Simon Grayson`s Blackpool side moved up into the playoff places with a hard-fought 2-1 win over mid-table Port Vale.
The Seasiders were again without Irish winger, Wes Hoolahan after he failed to recover from injury, and with Ian Evatt out looked the team on paper looked rather bare. Keigan Parker came back into the squad, but could only make the bench after his illness and suspension. Kaspars Gorkss made his first start in tangerine when he partnered skipper Michael Jackson in the centre of defence.
Shaun Barker – Michael Jackson – Kaspars Gorkss – Paul Tierney
Claus Jorgensen – David Fox – Keith Southern – Adrian Forbes
Andy Morrell – Scott Vernon
This game had ‘scrap` written all over it as I walked up to take my seat for the game. The pitch was looking better than that of a week ago, but still nowhere near its best and a good game of football just wasn`t conducive with the weather like it was. So I wasn`t surprised to see a shocking first ten to fifteen minutes as neither side could get hold of the game and the ball was exchanging from Pool to Vale without anything really happening.
What I began to see however, that Vale`s bald midfielder player, Danny Whittaker was beginning to show signs of danger and his shot that just missed a post – after a quarter of an hour – signalled a warning to Pool that he could pose a threat. Sadly, no-one ever really took responsibility off him until the second half.
Captain Michael Jackson was having a nightmare in the Blackpool defence as he continually brought the ball out of the backline only for him to lose possession and put Pool under the cosh needlessly. An under hit back-pass from ‘Jacko` nearly resulted in a goal as Akpo Sodje raced through – only for keeper Rhys Evans to arrive to the ball quicker and clear.
A very quiet half lit up suddenly as Scott Vernon fired just wide of Vale`s goal after fantastic build-up by Andy Morrell. That was to be the best chance of a dire half.
Once again Jackson at the back was sloppy as himself and goalkeeper, Evans had a Communication bypass with the defenders header just flying wide of his own goal for a corner.
One of the positives of a poor half was the debutant Kaspars Gorkss who looked calm and compossed throughtout and never lost a header.
Half Time: Blackpool 0 – 0 Port Vale
The management team must have said something at half time as the Blackpool side came out newly invigorated with long passages of attacking play in Vale`s third. Midfielder David Fox was becoming more prominent in the game as The Seasiders tried to unlock the away defensive line.
Scott Vernon had two excellent chances early on in the half. The first was on 51 minutes when the former Oldham marksman`s soft finish sneaked past Anyon`s post. Seconds later he had a better chance after a great ball from Fox when his header at the back post somehow found the nearest ball-boy instead of the net as his header glanced wide from four yards.
Those misses prompted Grayson to make two bold changes as Scott Vernon and the ineffectual Claus Jorgensen were replaced by Keigan Parker and Ben Burgess.
Soon after the subs the first goal of the game came. Keigan Parker`s tricky footwork and ball found Morrell as he twisted and turned to hit Pool into the lead and send the home crowd wild. Just before that (as we were breaking away for the goal incidentally) I remarked that the game seemed to be just meandering along. How wrong I was, and how pleased I was to be wrong!
After 71 minutes the mighty were one up, and after 74 they were two up. David Fox got very lucky in the build up as he stumbled through two challenges when a ball out wide to Tierney was a better option. The former Manchester United schoolboy seized his chance and had a pop at goal. Unfortunately his shot was hit too softly and looked to be no danger – until it took a massive deflection. Joe Anyon was totally wrong footed in the Vale goal and again “Glad All Over” was booming out over Bloomfield Road.
Danny Whittaker wasn`t anywhere near as effective in the second half as he was marshalled better, but he still managed to rifle a shot in at goal soon after Pool`s second, only for Evans to push wide.
Whittaker, the former Macclesfield playmaker, hit the bar straight after his previous attempt as the Blackpool midfield went to sleep and allowed him back into the game playing in the support striker role.
In stoppage time Rhys Evans was once again denied a clean sheet as Paul Tierney was adjudged to have handled in the box. Up stepped Akpo Sodje to place Vale back into the game with two minutes of added time remaining.
The finale was tight and nervy but The Seasiders held on for all three points and moved up to sixth in the process, only six points from the automatic promotion places.
Another poor showing by the pool on Saturday in my opinion, but again a win! Something that is becoming common place at Bloomers is that of a lacklustre performance but three points in the bag – the making of a promotion winning side?
Without Evatt, Parker and Hoolahan the team looks bare but they`ve learnt to play to the replacements strengths instead of previous years where a star player has been missing but yet we still employ the same tactics – which is aimless. Things have changed for the better, as Forbes (who filled in on the left hand side) was allowed to play his own game (although in my view he played it badly) and not stuck down to one area of the pitch. Although this sounds the same as Hoolahan`s role, it is not. Hoolahan hangs back and waits for the ball on the left, whereas Forbes relies on his speed to get him into positions across the pitch. Unfortunately for me he doesn`t posses the technical attributes to be a real success but he always gives 100%, even if his decision making is questionable.
I thought that Kaspars the Latvian had a cracking debut and imposed himself on Sodje brilliantly, who was made to look very ordinary in the air which is normally his forte. Where will Gorkss play though? Was he brought in as a left back, or is Jackson going to have to give way some point in the future at centre back? I`d prefer to see him used as a fullback because his distribution looks to be good, along with his awareness of play around him – in a similar mould to Shaun Barker.
We did lack ideas sometimes without the magical Irishman, but three points are three points and I for one don`t care how they come. My new years wish: Hoolahan signed this week permanently?please.