Date: 25th August 2012 at 6:43pm
Written by:

‘Matt Phillips is shit,’ one obnoxious ‘supporter’ fumed, in the 83rd minute, as the winger failed to beat his man and add a sixth Blackpool goal. ‘Just give it to Tom Ince!’ he screamed. Annoyingly bereft of footballing knowledge, yes, but this fan did have the remnants of a point. Not that Phillips isn’t good enough – far from it, he is an exceptional talent – but that there is now a new tangerine focal point to adore; someone with an arrogance on the ball only the best possess. Following the 6-0 mauling of Ipswich Town, you have to ask to what extent the team would miss Phillips if he were to go to Southampton or otherwise.

This was not about him. He was upstaged. It was a pleasure to be witnessing the coming of age of Ince – scoring twice and being at the hub of everything exciting. His speed, skill, panache and goalscoring touch make you leap up off your seat. It will surely mean further Premier League courting before Friday’s transfer deadline, but unlike Phillips he has committed himself to the club and, perhaps more importantly, Ian Holloway.

The manager has been building a squad over the past three years to carry forth his vision of an elegantly fluent attacking prong, picking the likes of the two mates when others wouldn’t look at them twice, and moulding them into the two hottest properties in the Football League. The pair could quite conceivably fetch in the region of £12 million between them in transfer fees, but there seems to be a steely determination within Bloomfield Road to keep hold of them, allow them to develop further and have them provide a platform for success. Success, even at this early stage of the season, would not be anything less than the top six.

It is easy to get carried away but after three wins – conceding just one goal and scoring 10 – it is difficult not to look at the quality available and dream of a return to the Big League automatically.

They were patient against Leeds United on Tuesday and at times against Ipswich utterly breathtaking. The way in which the Iberian pair, Tiago Gomes and Angel Martinez, supplement the force and willingness of Isaiah Osbourne is encouraging in midfield (Scott Roberton is yet to feature), as is the awareness of what is expected by Holloway. The wingers do, quite rightly, collect the plaudits, but strategic breaking up of the play is as impressive and coached as the searing runs and marvellous crosses. One of Sam Allardyce’s analysts at Bolton Wanderers once said they spotted a trend in where balls were landing after a corner, or aerial play, so they stuck a man there (Gary Speed in particular was king of this). Holloway sticks a man where the second ball invariably lands all over the pitch, and it works a treat. All three of the midfield trio won countless turnover possession – sometimes in the most unexpected places – purely by listening to the wisdom and homework.

And when they win it, man is it tricky for the opposition to get back. ‘Giving it away here is like giving it to bloody Swansea,’ Neil Warnock accepted on Tuesday. But this possession football is not the labouring, playing for playing’s sake, of last season’s Swans. It is similar to that of what Michael Laudrup has concocted already this campaign – purposeful attacking football with a reliance of counter-attacking and getting the ball in wide areas. When wide during the past week, Ince has been unstoppable. He supplied both first half goals from the left hand side: the first cross was intercepted into his own net by Aaron Cresswell and the second, on the stroke of half-time, found Gary Taylor-Fletcher to sweep beyond Scott Loach. It was an excellent pull-back by Ince, capping off a wonderful move.

Enough of being provider, Ince scored a mavellous brace shortly after the restart. In the 49th minute he was played into the box, stood the defender up, moved the ball half a yard and cut a diagonal effort across Loach to add a super third. That was nothing on his second, though. A decent Pool move, full of intricacy and thought, found the 20-year-old on the edge of the Town box. Nonchalantly looking up, Ince knew exactly where he was to put the ball and sent a beautifully shaped curler nestling right in the corner.

He still was not done. Ince’s cross found Craig Cathcart – whose own performance improved markedly – to bullet a header to make it 5-0 before Nouha Dicko scrambled the sixth after Phillips had sent a lob goalwards.

There are things that can be improved on, as always. Kevin Phillips was disappointingly quiet, and fell foul of the linesman’s flag all too often, while it is a shame the side chose to conserve energy instead of going for more goals in the final half an hour. Alberto Noguera got his first minutes in tangerine and desperately did not want to give the ball away – there is much more to come from him. But the Seasiders are top of the Championship, with a 100% record, playing a brand of football that Holloway has been striving for throughout his tenure at the club. Barry Ferguson, Ludovic Sylvestre and Ian Evatt were all unused substitutes. Without going overboard, this bodes very well.

What about that lad moaning about Matt Phillips earlier in the piece? He had a Liverpool badge as his mobile phone background.