Matthew Crichton: Blackpool are without a win in seven matches, is the pressure starting to mount on Michael Appleton?
Matthew Jones: Without a question. Appleton has history with us and is of course, an ex PNE player - his appointment didn’t go down very well in the first place and the recent form has led to a bit of a battle of words with the fanbase and a degree of (mostly fairly muted) unrest in the stands.
There’s been a couple of times it’s boiled over into more forthright demands for him to go. I think everyone is pinning their hopes on players coming in in January - him included - I think the problem we have with him is doesn’t exude belief in what we’ve got.
The debate within the fanbase is split between those with some sympathy for his paucity of resources (I personally think he’s not had a lot of backing and was an odd choice given the job in front of us at the time) and those who think he’s really just a stubborn moody git who they never want to hear of again.
I don’t think anyone would be heartbroken if he went but it’s looking likely the board will give him a transfer window. That said, a real drubbing at home would probably be the final straw for the fanbase. It’s not really boiled over yet.
MC: What factors do you think are behind your recent dip in form?
MJ: That would be another article in itself. If we had ONE defining factor, it would be a much simpler fix.
Probably the most obvious factor is that our midfield in the last few games has played about 50 senior games combined in their entire careers and has a collective weight of about 20 stone wet through.
A forceful presence in midfield would be the one key signing I would make if I could only have one. We also lack quality width (we miss Josh Bowler more than anyone could possibly imagine) and our disciplinary record is so bad that it’s like the blackest of black comedies.
We’ve lost so many points when we’ve been in a half decent position in a game and had someone sent off. We’ve also got the delightful problem that some of our better players are also sick notes.
MC: The January window is now open, do you think money will be made available and which positions do you need to strengthen?
MJ: I think there will be *some* money - the board will be aware that recent decisions have been unpopular and that the summer transfer window has been a car crash.
Most of our loans have been patchy at best and the permanent signings have made little to no impact on the team. We’ve just brought in Coventry’s recruitment team and there’s no point in poaching them if they’re not going to be given something to work with.
We’ve got money in the kitty in theory - Critchley leaving left us with a nice wedge of compensation and of course, Josh Bowler’s fee is still largely unspent. We need to get it right as we literally can’t afford mistakes.
MC: Speaking of January, Blackpool top-scorer Jerry Yates was recently linked with Sunderland, could you see the club selling if the price is right?
MJ: I’d be very surprised. He’s one player who has improved under Appleton and he’s very popular with the fanbase. I can’t see Sunderland putting an unrefusable offer on the table.
The board aren’t used to being unpopular as thus far, things have gone really well under them - I honestly don’t see them taking the decision to let Yates go at this point as it would enrage Blackpool fans unless we had a proven talent to replace him and on our budget, you simply don’t sign proven talents at this level.
MC: Similarly to Sunderland, Blackpool focused on signing younger players in the summer, how have your loans performed so far?
MJ: Patino (Arsenal) is a very good player but he’s carrying too much weight on his shoulders. Asking an 18-year-old to run games when the players around him aren’t great is a massive ask. We love him though and he’s rolled his sleeves up and shown a real character.
Fiorini from Man City has been injured mostly.
Corbeanu (Wolves) is essentially Josh Bowler with brain bypass - he’s fun but he doesn’t know what he’s doing so he’s struggled to fit into a system.
Poveda from Leeds hasn’t played a lot - he’s a canny player in flashes and I like him - but again, he’s struggled to fit into a system. He’s got the ability to beat someone though and again, the fans have taken to him. He needs to produce consistently and hopefully his recent form shows he can.
Rhys Williams from Liverpool - well, he’s improved a bit of late, but I think it’s fair to say, he doesn’t look like a Liverpool player!
The problem is, most of the above have lost their places to players we had in League 1 who are technically inferior but whose effort or wider football knowledge make them more reliable - we put a lot of eggs in the ‘young kids on loan’ basket and it’s not worked out for us.
MC: Aside from the above-mentioned players, which players will Sunderland have to be wary of?
MJ: Gary Madine is a warrior. He’s a goal machine so naturally, any defence needs to watch out for him - it’ll be interesting to see how Ballard manages that battle given they’ll know each other well.
The fact we’re so reliant on Madine shows our limitations - generally, if Madine can get a foothold in the game, we’re much better for it and if he doesn’t, we’re really struggling from anything other than set pieces.
Sonny Carey is a young kid who has a good shot and likes to play football - he’s in reasonable form at the moment. Yates isn’t in great form to be honest but you cannot ever rule him out.
MC: During our last match, the sides drew 0-0 in a very dull game, but now that Sunderland have Ross Stewart back, are you concerned by that given your defensive struggles?
MJ: If you’ve got strikers with a full complement of legs and two working eyes I’m worried as we always give away chances.
Marvin Ekptiteta is reasonably well equipped to deal with Stewart if he’s not having a bad day (of which he’s had a few of late) but pace scares us and our defence is really cobbled together.
I was really impressed by some of the football you played at the Stadium of Light (and that was one of your poorer showings I believe) so yeah - I’m concerned, but Blackpool are always better against a better side and if you play football, that at least might give us the chance to play some.
MC: How do you expect Appleton to approach the game tactically?
MJ: He’ll almost certainly go 4-3-3 but recently he’s favoured a bit of Frankenstein approach with a big lad on the wing which means we can kind of adapt to 4-4-2 in game.
It’s had (at best) mixed results and I think he’ll probably revert to a more conventional 4-3-3 as the pattern has been to search for some kind of innovation, realise it’s not worked very well and go back to the blueprint and repeat.
I don’t hold him wholly culpable for that though as we really have holes in the squad that mean I don’t think any of us are certain what the best 11 actually is.
MC: Which eleven players do you expect to start?
MJ: GK: Grimshaw, RB: Connolly, LB: Husband, RCB Ekpiteta, LCB: Thorniley, CM: Dougall, CM: Patino, ACM: Carey, RW: Poveda, CF: Madine, LW: Yates.
MC: During Sunderland’s last trip to Blackpool on New Year’s Day, we won 1-0 with 8000 fans travelling - what is your score prediction for this time around?
MJ: I’m afraid (though obviously this won’t be bad news for Sunderland fans) I think we’ll lose 2-1 as our season of late feels like one big never ending 2-1 defeat...