Paddy Feeney writes…
By Paddy Feeney
The idea of introducing a player who is a bit of an unknown quantity into a game is always a risk. As seen at the highest level, with Manchester City introducing Mario Balotelli into a far greater first team role than the one he occupied last season. Balotelli, however, is a player who has proved he can succeed at that level, as he showed again in the Manchester derby this weekend, giving more evidence to support that he is one of Europe`s finest talents when his mind is in the right place.
There is an argument that wholly supports the idea of trying someone who isn`t known. There is no possible way that Steve Cotterill or anyone at Nottingham Forest could have possibly set up plans to deal with Gerardo Bruna, so when he was named on the substitutes bench, it looked like a decision that would draw a few gasps when the team sheet is first mentioned, but then make more sense as people worked it out.
The problem is, for the gamble to work, everything needs to work out and sit perfectly in the youngster`s favour, especially with someone making his debut in English league football. Add in the fact that Bruna was schooled at Real Madrid, not known as a place where young players are taught the rough and tumble style that many teams will apply to their game when they visit Bloomfield Road this season, and that the man he was replacing is the current darling of the Blackpool fans, and it becomes a pressure cooker for a young Argentinean with no first team experience. Then add that Nottingham Forest had just broken a spell of Blackpool pressure with what proved to be the winning goal, and that there was only 7 minutes for Blackpool to come up with a response, and it is quite a difficult position to be in.
It is difficult not to feel sorry for Bruna. He will be the public face of the fan`s bemusement at yet more strange substitutions from Ian Holloway, who took off 2 of Blackpool`s better players on the day in Tom Ince and Callum McManaman, the former in particular causing a mountain of problems on the right hand side, causing Forest full back Chris Gunter, supposedly one of the best full backs in the second tier of English football, although it is possible Gunter picked up a slight hamstring injury in the second half, and replaced them with 2 players with a grand total of 7 career professional appearances, all of them belonging to Craig Sutherland.
The addition of fresh legs to an attack slowing down after a long day`s work was the reason given by ‘Ollie` in his radio post-match interview, yet the simple solution to this would surely be to replace the older, slower legs, such as Gary Taylor-Fletcher and Kevin Phillips, who, despite his fantastic goal just before half time, had a poor game. Chances that you would normally expect Phillips to gobble up without thinking twice passed him by, including failing to convert an Ince cross-shot into the net from a yard out with the goal at his mercy, and a golden chance late on from just inside the penalty area which he only managed to locate the upper echelons of the South Stand. Taylor-Fletcher, despite all of his efforts, failed to produce a final ball at crucial times, and though the stats will say he has come out of the game with an assist to his name, even Taylor-Fletcher must agree that Phillips had a fair bit to do when he gave him the ball.
It would be cruel to lay the blame of the defeat at the feet of Bruna, who did show glimpses of talent, though his keenness only to use his left foot may be his undoing at this level, as there were many areas of the Blackpool side that were found wanting by a Nottingham Forest side who were willing to get their hands dirty if it meant retuning home with all 3 points. The set piece demons have returned, both goals coming from basic routines. The first goal coming from a fairly standard, floated cross from McGugan at the corner, and a free header for Wes Morgan at the back post is a clear sign that we missed the physical presence that Ian Evatt brings to the back four, and switching off at a simple throw in is unforgivable, especially when your opponents have someone as deadly as Radoslaw Majewski, who can find the net from literally anywhere in the final third, as he has shown a number of times since arriving in English football 2 years ago.
But before I am criticised for whinging about what was, in all honesty, a vast improvement on recent displays, I will say that there are big positives to take from the game. Gilks proved once again that he is one of the best shot stoppers in the division, though he could do with learning from Lee Camp on the distribution front. Eardley is improving all the time, no matter how many times he is moaned at for being sat too deep. These moans coming from the same fans that were furious whenever he was forward last season, saying he was too naïve, but Eardley`s main weakness when he first joined the club was the defensive side of his game. This, it is clear to see, is improving all the time, and when he finds the right balance in his positional play, which, in all likelihood, will need to involve him adding a yard of pace, to allow for defensive covering and beating his man down the line.
The midfield painfully missed Keith Southern`s presence. For weeks it has seemed that Ferguson and Southern cannot function in the same midfield, but a more succinct diagnosis would be that the midfield cannot function without Southern. It lacked bite, drive and pace, which Southern adds. Shelvey looked lost at times, looking to play the pass too quickly at others, picking completely the wrong pass the rest of the time. He looks devoid of confidence after being such a non-entity at West Ham, which the rest of the team has recovered from far quicker than Shelvey has, but it is clear there is plenty more to come from him.
As mentioned, Taylor-Fletcher and Phillips were both off their best, but Ince and McManaman out wide caused problems all game, McManaman`s raw pace and Ince`s trickery in possession providing a constant threat, but Forest had an answer for the majority of what was thrown at them.
All in all, Blackpool will play a lot worse than that this season and win, let alone pick up the point that they probably deserved. For proof of this, see last Tuesday night against Doncaster Rovers. What should please Blackpool fans is that they are still within touching distance of the playoffs, without really putting in a performance worthy of a playoff finish at the end of the season since the opening day at Hull. As is always said, the sign of a good side is to keep picking up points when they are not playing well.