Neil Critchley: Blackpool players have earned pause for breath this week

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Neil Critchley hailed the heart and spirit of his squad after withstanding a gruelling festive season, though the Blackpool head coach is grateful for a free week between fixtures.

Despite a well-publicised player shortage made all the worse by Covid cases, the Seasiders managed to play three games in a week, returning to winning ways against Hull City on New Year’s Day after back-to-back Championship defeats.

As postponements remain rife across the EFL, Blackpool are one of only four sides in the second tier to have played three games since Christmas.

Neil Critchley's Blackpool and QPR were the only Championship sides to play three times in seven days since Christmas

Neil Critchley’s Blackpool and QPR were the only Championship sides to play three times in seven days since Christmas

QPR are the only other club to have played three in seven days, while Derby County and Huddersfield Town managed three in eight.

It means the six-day gap before Saturday’s lunchtime FA Cup tie at Hartlepool United seems a long and most welcome one for Critchley.

The Pool boss said: “It’s a little breather, although it sounds quite weird even saying that because it’s only Saturday until Saturday.

“That one-week window will give us a chance to recharge our batteries, both emotionally and physically.

“It will just give us some breathing space and we can reflect on last week and the three games.

“We can then look forward to a difficult FA Cup tie against Hartlepool next Saturday.”

Pool’s third-round opponents were themselves due to play for the third time since Christmas last night, against Bolton Wanderers in the EFL Trophy.

However, they did have a League Two fixture postponed a week ago because of Covid in the Tranmere Rovers camp.

Critchley says his squad have certainly earned that “little breather”.

He added: “Three in seven days is a massive effort, especially when you end up playing with 10 men for half an hour (after Jordan Gabriel’s red card at Huddersfield), and you’re chasing the game against Middlesbrough and giving everything you’ve got to get back into it.

“We’re one of two clubs out of 24 in the Championship who faced that schedule.

“Games are being called off because of Covid. Hull said they had quite a few players missing but I didn’t see that many missing, I have to be honest.

“Our players have gone thick and fast in a short period of time.

“We might not always win games but no-one beats us for togetherness, spirit and heart. The players showed that in abundance.”