as well.

It’s just a shame they couldn’t bag the three points their display so richly deserved, but sometimes these things are out of your control.