A fine attacking display by the Seasiders saw Simon Grayson`s men come away with all three points at Bloomfield Road as they swept aside Crewe Alexandra.
For many this was their first chance to see the two new loan signings Chris Brandon and Robbie Williams and both started in a Blackpool side that was much changed from the one that embarrassingly lost at Millmoor on Tuesday night. Adrian Forbes and Simon Gillett were the notable absentees from the midfield with Brandon and Hoolahan stepping in. Claus Jorgensen and David Fox kept their spots and despite having three midfielders on the bench, Marcus Bean once again missed out on the sixteen. This looking a strong side was in a stark contrast to the away team who looked very thin on the ground without their two main men: the sought after Luke Varney and Nicky Maynard.
Blackpool – kicking towards the newly named ‘Private Car Park End` – started very brightly with Claus Jorgensen getting on the ball early and showing his ability to switch the ball wide and dictate play, something the team has lacked all season in my view. Hoolahan was seeing more and more of the ball and was causing Bignot on the Crewe right plenty of problems.
What was notable especially in the first half was the performance of Chris Brandon. The Huddersfield loanee (who we understand from our Vital Terriers counterparts won`t play against them on Easter Monday) liked to hug the touchline and his delivery into the strikers on the deck was a joy to behold and the intelligence to bring Barker into the game further up the pitch was a welcome sight also. Brandon loves to get forward – obviously that`s natural being a right winger – and there were times throughout the game where he was the third striker which gave the home side an extra dimension. Looking at this pessimistically, does this leave the midfield too exposed when Hoolahan is in the team, with two out-and-out wingers? With the glass half full viewpoint however, Brandon`s defensive work was some of the best we`ve seen all term anyway, and this was summed up midway through the first period as he and Barker were stuck in the ‘litter corner` at the North West end of the ground but managed to pass their way out of the situation remarkably well where in matches gone by Forbes would have hit me high up in the west with a hurried clearance.
Despite the home team playing such expansive football, Crewe did create chances. Ryan Lowe was guilty on more than one occasion of having blood rush up to his head and not thinking when in front of goal, which ultimately in my view cost the visitors dear, when in fact the game should have been won at a canter by the tangerines.
One advantage of having Wes Hoolahan in the side is his presence on the edge of the box and his quick thinking, but we`re not normally treated to a thunderous strike from 20 yards. Well Saturday was an exception as the Irish midfielder picked up the ball from Fox`s deflected shot and smashed the ball sweetly into the top corner of the net. The team seemed to have been briefed before the game to have a few pops at goal, as Ben Williams in between the sticks for Alex didn`t look at all confident.
Shortly after the opening goal, the away team almost immediately hit back as a cross by McNamee was poorly defended and found its way to Ryan Lowe at the back post, and before the shaven headed player could poke home, the linesman on the far side shot his flag up to indicate offside and Lowe`s ranting to the liner was unwarranted as he was clearly off.
The break gave everyone a chance to draw breath and the score was 1-0.
With the pitch looking in fantastic nick (perhaps it wasn`t poor materials and more to do with the groundsman in years gone by!) both teams were able to get the ball down and pass it about. Unfortunately the central back for Alex, Baudet, tried his best to ruin the game as a spectacle as he continually hoofed the ball clear, much to the annoyance of Dario Gradi on the away bench.
The game in the second period didn`t ebb and flow as it did in the first, but the ‘Pool did wrap the game up on 56 minutes when Claus Jorgensen was fouled on the edge of the box, and up stepped Robbie Williams to place home the second, with Williams beaten and the supposed wall cut in two, which the ‘keeper unmistakably wasn`t happy with.
After the goal, legs began to tire, most notably Chris Brandon`s (who had been down with a bout of tonsillitis for a week) and he was replaced late in the day by Simon Gillett just after the had finished a fantastic mazy run off by falling flat on his face right in front of the kop and the Crewe goal before he shot!
Speaking of Gillett, he has been the one loan signing I haven`t been impressed with since his arrival back in January. His first loan spell was obviously a success but he`s come back maybe thinking he`s a better player than he is, or has developed over confidence. To say he was Larry`s (and I quote) “top target” in January, I`ve been unimpressed with his performances.
Andy Morrell was also replaced by Scott Vernon after a tireless display in which he wore something on his face to protect an injury. He wasn`t really at the races, but won lots of headers and his inter play was still as good as ever.
The final change saw the emergence of Keith Southern as he came on for David Fox (whom I thought had his best game in a while) and ironically it was when the defensive midfielder trotted on when Blackpool conceded, as the customary goal to the visiting side was gifted to them as Miller scored, only after Gnashers himself has struck a post.
Overall a fine victory and a great display by the team, but it should have been more than two in the end.
Full time: Blackpool 2 – 1 Crewe
Dario Gradi. I thought he got it tactically all wrong and Crewe never recovered fully.
Saturday saw us pick up a valuable three points and leave us with breathing space over Swansea. The team passed the ball well and kept probing the Alex defence which we had to do in order to dominate the game. The two central midfielders did exceptionally well to dictate the play, with Fox playing well (although I still maintain he`s too crab-like to be the playmaker) and Jorgensen shining out like a beacon as he was allowed time and space in the middle of the park.
The reason for The Seasiders` dominance was down to Dario Gradi getting the Crewe tactics woefully wrong right from the start as they set out with Neil Cox as the holding midfielder (probably down to the fact he`s 35 and can no longer run!) but he dropped too deep and was playing almost alongside his two central defenders. This led to a great big hole between Cox and the rest of the midfield, which in turn allowed Jorgensen to fill in that gap and control play. Their only outlet was Anthony McNamee on the left hand side. On loan from Watford and after playing several Premiership games, a player I would have loved to see at Bloomers. Credit has to go to Barker then, as he had to mark him all game and stuck to his task well.
I was thrilled with the performances of Williams and Brandon, both endearing themselves to the crowd with Brandon especially fitting in well on the right hand side. How much better does the right look without Forbes? But will he and Hoolahan playing in the same side be a problem? I think Williams is exactly the type of no nonsense player we need at left back.