After the promising signs from the new players in the win against Wigan, I think tonight we were looking pretty much for more of the same, still too soon to expect real cohesion. What we got was a game shaped by sendings off at the start and before half-time, a controversially disallowed effort, but in the end a second consecutive 1-0 victory curtesy of an Aneke header in the final 10 minutes and ground out by a very effective defensive display.
Having said earlier in the day that he was looking to rotate the forward options, the main changes to the team from Saturday involved Bogle and Washington replacing Aneke and Smyth as the front two, while Purrington was given a start in a back four (along with Gunter, Innis and Famewo), with Pratley moving back into midfield alongside Watson, with Doughty (bandaged head and all) and Shinnie, with Forster-Caskey moved to the bench.
I’ll confess I was still finishing off a little work when the game kicked off and missed the first couple of minutes, which was rather unfortunate as after 52 seconds Blackpool were down to 10 men. Apparently it involved Bogle being held back, but to date I haven’t seen a replay. There aren’t many games when a minute in you have to think about changing the set-up to exploit such an opportunity and perhaps not surprisingly we kept the same shape, with if anything Pratley given more license to go forward. With Blackpool making a change we were still up against two banks of four, even though we would enjoy the lion’s share of possession through the first half.
As the game developed our threat was coming down the right with Doughty, ably supported by Gunter. At the same time Blackpool seemed to carry a threat down their right and after just five minutes Purrington was caught out and flattened the guy, getting a yellow card that it was hard to quibble with. We did create moments through the half and some half-chances, usually involving Bogle (brought one down but couldn’t get a shot on target, headed over from a good Watson cross), but by and large Blackpool were comfortable enough as we weren’t working out a way to make the extra man count.
As half-time approached you figured that Bowyer would think about tactical changes to go for the win. And then a ball forward down our left side and Purrington was isolated again against their winger. He ended up wrestling him to the ground and as the ref walked towards him you just knew what was coming. A second yellow and it was 10 against 10. I can’t imagine what Bowyer thought of it, inane play. Purrington’s only defence is that with an extra man and him on a yellow we should not have let him get isolated against a guy who was clearly causing him problems. But you don’t take a second yellow for the team before half-time.
At the break the feeling was indeed one of frustration. We’d had a man advantage for just about all of the game and had failed to force their keeper into a save, despite Doughty giving them a run around and Bogle looking capable of producing something. Our play had by and large been slow, enabling Blackpool to sit behind the ball. And now with the numbers evened up it looked like a case of which manager would get the tactical decisions right.
Bowyer took off Pratley and brought on Maatsen, allowing Doughty – who had dropped back to cover Purrington’s position – to move back up. And after an even first 10 minutes or so we had what amounted to our first real chance followed by the moment when it looked as though we had taken the lead. Doughty hit an excellent crossfield pass which Maatsen took forward. It ran on to Bogle whose shot from a dangerous position was blocked. The resulting corner was swung in and Innis rose to head powerfully into the net. I was up and shouting but the next thing Blackpool were complaining, seemingly on the grounds that Bogle had got a touch on it from an offside position before it crossed the line. Referee and linesman consulted and after an age it was indeed ruled to be no goal. I’d need to see a replay to draw any conclusions but from what I saw Innis’ header was all but in and if Bogle had interfered it wasn’t the smartest bit of play. But I may be doing him an injustice.
On the hour Aneke came on for Bogle, shortly followed by the seemingly obligatory yellow card for Watson and then Smyth replacing Washington. We were still shading it, helped by the fact that the defence was operating effectively and protecting Amos’ goal well. Just a case of whether we could nick the winner. Which we did. In the final 10 minutes of normal time Maatsen sent in a cross from the left to the far post, Doughty headed it back, and Aneke was there to head it into the net.
Probably still more than 10 minutes to play out and we did that pretty well, helped by Aneke and Smyth causing them problems up the field but also some storming work by Innis and Famewo, not giving their forwards a real sniff. We might even have grabbed a second as Smyth wriggled through and it fell to Watson, who shot over again. No matter, despite six minutes of stoppage time we saw the game out with no major alarm for the second consecutive game, something of a contrast with last season.
For me the defence deserves the plaudits tonight. Innis was immense again, at least when not playing the ball forward, while Famewo was equally impressive. Gunter did his defensive work and was more prominent going forward than on Saturday, while Maatsen looked as though he has been well schooled and slotted in very effectively. We are of course very much still a work in progress, but so far so good.
Amos – 7/10. Did nothing wrong at all, dealt with balls in the air and some routine shots.
Gunter – 7/10. Another good display, sound defensive work and this time more evidence that he and Doughty might work well together going forward.
Innis – 8/10. Yes, his first-half distribution was a bit patchy (especially gave it away once in a poor position), but defensively he was excellent, some storming challenges, and could well have even scored the winner.
Famewo – 8/10. Equally impressive and effective. It’s only been two games but if we can keep this pair fit Pearce might have a tough job getting back in (in a back four at least).
Purrington – 4/10. Well, what mark can you give? He was up against a tricky guy but flattened him first time around for an obvious yellow then wrestles him to the ground to sacrifice our one-man advantage.
Shinnie – 7/10. Nothing dramatic but a quietly effective display. One criticism might have been allowing Purrington to get isolated for his second yellow.
Watson – 7/10. Another yellow card, couple of shots blazed over the bar, but felt he had a better game today and generally controlled things in front of the defence.
Pratley – 7/10. Was surprised that we started with both him and Watson in midfield, but with the sending off he was able to play an advanced role. Tactical move to take him off at the break.
Doughty – 8/10. For me this was a much better performance than of late, delivering more of an end product. He was our main threat through the first half in particular, was involved with the goal.
Washington – 6/10. Worked hard but didn’t have much joy in the final third.
Bogle – 6/10. If he did get a touch to rule out Innis’ effort it wasn’t exactly a welcome one. Was a threat and clearly had an impact in their guy getting sent off.
Subs – Maatsen (8/10; deserves the mark for an assured display, didn’t get caught out defensively and looked good going forward, involved in the goal); Aneke (8/10; OK, only on for around half an hour but scored the goal); Smyth (7/10; just a cameo today but looked lively).