If you want a mental image of this game, it was Tony Mowbray’s stance for the majority of the second half: prowling the touchline, head more often than not in hands. It was an evening that promised a lot, but as the final whistle blew, a feeling of frustration was the overriding one.
Because in the first half, we should have had this game wrapped up.
For the second home game in a row, we’ve enjoyed some spells of exquisite football, but ultimately failed to find a way through. In fact, for all of the intricate play and nice football we saw – primarily in the first half – we struggled to really test Chris Maxwell in the Blackpool goal. Clarke forced a first-half save from him from the edge of the box, while in the dying seconds a Clarke header from Jewison Bennette’s cross was clawed away by the keeper, but apart from that we didn’t have the cutting edge our play deserved.
Tony Mowbray was evidently trying to do something about the lack of goals on Saturday before the game too – he brought in Manchester United loanee Amad Diallo in place of Dan Neil, who I think is probably in need of a rest to avoid the burnout situation we saw last season.
I did think we might make more changes, so was a little surprised to see just the one, but the first half performance was excellent. We were bright and vibrant, and enjoyed some lovely passages of play. While clearly not used to playing up front, Amad showed some nice touches and good link-up play, as we really took the game to Blackpool.
We had a few opportunities to get a goal, but Clarke’s 20-yarder late on in the first half was probably the closest we came; Embleton also hit the top of the crossbar with a cross-shot against the club he had a loan spell with a couple of years ago.
The ball bobbled around the box a lot – we had a number of chances to get shots away, but we just couldn't open the scoring – Amad had a sight of goal after being put through by the influential Roberts, but chose to cut back onto his left foot, and the chance was gone, while Clarke waltzed into the box on the stroke of half time, only for his shot to be deflected over.
In truth we could – and should – have been out of sight at half time, given the possession we had. Blackpool tried to slow the game down and took the opportunity to have an impromptu team talk as Connolly received lengthy treatment for an ‘injury’.
However, we’d had a warning sign in the first half, Callum Connolly steering past the post for the visitors – and in the second half it was a different game.
Buoyed by surviving to half time with a clean sheet, and seeing how blunt we were in attack, Blackpool were a little more adventurous in the second period – and in truth probably could have emerged with the three points.
A few chances went past the post, Patterson had a few uncertain moments, but made three or four excellent close-range saves, too.
At the other end, Mr Simpson stopped one of our more promising attacks, blowing way too early when Roberts was fouled – Embleton putting the ball past Maxwell after Clarke’s set up, unfortunately after the whistle went.
Advantage ref? No chance, although, in a warped attempt at self-redemption he let Blackpool play an advantage moments later, only to bring the ball back for a free kick after they stuffed up the pass.
Good boy Jeremy, you can do it.
In the second half, Mowbray made an early change, Bennette for Amad, but he seemed to spend more time playing centrally in the early stages – eventually moving to the left wing where he looked more threatening.
I was instinctively against the five subs rule when it was brought in – however, I think it’s been a benefit. It gives more players a chance from the bench, and it makes early subs less risky for the more risk-averse managers. I’d change it, though, to only allow one sub in the last 10 minutes or so – there’s serious potential for time-wasting.
Anyway, we drove on – Michut got his first taste of action, showing some nice touches but in the main was on the periphery. Mowbray said post-game Michut played it too safe, and there was an element of caution to his game – in addition to the yellow card he received for pulling back Blackpool as they countered.
Abdoullah Ba once again impressed from the bench – he looks like a superb player, and he’s surely in line for a start soon. At the back, Batth, O’Nien and Alese were rock solid – Alese is brilliant, like. Gooch gave his all as usual but caused himself problems on a few occasions by giving the ball away needlessly. Unless Niall Huggins is closer to a return than we think, a right back will be high on Mowbray’s January wishlist.
Clarke almost grabbed us a late winner – but that would have been harsh on Blackpool in the end, I reckon.
In the end, it’s a clean sheet and a point against a side who came for just that; just as Preston had on Saturday. Blackpool – like Preston – are no mugs. They’ve beaten Huddersfield and QPR away from home this season, and you’ve got to respect that.
However, over the two games this week, it’s at least two points dropped. Both were winnable games, and Blackpool really should have been put away in that excellent first half. Is it as simple as not having Ross Stewart – or another striker – available? Maybe, but it’s not the only reason. Our set pieces, bar one excellent corner in the first half – were bang average. We had four or five free kicks in shooting range that didn’t test the keeper, and that will frustrate Mowbray as much as anything else.
In reality, however, there’s plenty to be positive about. There’s some real talent in this team, and it’s another point, another clean sheet. We’re seventh in the table, and I think we’d have all settled for that before the season kicked off.
But that first-half performance deserved three points – and I suppose it’s a good sign there’s a sense of frustration that we’ve not come away with all three, and a few things for Mowbray to ponder over the coming days.