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Blackpool 0 Watford 1 (16/09/2014) 17/09/2014

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- There’s something quite distinctive about Blackpool.  I hadn’t been here since Kenny Jackett’s season 17 (!) years ago but strolling down the seafront in the hazy late afternoon sunshine it was difficult to escape the suspicion that contact with the rest of the world has been scant for far longer.  There’s an air of melancholy neglect about the place, but defiance too.  “We’re an anachronism but that’s how we like it and if you don’t you know where the chuffing road is”.

Which isn’t to say that it wasn’t a thoroughly agreeable way to spend a couple of hours having taken the rather reckless decision to book the entire afternoon off work.  We’d arrived early enough, as it happened, to secure the best away supporters parking spot in the whole of Blackpool… in the Travelodge car park opposite the ground with our bonnet pointed straight down the exit back onto Seasiders Way and the route home.  By the time we arrived back at the stadium and noted that the placard accompanying Stan Mortensen’s statue neglected to acknowledge his one wartime appearance for Watford we were in a thoroughly relaxed and benevolent frame of mind.

The Blackpool team, of course, has the same patched-up, bedraggled feel as the town it represents, if for rather different reasons that the home support were very clear about.  The Oyston Estate Agents board, twice the size of any other advertising in the stadium, sneered smugly back from the rear wall of the stand opposite the away support, stretched down one side of the ground rather than behind a goal but no less noisy for it.

2- The Hornets, meanwhile, are somewhat treading water given the unfortunate and concerning health scare suffered by Oscar Garcia over the weekend (get well soon Oscar…). The starting eleven saw one change, the welcome return to the side of Juan Carlos Paredes in place of Tommie Hoban; given the Seasiders’ advertised susceptibility down the flanks an attacking full back seemed like A Good Idea.  Less convincing was the Hornets’ formation, described by Ruben Martinez as 4-2-3-1 but in effect indistinguishable from a 4-4-2 with McGugan sitting awkwardly on the right and Anya on the left of midfield.  The home side started particularly nervously;  we were applying pressure high up the pitch and it didn’t take a lot for the home side’s centre-backs to look vulnerable.  The very definition of “there to be got at”.  When in possession we tried to build up a rhythm, retaining possession and making the home side chase the ball.  Gradually we built up pressure and before the half was up the Seasiders were endebted to Joe Lewis for a string of fine saves including a clouted Deeney effort tipped wide and a lightning break to unlock Anya smothered by the keeper’s attentiveness – although the winger should have scored.  Nonetheless, as we failed to take advantage the home side settled down and grew in confidence and defiance, our efforts more laboured.  The half ended with Gomes denying a point-blank header and a suspicion that an alien free of prejudice would probably favour this Blackpool side, wobbly and patched-up but committed and demonstrably greater than the sum of its parts, over the visitors who were no less committed but rather less potent than might have been hoped.  Being entirely prejudiced we applauded the Hornets off anyway, albeit with a lingering concern borne of failing to take advantage of possession on Saturday, and a wish that Gianni Munari’s industry or Fernando Forestieri’s magic dust were available.

3- Highlights of the journey up had included the construction of a “Watford eleven who would get you into trouble in a nightclub” and “Watford eleven who would get you out of trouble in a nightclub”. Had Adrian Boothroyd’s attempts to recruit Ishmael Miller from Manchester City seven years ago been successful he would surely have been a contender for the latter;  as it is he has caused us no end of trouble since his decision to join West Brom instead of the Hornets and has scored for three different visiting sides at Vicarage Road.  The sort of opponent that might have seemed particularly likely to cause our defence problems, in fact, but as it turned out both Angella and Ekstrand looked vastly more comfortable in a back four than they have tended to do in a back three; Miller certainly looked like the Seasiders’ biggest threat but Ekstrand in particular coped admirably with the challenge, as impressive a performance as we’ve seen from the Swede in some time.

4- The second half proved to be more even, all round, but only in a roundabout sort of way.  Impatience in the away end was beginning to rear its graceless head, Matej Vydra too often on the receiving end.  This was inappropriate on any number of levels, the two most glaring being that barracking a striker low on confidence really isn’t likely to achieve the desired outcome and that, actually, this was a performance more assertive than many of those since his return.  For starters there was no shortage of effort and, yes yes,  “showing you’re bothered” as a meter of quality has its limitations but in Vydra’s energetic closing down there was at least evidence of something.  The pivotal change in the game was the introduction of Dyer for McGugan, which gave the side far better balance.  Within a minute Anya was screaming down the right, his clever ball inside to Vydra lashed hungrily into the side netting.  Then we got the goal and it was a far more elegant thing than a 68th minute penalty might sound, the sort of quality that can win a good side a game as the Premier League taught us all too well.  Pudil, a rival for Ekstrand as man of the match, sent an evil pass through for Dyer borne of the winger’s movement and Pudil’s awareness and leaving Tony McMahon with no option but to make a challenge that he was never going to execute successfully.  Deeney, one assumes, delegated penalty-taking responsibility to his strike partner and kudos to him for doing so as the Czech finished expertly… he needed a goal and acknowledged the travelling Hornets with a grin.  Within minutes Deeney was heading off the line as the home side came straight back out of the blocks, cementing a captain’s performance, but the pressure was all Blackpool’s.  Eventually it told, the home side got a penalty themselves after some hurlyburly in the box that was impossible to assess from our distance but the points were clearly destined to be ours as Ranger beat Gomes only to see his shot come back off the inside of the post.  Sean Murray came on for a positive and energetic cameo in place of the disappointing Abdi, Tamas came on for Vydra to shield the defence in a typically chaotic, brutal fashion and after the combined will of the away end (“Get OVER”) pushed a late header Blackpool header over the bar the points and a first win in Lancashire for five years were ours.

5- All good then, in the end, and another three points away from home that owed a little to luck but a lot more to a greater resolve than has always been evident.  Less pleasing all round were yet further signs of niggle within the squad.  Daniel Tözsér  and Troy Deeney having words at half time, Lloyd Dyer (him again) and the excitable Gomes having to be separated by Gabriele Angella at full time.  So too a hamstring injury sustained by Deeney in the game’s dying minutes leaving us to hold out with ten men throughout injury time.  This was particularly unfortunate in that the home side, whose approach in general hadn’t been overly physical, had on three occasions gone through the back of a skipper in what can only have been a deliberate strategy to limit the effectiveness of our biggest threat.  Deeney dodged those bullets and didn’t react, so unfortunate that he should injure himself by overstretching late on (in front of a gormlessly unsympathetic home end, one of whose delegates offered a mystifying “Italian cheats!” under his breath at us on our short step back to the car afterwards).  All in all, a fine away day (aren’t they all) a little bit of luck and a very welcome if not undeserved three points… but “as you were” in many respects. More to do.

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1. RS - 17/09/2014

Love your observations, do you commit all this to memory or make notes; didn’t see any obvious note takers if the latter is the case!

Messers Deeney and Tozser were engaged in a discussion regarding the relative merits of a ball to feet rather than the delivered hoof over the top; which seemed popular last night. Didn’t see Gomes and Dyer incident but I did get nervous of Gomes who was playing halfway up the left flank as Blackpool took a free kick and was very nearly in the centre circle as they broke near the end.

All in all I thought they did OK given the coaching circumstances. Sean getting a little lost with the introduction of Tamas after the break but he was smart enough to ask where he should be playing.

Sadly I think Anya may be carrying an injury too; when most had gone he was on the pitch doing some stretches still in his strip; or he did want the banter in the dressing room.

Anyways thanks for the summary.

Matt Rowson - 17/09/2014

No, don’t do notes long since. If you want a factual blow-for-blow, the OS do that and there’s little value in replicating it.

RS - 18/09/2014

*not* want the banter…

Question your use of factual and blow for blow in the same sentence (well at least sometimes). No it is the side story and observations that make BHappy and formerly BSAD “reports” all the more enjoyable and when I’m able to be there, more often than not reflect the game I see.

Anyway enough of this “love-in”; Blackpool were a big team (tall and physical that is) and we held them at bay which may not have been the case last season. Let’s see how we cope with Bournemouth coming at us as as they surely will?

2. Goldenboy60 - 17/09/2014

I totally agree with your statement around Ekstrand in all senses. That was his best performance for some time and I believe he was our man of the match. With Angella they did very well with the onslaught of 4 massive and powerful front players over the course of the match. But I still am not comfortable overall. I always think we are not the full sum of the parts at the moment. Gomes decision making is not the best and for me he always starts much too high. He nearly got caught out in the first few minutes of the game.

As for Blackpool I have many happy memories and stayed for the night to ensure I enjoyed Northern Soul once again in the Soul Siute at talbot square. Such happy memories as a teen enjoying Motown and Northern Soul nights and a few girls at the Blackpool Mecca, as was. Of course the 3 points made it all the much better.

3. simmos - 18/09/2014

Having watched the match on a live stream I am still as perplexed as you were in the ground regarding the Blackpool penalty. The “hurlyburly” you described happens at every set piece and if those are penalties then each game would have several spot kicks . Why this incident was chosen was beyond me . However late in injury time Blackpool were denied a clear penalty and I don’t think we can have any complaints about decisions being evened out over the game.

The worrying aspect of the match was our insistence to give away needless free kicks around the penalty area and then our total inability to deal with the delivery into the box. Surely a better side than Blackpool would have punished us.

I realise that it is still early in the season but this was not necessarily a performance to give you confidence that we are about to mount a promotion push let alone the look of a side in third place.

Matt Rowson - 18/09/2014

As per the piece we’re far from “sorted”. I don’t agree with your final statement tho. For all the limitations of the performance we won anyway, and I don’t accept that Blackpool away was a gimme, they weren’t that bad. There were some very positive aspects of the performance, and the quality is such that we’re always going to be in with a shout in games. Agree, the free kicks situation was a problem, Tamas a particular culprit when he came on but they were much bigger than us as a side and so the fact that we still didn’t concede is also some encouragement.

simmos - 18/09/2014

On reflection I agree that Blackpool was no gimme and having attended last season it was great to see us win this time after dominating the first half. It was a clean sheet which is encouraging but I put that down to poor finishing (unusually for Miller against us) rather than a solid and convincing defensive performance. Injury time felt like an eternity with the inevitable about to, but not quite happening.

As Goldenboy60 seems to suggest in his comment, we are just not convincing and something is lacking. We seem to have set a familiar pattern in recent seasons where we get off to a good start results wise despite performances, only to fall away when teams figure out our limitations. I do however feel that Garcia is the right man who can bring about that spark which just seems to have been missing since Zola’s mid season run in 2012/13 and produce the football we all know we can play.

4. graham walker - 18/09/2014

I may have been frustrated by Vydra’s contributions recently but was never vocal about it and certainly didn’t hear any verbal negativity from around me on Tuesday. Interesting, too, to see not only Vydra’s extended applause for us at the end of the game but also the huge fuss his colleagues were making of him. Either or both of these points are true; that he was in dire need of a confidence boost, and that he is an intensely popular figure in the dressing room. Whatever…. yes he really needed that goal and kudos to Deeney for giving him it. (Amazing what a spell in gaol can do for your personal development !!). If only that were true in every case.

Matt Rowson - 18/09/2014

Wasn’t accusing you personally Graham! But there was definitely a simmering undercurrent, perhaps only local to us… that’s the thing about away fans being stretched out along a “side” I guess.

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