After last Saturday’s limp performance and a week punctuated by struggling to get to Amsterdam and back with a lousy cold, a victory of any sorts and back home for tea and a lie-down was all I craved. So all is well. For me it was a game that proved the cliché about goals changing games. Blackpool played the football, had loads of possession, but after an early scare – when for once in his career Kevin Phillips didn’t convert against us – seldom converted their passing into scoring opportunities. We lined up pretty defensively but scored when it mattered, which took the pressure off us, and saw out the game reasonably untroubled, with insufficient time left for ‘old boy’ Eccleston’s late strike to matter.
With Sir Chris having acknowledged that those given an opportunity in the Cup failing to take it, there was no sign of Kerkar or Cook, while Wright-Phillips stayed on the bench. With Cort and Dervite unavailable, the defence picked itself, with Taylor alongside Morrison and Solly and Evina the full-backs in front of Hamer. We opted for 4-5-1, with a central trio of Stephens, Jackson and Pritchard, Wilson on the right and Wagstaff getting the nod on the left, leaving Kermorgant to plough a lone furrow up front. Along with BWP, Fuller and Green, the bench contained Harriott, Fox and Ajayi.
In the first 10 minutes or so it wasn’t a case of us not getting an opportunity to score but rather us not getting a touch of the ball. Blackpool knocked it around and we appeared very subdued, getting numbers behind the ball but doing nothing more. The real scare in that period came after a few minutes as a cross to the far post saw Phillips unmarked. His header back across the goal seemed to be half-blocked by Taylor, who then somehow managed not to put it in his own net. It was to prove Blackpool’s only clear-cut chance of the game and it wasn’t taken.
Blackpool continued probing, but Evina was keeping Ince under control and we gradually started to get into the game, even though possession was often hit long to an isolated Kermorgant, with no indication that one of the three central midfielders was intent on getting forward in support. But just as it seemed that the crowd might start getting restless, after about 20 minutes we took the lead as at the first sign of pressure Blackpool’s defence looked suspect. Somewhat against the run of play, but who cares? The ball went to the far edge of the area and was knocked back for Jackson in space. His shot wasn’t his cleanest strike, but as it bounced it’s way goalwards their keeper seemed to have it covered, then seemed to think it was going wide, and ended up doing nothing as it found its way into the bottom corner.
That raised the spirits and we were starting to get more of a foothold in midfield. Indeed, not long after it seemed to me we were robbed by the ref. Kermorgant delightfully back-heeled one into him into the path of Wagstaff running in on goal. He seemed to be clipped by their defender, who was the wrong side. Can’t say whether it was in or out of the box, but if the foul was given a red card should have followed. Instead the ref waved it all away. Fortunately it wasn’t to matter.
Blackpool had a routine shot or two, but going into stoppage time at the end of the first half we were to double the lead to give us the platform to see out the game. A cross in from Wilson was met by Kermorgant and although his shot was parried it came out to Wagstaff who was able to convert.
Blackpool will have been somewhat bemused to be 2-0 down at the break, but quite frankly they didn’t seem that upset. Their managerial uncertainty probably had an impact on their level of commitment and there was no questioning ours, especially as we had something to hold onto. And it’s fair to say our approach in the second half was something less than gung-ho as we held what we had. The onus was on them to get back into it and they didn’t, for which praise is due to our defence. With the exception of one very strange ball across the face of the goal, which no Blackpool forward seemed bothered enough to run on to, I can’t remember a serious threat (until they scored in stoppage time).
Instead we threatened from corners (although the ploy of planting them under Gilks’ nose in the hope he’d drop one didn’t really come off) and might have finished them off with a third. They made changes and late on so did we, with Wagstaff coming off for Harriott. The crowd loves a trier, so Waggy left to warm applause, and they also love a flier and Harriott delivered a very impressive cameo. His first touch of the ball saw him bamboozle their defender on the by-line and his pace was to cause them real concern. A rather stranger late change saw Stephens replaced by Fuller, with Kermorgant (who having put in a real shift had some right to expect a sit-down for the last few minutes) dropping deeper and Wilson moving inside. Eccleston had been one of Blackpool’s three subs and in stoppage time he connected beautifully with a dropping ball on the edge of the area to score. But with only a minute to see out there was to be no late disaster.
Two league wins in a row and the league is looking more comfortable than after the Boxing Day defeat to Ipswich. The team today deserved credit for the commitment and effort, with everyone working hard to break up their moves. Much of our play in possession was less impressive, but we needed a home win of any sort and this will do just fine. We can look forward to a less frenetic period of games, especially if the Sheff Wed one gets postponed, and the focus presumably shifts to who may come in and who may depart during the window. We shall see.
Hamer – 7/10. No requirement for outstanding saves as the guys in front of him did the job.
Solly – 7/10. Decent enough game defensively and may have contributed to the first goal. No real need for those barnstorming runs forward in the second half.
Evina – 8/10. Perhaps generous and his distribution in the first half wasn’t great, but he was up against their danger man and kept him quiet.
Taylor – 8/10. My man of the match as he slotted back into the team with no problems, avoided a near own-goal, had his head wrapped in bandages.
Morrison – 7/10. No faults here either, solid performance.
Wilson – 7/10. Generally impressive, but did attempt something on the edge of our box which lost possession and ended with him giving away a free kick; crossing was good with one exception when in a great position he turned it into a back pass.
Stephens – 7/10. Some things didn’t come off, but he does provide the guile and composure that is needed and put in his fair share of tackling.
Jackson – 7/10. Covered and tackled well and chipped in another goal.
Pritchard – 7/10. Not especially prominent through the game and didn’t provide much support for Kermorgant, but it wasn’t a game we needed to chase and the priority was holding what we had.
Wagstaff – 7/10. Made a nuisance of himself and scored, unlike those a week ago he made the most of the opportunity.
Kermorgant – 7/10. A pretty thankless task for much of the game but made the most of it.
Subs – Harriott (7/10 – splendid cameo; hopefully he is finally ready to press for a regular squad place); Fuller (only on for a couple of minutes).