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Fan Focus: The signings of ex-Blackpool duo Dan Ballard & Ellis Simms are praised by writer Sean!

Ahead of Sunderland’s clash with Blackpool tonight, Matty spoke to Lancs Live writer, Sean McGinlay, to discuss what we can expect from Michael Appleton’s side!

Photo by Will Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images

Matthew Crichton: Blackpool sit just one point above the relegation zone and have lost their last three matches, how would you summarise your season so far?

Sean McGinlay: Chaotic would be the word I feel. It was of course a summer of drastic change with the shock departure of Neil Critchley and Michael Appleton coming in, an appointment that some quarters still haven’t and probably never will warm to.

His vision is a more expansive, aggressive style in possession countered by the out of possession, direct vision of Critchley and it will likely take the full season to fully adjust.

Blackpool have been unfortunate with injuries but have consistently created chances in games, they’ve simply been far too wasteful and paid the price for it. The performances against Rotherham and Millwall were poor prior to the international break but they stepped up again and should’ve taken something against Norwich.

MC: Sunderland have endured many battles with Michael Appleton in the past few years during his spell with Lincoln, how are fans taking to him during his second spell in charge of Blackpool?

SM: He’s won some over with his straight-talking, honest style and his vision for a more attacking style of football but ultimately his previous spell here has lingered when it comes to people’s impressions of him.

Any boycotter during the protest years will tell you Appleton walking out was a positive in his favour for showing the Oyston’s for what they are, others would have a different impression.

Ultimately, there is a general malaise growing within the support, particularly after a frustrating transfer window but as ever once the results start to come, they‘ll soon come on board.

Burnley v Blackpool - Sky Bet Championship
Michael Appleton managed Lincoln when they knocked Sunderland out of the playoffs during the 2020/21 League One season.
Photo by Rich Linley - CameraSport via Getty Images

MC: Looking at your recruitment, similar to his time at Lincoln, Appleton is working with many youth loans with the likes of Charlie Patino, Ian Poveda and Theo Corbeanu all joining - do you think this is the best way to obtain high-quality players on a lower budget?

SM: It probably is although I feel Blackpool have indulged too much in that market over the summer and neglected long-term permanent additions that will help to bring stability rather than a sea of change every 12 months.

Appleton’s contacts have allowed him to bring in a calibre of loanees that ultimately Blackpool would not have been able to bring to the club if he wasn’t in charge - namely Ian Poveda and Charlie Patino.

MC: 33-year-old Liam Bridcutt could make his Blackpool debut at the Stadium of Light tonight against his former side, how did that signing go down among supporters?

SM: Given Blackpool had bids rejected and player u-turns in central midfield all summer long, Bridcutt stinks of a last choice and ‘he’ll do’ signing that doesn’t particularly point to a prominent recruitment strategy that the club themselves have made a song and dance about.

Bridcutt is a quality talent as a deep holding number six, a position Appleton has been desperate to add quality to with Kev Stewart completely unreliable with his injury record.

His experience will be key too and replaces that which was lost with Richard Keogh’s departure too but his injury record is a concern and Blackpool have enough problems with that as it is.

Blackpool v Norwich City - Sky Bet Championship
Despite a rather underwhelming time on Wearside, no one can forget Liam Bridcutt’s outstanding performance at St James’ Park during one of our six consecutive derby wins.
Photo by Dave Howarth - CameraSport via Getty Images

MC: Former Blackpool loanee Elliot Embleton may continue covering upfront for Sunderland, is that a position you could have seen him playing from his tenure with The Seasiders?

SM: He showed he had an eye for goal, although that generally came from cutting in from wide or driving from deeper in midfield.

The sooner you have Ellis Simms back the better, I’m glad he’s not available.

MC: Another two players who were part of your League One promotion side were our summer signings Dan Ballard and Ellis Simms, although they’re both injured do you think Sunderland have two great players on our hands?

SM: Dan Ballard is a Premier League defender in waiting, his composure and intelligence in and out of possession shows maturity beyond his years, him and Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall are two loanees over recent years that you knew straight away were destined for a higher ceiling - signing him on a permanent deal for the fee reported is outstanding business.

Ellis Simms’ improvement from the clumsy, languid forward to the potent, prolific goalscorer under Neil Critchley was nothing short of remarkable, he’s the full package and the fact Blackpool tried desperately to bring him back this summer tells you all you need to know.

Blackpool v Doncaster Rovers - Sky Bet League One
Sunderland trio Elliot Embleton, Dan Ballard and Ellis Simms all won promotion during loan spells at Blackpool.
Photo by Charlotte Tattersall/Getty Images

MC: Aside from the above-mentioned players, which Blackpool players will Sunderland have to be wary of during the match?

SM: Charlie Patino is growing in confidence, playing in the deeper role in the defeat to Norwich, his ability to pick a pass and glide in possession makes you realise why he’s so highly rated at Arsenal.

Ian Poveda and Theo Corbeanu are both direct wingers who will cause anyone problems, although their final quality has lacked recently.

Callum Wright made his debut on Saturday and looked the real deal and someone who could be a goalscoring threat in the advanced midfield position, arguably he is already the main threat for Blackpool.

MC: So far this season, Sunderland have appeared comfortable at this level, from the perspective of a team who were promoted back in 2021, how have you found the jump from League One to the Championship?

SM: I think it helped that Blackpool were a counter-attacking, high pressing side under Neil Critchley, able to soak up pressure.

It also helped that the division was generally poor last season. Ultimately the key difference is being punished more prominently when you don’t take your chances than was the case in League One, a number of players have found that difficult to cope with.

Now transitioning to a more possession-based style, Blackpool have to take their chances or, because of their high risk approach, they will eventually be opened up at the other end as they have seen in recent games.

Blackpool v Sunderland - Carabao Cup Second Round
Sunderland beat Blackpool 3-2 last season in the Carabao Cup, with Aidan O’Brien scoring a hat-trick.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

MC: How do you think Appleton will approach the match tactically and which eleven players do you think he will select?

SM: Appleton now feels comfortable playing the 4-3-3 system that has been his staple throughout his career despite still missing some key personnel.

Dan Grimshaw was surprisingly dropped in between the sticks for Chris Maxwell, with the latter having an excellent game the last time he played at the Stadium of Light, so Maxwell will retain his place.

The rest could alter slightly given the nature of the games coming thick and fast. Arguably Dom Thompson has done enough to be dropped but James Husband’s absence makes that unlikely.

4-3-3: Maxwell; Gabriel, Ekpiteta, Thorniley, Thompson; Patino, Wright, Carey; Poveda, Madine, Yates.

MC: Sunderland have not beat Blackpool at home since 1977 - what is your prediction for the final score?

SM: I can’t lie, I’ve been feeling like this one could be one of those nights to forget for Blackpool, that being said, should the performance against Norwich translate here then they will fancy their chances.

I’ll go 1-1 with Callum Wright getting his first goal for the Seasiders.


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