The first trip of 2013 for the Tiger Nation was to Blackpool. A chance to clear the New Years’ hangover in the bracing sea air, munch fish and chips and watch 22 players running around a cabbage patch. The pitch was the major topic of conversation coming away from the game. It was rubbish and it ruined the contest. It was patchy to start with but then cut up badly, quickly, leaving little mounds like mole hills all over the place. At one point in the first half, Liam Rosenior ran down the wing and a patch of turf around a foot square just leaped out of the pitch. Chuck in the fact that the pitch was small as well and you’ve got two teams struggling to pass the ball short on a pitch where hitting anything long means gifting it to the other goalkeeper. If it doesn’t sound like a recipe for a great game, it wasn’t. It was dire.
We were cheered pre-match by the news that City have agreed a fee with Sunderland for David Meyler. The info came from Radio Humberside’s David Burns who was situated in the media section right next to the away area in the temporary stand. The stand is pretty much made of chipboard. The padded seats were comfy though. A Blackpool steward told me they were expecting 1000 City fans but there looked at least twice that by the time kick-off came. Our other Sunderland loanee Ahmed Elmohamady missed out through injury which forced a single change from the Leeds game.
Tigers 3-5-2: [G] Jakupovic [D] Chester, Faye, Hobbs [M] Rosenior, Brady, Evans, Quinn, Meyler [F] Koren, Aluko
Blackpool lined up with one striker, loanee Wes Thomas, two midfielders sitting deeper and three roaming in front of them. Despite it being freezing cold City had seven players in short sleeves and no-one in gloves. We’re real men. Blackpool’s Tom Ince had long sleeves and gloves. We shouldn’t be surprised. He’s a Premier League footballer in waiting. He’s quick, mobile, moves with grace and balance, finds space easily, has a lovely left foot and doesn’t need any invitation to hit the floor. Contact or no contact. The combination of packed midfields on either side and the small, untrustworthy surface meant expansive football was never on the agenda. Instead we watched both sides cancel each other out Neither was able to create space out wide. As the pitch cut up, both hit the ball longer which made for a terrible spectacle as defenders gobbled up the long balls. It was obvious that only a mistake or a moment of brilliance would open the game up.
A neat Tigers move through midfield led to Koren laying the ball off to Meyler in shooting range but his left foot shot flew well over and wide. Aluko then played a one-two with Evans but Baptiste just got a touch on the return pass to take it out of Aluko’s reach and through to the goalkeeper. As the half wore on, Blackpool built a little momentum. With City panicking and hitting clearances anywhere while Aluko and Koren looked on helplessly, Blackpool forced a couple of corners, throw in’s high up the pitch and a free-kick wide on their right. They didn’t work Jakupovic at all though. With half time approaching, City broke on a Blackpool corner. Aluko found Quinn on the left, Meyler and Brady raced through the middle unseen but Quinn never got the ball under control and the half-chance went begging. Most of the fans around me were keen to see Nick Proschwitz introduced at half time given that the game had descended into hoof-ball. Steve Bruce obviously felt the same and introduced Proschwitz and Jay Simpson for Koren and Aluko. I would’ve kept Aluko on ideally to work off one of the other two but Bruce explained afterwards that his calf was sore.
Simpson had a positive effect on the game immediately, holding the ball up well and wriggling in behind Blackpool. Proschwitz gave us a target and gave Blackpool something to think about but he’s just not a target man. He won one header, he didn’t hold the ball in their half and he’s not quick enough to cause any trouble in behind. Some might disagree but I just don’t hold out any hope for him at this point. I haven’t seen any improvement whatsoever and he’s so ineffective compared to Aluko, Koren and Simpson that I don’t think Bruce can justify using him. The only saving grace is that it’s rumoured that the reported transfer fee of £2.6m might be highly inflated. Hopefully inflated by about £2.6m.
While Simpson had a positive effect on proceedings outside the box, inside he missed the second best chance of the game. City worked a rare opening on the right wing, Rosenior crossed beautifully and Simpson met it 8 yards out with a weak, weak header that dropped into Gilks hands. Simpson then wriggled past Crainey superbly on the right and the defender pulled him back on the corner of the area. The referee didn’t produce a card. He should have, it was cynical and denied a good opportunity. Robbie Brady struck the free kick well but straight at Gilks who was tested again by an initially harmless looking shot from David Meyler that he had to tip around the post. We looked te most likely to win at this point. We had the bigger share of the ball, Robbie Brady was a threat every time he picked up the ball and Blackpool were offering nothing as an attacking force. They finally worked a shooting opportunity after an hour or so and Silvestre smashed well over when he should have done better.
Brady was our best outlet. Every time he picked up the ball in our half there came a little roar of expectation from the City fans as he ran at them from deep and with Quinn running off him, scared the life out of them. I’ve long felt that Blackpool are almost entirely a collection of poor to average footballers that Ian Holloway was working miracles to drag performances out of. On this evidence, I was right. They are awful. On a flat pitch designed for players bigger than Borrowers, we’d have murdered them. Had Robbie Brady made better decisions once he got himself into great positions with his superb approach play, we may well have found a way through. Unfortunately he chose the wrong option a couple of times and played a few poor passes. He was still our best attacker by some distance. To be fair to Brady, he was involved when the best chance of the game came along and was spurned by City. We worked the ball into the Blackpool box but the ball ran loose to Baptiste. He thought he could bring the ball out of defence but Stephen Quinn begged to differ. Quinn nicked the ball back off him and then cut it back to Corry Evans, supporting superbly, who, from 8 yards, smashed the ball a foot over the bar. You don’t get two chances like that in games this tight. That was the one. It summed up Evans day a little bit. He did a fantastic job of ferreting around nicking the ball off them and protecting his defence but in possession he was always off colour, often stretching and straining and producing wayward passes. One of those days I guess you’d say.
The game had finally come to life in the last quarter and City had two shouts for penalties turned down. Firstly Meyler nipped in ahead of Crainey on the edge of the box and then fell under the weight of the challenge. Steve Bruce was magnanimous enough to say afterwards that though he’s seen them given, he would’ve been disappointed if it was given against us. Nick Proschwitz then nicked in behind Alex Baptiste, who’d made a right hash of heading back to his keeper, and Proschwitz fell under a clumsy attempt from Baptiste to nick the ball back. That one would also have been a soft penalty but I bet it would’ve been given if it was outside the box. Alex Bruce then came on for Corry Evans in midfield, suggesting we were happy enough to take the point and get the hell out of there. It took a couple of “camera saves” from Jakupovic late on to deny Tom Ince from 20 yards and Nathan Delfouneso from 12 to ensure the points were shared.
The pitch obviously played a part in the game being poor but City also looked a little lacklustre after the mighty efforts of the double header against Leicester and Leeds. Liam Rosenior got a terrible slating from the supporters around us and there was a lot of chuntering about how much we missed Elmohamady. There’s no doubt that Elmo gives us a different dimension but how much impact he’d have had on that pitch is anyone’s guess. It also ignores the fact that while Elmo was terrific on Saturday, he has plenty of poor games too. Last year City fans were falling over themselves to tell anyone who’d listen that Rosie was the best right back in the league. Today I heard a few say they’d happily let him go. Defensively we were pretty solid. James Chester put in a few cracking challenges and Hobbs and Faye dominated aerially. Maintaining the shape and denying space was quite easy on that pitch. A third successive clean sheet has got to be the major positive to come out of the day.
This one will go down in the “instantly forgettable” category. At the end of the day though, we’re now two points clear of the chasing pack instead of one and we’ve got a tricky trip out of the way. We’re only the second team this season to stop Blackpool scoring at home and a point there is never a bad one. Cardiff, Leicester and Palace have got to go there in the coming months so here’s hoping the pitch gets worse. If that’s possible!
Happy New Year everyone!