Matthew Crichton: Blackpool have lost two consecutive games without scoring since beating Sunderland earlier this month, what factors have caused your dip in form?
Sean McGinlay: Injuries have been a big issue for Blackpool throughout the season. Despite a large squad, it is missing a number of key figures like Gary Madine, CJ Hamilton, and Matty Virtue. Now, because of the intensity of the system and the fluidity in play over recent months, personnel has been less of a priority with any player being able to slot in, knowing their role and what is expected.
There is no doubt that Neil Critchley will look to change things after two pretty identical performances against Rochdale and Shrewsbury.
MC: As things stand, Sunderland would face Blackpool in the playoffs, but if you could pick which team would you select to face out of Sunderland, Lincoln, and Oxford?
SM: Oxford would probably be the team of choice purely because Blackpool have had the better of them without playing at their fluid best. I’d argue Lincoln are a more structured, organised unit and Sunderland have the individual quality to win a game even when they aren’t up to scratch, Oxford fall somewhere in between that but it means they are not completely effective at either and as such are probably the easier test. Having said that, I think most Blackpool fans would’ve preferred either of the automatic promotion sides in the playoffs having made light work of them, particularly Peterborough, this season.
MC: Neil Critchley’s side will face Northampton, Doncaster, and Bristol Rovers following tonight’s match - are you confident your team will finish in the playoff positions?
SM: I think so. This dip in form is quite alarming purely because you struggle to see what individual options can make the difference to address the slide. But that has been the case throughout the relentless unbeaten streak beforehand and it was more about trusting the style of play to bring results as a unit. The minute Blackpool start to take risks and trust themselves to play in tight areas under pressure in the midfield areas and press from the front forcing mistakes, they’ll quickly regain the rhythm that has seen them right up there. The fixture list is certainly favourable on paper, but Blackpool have tended to play better against the top sides and struggled to break down rigid units. I still think there is enough to make the playoffs and hopefully, the key figures will be back in time for the semi-final.
MC: Elliot Embleton will not be able to play against his parent club, do you think Blackpool will miss him?
SM: In the recent home game Embleton was seen as a big loss pre-match having impressed, particularly with his movement in between the lines, but since that omission, he has not reached the heights we saw previously. Now, he is being hung out to dry playing out of position on the right flank, but even when he was switched inside against Shrewsbury he has lacked the tempo and movement in his play that saw him make a difference. That is emblematic of the team as a whole right now however and hopefully once the unit picks up, he will as well. I personally would have dropped him for this fixture anyway so it is not as big a loss as the first time around, although it is another creative option missing on an already threadbare bench.
MC: With it being a midweek match, could Sunderland fans get to see our academy graduate Ethan Robson from the start?
SM: Many fans are pushing for Robson to start including myself. Interestingly, Critchley has seemed to favour bringing him on from the bench in the number 10 role, but that is not his game. He has never really reached the heights he set in 2020 for Blackpool but he has not been given much of a chance either, it was unfortunate that his injury came just as new personnel were making a real impact on the side in the form of Kevin Stewart and Kenny Dougall.
MC: Arsenal centre-back Daniel Ballard has enjoyed an excellent loan spell with Blackpool this season, is he someone you would like to see the club try and sign permanently?7
SM: I would imagine Ballard is well out of reach for Blackpool. He is a phenomenal talent and we have been fortunate to see a number of impressive loanees in recent times with Taylor Moore and Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall both going on to better things. Should Blackpool be promoted then potentially a Championship loan spell for Ballard could be in range but he should be in a top Championship/Lower Premier league defence next season. He is well above this level and his all-around game is exceptional. He has proven it on the international stage for Northern Ireland as well. After a season-long injury ended his time at Swindon last campaign, he’s playing catch-up in his development, but it really would not surprise me to see him make an Arsenal appearance before long. He is that good.
MC: This match was originally meant to take place at the start of the season when Sunderland were on good form and Blackpool were struggling, do you think in hindsight it was a ridiculous decision from the Black Cats to postpone the match for international callups?
SM: It is easy to look back in hindsight but Blackpool were void of confidence at the time and struggling to find an answer to mix things up. A trip to the Stadium of Light would have been the last thing Critchley would have wanted at that stage and they may well pay for it on Tuesday. But ultimately Sunderland possess the individual quality to turn Blackpool over, however, if the Blackpool that have turned up against most top sides this season arrives again, it will be a tough evening for the hosts.
MC: Who are the eleven Blackpool players who you think Neil Critchley will select to start against Sunderland?
SM: I think Critchley will switch to a 4-2-3-1 having seen the 4-4-2 fail in consecutive games now. It is very much a case of needs must in terms of personnel with options limited. I would go for a back three and make a few more adjustments but Critchley has shown throughout that he isn’t willing to experiment and make an array of changes even when things aren’t going his way. Ellis Simms will drop out definitely. I’m expecting Blackpool to go with: 4-2-3-1 GK: Maxwell, RB: Turton, CB: Ballard, CB: Thorniley, LB: Garbutt. CM: Dougall, CM: Ward. RW: Mitchell, CAM: Robson, LW: Kaikai. ST: Yates.
MC: Lastly, Blackpool are unbeaten in their last three matches against Sunderland, what is your honest prediction of the final score?
SM: I feel like Blackpool have more chance of picking up a positive result playing the way they have been than they had against Shrewsbury. Blackpool enjoy soaking up pressure and picking the right moments to break and when they are at their fluid best, pressing from the front and so forth they are a deadly outfit. I expect a reaction from the side to reinvigorate the back end of their season, but Sunderland’s individual quality will make things difficult. I’m predicting a 2-1 Blackpool win with Jerry Yates picking up a double.