I think today we were looking for something to help blow away the mood of gloom that has set in following our latest home defeat in midweek. Whether this came in the form of a win, a stirring performance, or free-flowing football with a bucketload of goals, hopefully all three, remained to be seen. Another match against a team below us in the league but in better form, with Blackpool having won four of their last five compared with a win, a draw and three defeats in February for us. It was going to be tough. What we got was a nightmare. But it was one that you can interpret one of two ways.
According to the first, we are outplayed in the first half, don’t manage an effort on target, concede two. We make four changes at the break and within minutes were are down to 10 men and concede a third, then round things off with another red card to end the game with nine. Go with those bare facts and the questions after the game are indeed whether Bowyer will walk and, if not, does Sandgaard sack him.
The other version – and it isn’t entirely daft, certainly one that Bowyer was sticking with after the game – is that every decision went against us and determined the outcome. Neither penalty was stonewall, the first we might have on another day got away with, the second was soft at best. In the first half we did put the ball in the net, seemed clearly offside at the time, but the replay seems to indicate that Stockley was onside (others were not) when he headed in. If that’s given the game’s 1-1 and different. Then Pratley’s second yellow is harsh (his first was for an accumulation of fouls, the ref warned him before the handball which drew the yellow), could have been a free kick for us, while Aneke gets a straight red for challenging for the ball, nothing more (and Bowyer indicated that the club will appeal).
I’d suggest the truth lies somewhere between the two. Both penalties on another day we might have got away with, but you can see why both were given, neither was a clearly poor decision. Stockley’s goal might have stood. But Pratley let the side down by getting involved in an altercation when being on a yellow he needed to avoid trouble. Aneke’s sending off may have been harsh, but it obviously didn’t affect the game. And behind it all we played poorly in the first half, getting nothing from the two wingers, and conceded another poor goal, allowing a guy to run towards goal and pick his spot with not a hint of a challenge from either a defender coming out or midfielder tracking back. Blackpool’s first penalty was the result of them getting in behind us. In short they were better than us in the first half and the chance to turn things around in the second was thrown out of the window by a piece of stupidity followed by an iffy challenge to give away a second penalty. However you cut it up, everything went wrong today and that wasn’t down to the officials.
For the record, the team showed three changes from Tuesday night with what looked like a switch back to a basic 4-4-2. Gunter came in for Matthews and Famewo for Pearce, with Oshilaja and Purrington completing the back four in front of Amos. A central midfield pairing of Pratley and Shinnie (with Forster-Caskey still unavailable) plus Millar and Jaiyesimi on the flanks. Up front Washington was back to partner Stockley. The options from the bench included the other two forwards, Aneke and Schwartz.
The first 10 minutes or so were even and uneventful. Then a ball was played inside Oshilaja, who had to turn and found himself the wrong side of their forward. What followed was a tussle between the two and their guy going to ground. The ref had a decision to make and he gave the penalty. That was driven home down the middle.
On 15 minutes we had the Stockley ‘goal’. We won a corner, which was half-cleared but fell to Pratley who swung at it and missed, only to end up hooking it back over his head. Famewo nodded it towards goal and Stockley finished it off. Again, at the time it looked clearly offside but the replays suggest otherwise, that Stockley was OK. The game continued without serious incident – and without us creating any actual chances - until with half-time not far off they had the ball on their left side. The guy turned inside and played a pass to another running onto the ball. No-one was with him, no-one got back to him, and no-one came out of the back line to challenge him. He took it forward unchallenged, looked up, and from outside the box shot well and low into the corner of the net.
In the first half we had looked pedestrian, predictable, and ineffective. If you play with two wingers you’d expect the play to be down the flanks and the threat to come from there, with balls into the box for the front two. That didn’t happen. Millar and Jaiyesimi both had moments but basically didn’t deliver. So it was no surprise that changes were made at the break, and four substitutions should say enough about how Bowyer viewed the efforts made. Off went Purrington (perhaps harsh on him), Millar, Jaiyesimi and Washington, replaced by Maatsen, Watson, Smith and Aneke.
It looked as though we’d pair Watson and Pratley in central midfield with Smith and Shinnie wider. We didn’t get the chance to find out. Pratley had in the first half committed three or four fouls, the ref had a word with him (presumably to say next one gets yellow), then he used his hand to stop a through ball. This time he was challenged heavily near the goalline and as he landed on their guy seemed to take the chance to leave something in there. Their player stayed down clutching his face, others reacted, and after a while the ref pulled out the yellow again and the red.
If that was almost game over there was no question a few minutes later. Their guy had the ball in the box, Watson stuck out a leg, there was some contact, and their guy went to ground. It was soft, a dive really, but with this one too you couldn’t say it was obviously the wrong decision. Amos dived the right way but the ball went under his hand and in.
The remaining 40 minutes or so were a waste of time. Blackpool had no need to exert themselves to get more. There was some decent effort, from Maatsen and Smith notably, but it really didn’t matter. Shinnie picked up a yellow and with around five minutes left Aneke jumped for a high ball, his arm swung around and seemed to catch their guy in the face. Out came the red card again and the game couldn’t end soon enough.
Where do we go from here? Another game on Tuesday evening. It will be interesting to see who’s picked for that one; obviously Pratley won’t be involved and neither will Aneke (for four games), unless there is a successful appeal. Hopefully Forster-Caskey will be available again as without him the wheels have well and truly come off.
Amos – 7/10. Might have saved one of the penalties but you can’t blame a keeper for that. Really didn’t have much to do.
Gunter – 5/10. Can’t remember him doing anything of note.
Oshilaja – 5/10. Got caught out for the first penalty.
Famewo – 7/10. Strong and effective in what he did.
Purrington – 6/10. Don’t think he did much wrong in the first half, presumably withdrawn to give us better attacking options with Maatsen.
Jaiyesimi – 5/10. Largely ineffective in the first half and taken off.
Pratley – 4/10. The guy gets praise, makes his 100th appearance for us, and blows it. Let the team down today.
Shinnie – 5/10. Cut a rather forlorn figure today, summed up by some poor corners.
Millar – 6/10. Was involved in some of our better stuff in the first half but was still disappointing.
Washington – 5/10. Didn’t really have an impact in the first half.
Stockley – 7/10. Unlucky not to have another goal.
Maatsen – 7/10. Did good stuff although the game was over by then.
Smith – 7/10. Ditto.
Watson – 5/10. Not just the challenge for the penalty, one or two wayward passes in bad positions.
Aneke – 6/10. Not marking him down for the red, which was at the least unfortunate.