No excusing this pitiful display: Matt Scrafton’s verdict on Blackpool’s dismal defeat to Derby County

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I leapt to Blackpool’s defence after last week’s defeat to Luton Town, but I won’t be excusing this pitiful display.

 

Against the Hatters, Neil Critchley’s side performed well. Despite losing 3-0, they squandered good chances, worked the ball from back to front with purpose and were just guilty of conceding some soft goals at vital stages of the game.

But against Derby, there were very few, if any positives to take.

It’s very rare I disagree with Critchley’s assessment of a game. Win, lose or draw he normally sums up the main talking points with a refreshing level of honesty. If something needs to be said, he’ll come out and say it.

But to suggest Blackpool were anything other than dreadful at Pride Park on Saturday is just disingenuous.

Under Critchley, I’ve never questioned Blackpool’s heart, desire or effort and I’m not about to change that now. But for large parts of this encounter they were unable to match Derby’s hunger.

Derby’s plight has been well-documented. They’re in administration, they’ve been docked 21 points and, regardless of this result, relegation to League One looks almost certain.

It was a game to forget for Neil Critchley's men

It was a game to forget for Neil Critchley’s men

Not only that, they were rocked last week during the lead-up to this game with a Covid outbreak among the squad. Seven first-team players were self-isolating and unavailable as a result.

Their bench was largely made up of youngsters and the striker who scored their winning goal, Luke Plange, was making his first senior start.

Right from the off, the home side had more purpose to their play. Plange caused havoc all afternoon with his flick-ons from Derby’s long balls forward, but Wayne Rooney’s men were also more than capable of playing some pleasing-on-the-eye stuff as well, working the ball neatly from one side to the other and creating overloads in the final third.

Did they create a host of opportunities? Not really, it wasn’t necessarily that sort of game, but at least they got into those positions in the first place. The same can’t be said of the Seasiders.

After the game, Critchley criticised his side’s decision-making and lack of creativity in the final third. But if I’m being honest, I struggle to recall too many occasions where they actually moved the ball into that area of the pitch to begin with.

This wasn’t a case of missed opportunities as it was against Luton last week, it was a case of failing to even get into promising positions to create said chances in the first place.

Pool were far too passive in the centre of the pitch and Keshi Anderson, Owen Dale and Sonny Carey, the three players tasked with creating opportunities, were simply anonymous.

I felt a great deal of sympathy for lone striker Shayne Lavery, who was the only Pool player looking to make things happen.

The Northern Irishman curled an effort on his weaker foot just past the post while he did well to get across his man and glance a header straight at former Pool loanee Ryan Allsop, who won’t have many quieter days at the office than this.

Lavery also created Blackpool’s only clear-cut chance of the game after just four minutes, pulling the ball back for Ryan Wintle whose goalbound effort was well blocked.

Other than that, the Seasiders created diddly-squat.

Of course Derby aren’t as bad as their doomed league position says. Ignoring their points deductions, they’d actually be just two points adrift of the Seasiders.

But when you’re facing a side that’s won just one of its last 11 games and whose manager had to ring a handful of youth-team players to get them out of bed on the morning of the match to request their availability, that simply isn’t good enough.

Critchley might not admit that publicly in an attempt to maintain the spirit levels among his players as their winless run stretches to seven games, but he’ll know better than anyone how much work his side have to do in the final third of the pitch.

Two goals in seven games is an alarming run. Six hours of football without finding the back of the net is even worse. Pool simply must find a remedy.

I’m not one for hyperbole, especially when we’re still only in December. But next week’s game against Peterborough United, the side that looks the most likely to get out of the bottom three, is shaping up to be a big one. Posh are currently eight points behind.

Going into that encounter at Bloomfield Road on the back of their worst performance of the season is far from ideal preparation.

I must, however, retract my earlier statement about there being no positives from this defeat.

The solidarity shown between the two sets of supporters just before kick-off and during the opening stages of the game was heartening to see.

Blackpool supporters know better than anyone what Derby are having to go through at the moment: that feeling of hopelessness, not knowing where to turn for help.

Regardless of this result, the Seasiders have come through their hardship and have a bright future to look forward to.

Let’s hope the same can be said about Derby in the years to come, but one suspects they’ll have to suffer some more pain in the short-term before they can get things back on track. If that’s what it takes to get their club back, then so be it.

Football fans shouldn’t have to concern themselves with regulation, or the lack of it, or rogue owners who have no right to do as they wish with their beloved, community-centred clubs.

A dismal defeat on the road, a poor run of form or a relegation – based on sporting merits, not shady behaviour of someone who’s not even linked to the club anymore – should be as bad as it gets.

As football supporters we all accept that’s part and parcel of the game, it’s what we sign up for. Following a club home and away is largely a gloom-ridden existence. The bad days often outnumber the good.

But spending the week panicking about unpaid HMRC bills and wondering if you’ll still have a club to support in a few weeks’ time? Nah, you’re quite alright.

The introduction of an independent regulator can’t come soon enough. When it does inevitably arrive, Blackpool and Derby fans will be the first to rejoice.