Prior to yesterday’s game, I felt quite confident. Not in an arrogant way towards Blackpool, but I figured they were a team in the making and we were the same, only slightly more complete.
The fact we are even talking about going there and matching them is a feat in itself. There is still a part of me, and I’m sure of many longtime supporters, who think about Blackpool in their Premier League stint, and us in our National League stint. The truth is, they haven’t been in the top flight since we were relegated to the National League and comparisons only serve to highlight how quickly football changes. Blackpool were not a Premier League force, they had one season there. In my lifetime, I’ve known us to be face to face with them as equals in four seasons.
That still doesn’t mask the trajectory I felt they were on. I use the past tense because after yesterday I think their journey might be a slightly longer one than I credited at the beginning of the season. I do think certain signings have the potential to be quality for them in the long term and for spells yesterday, we certainly saw that. I think this was the sternest test we have had so far in terms of their approach, ability and our character and resilience.
Where do you even start with a game like this? The team news threw up few surprises, but there was a hint in their lineup at what might be to come. Max Nottingham was dropped after being blamed for two goals last week, and James Husband came in. That hinted, albeit gently, at defensive frailties which we will obviously come to. For us, Brennan Johnson and Harry Anderson swapped in a move Michael said was with one eye on having two games in a week. Anyone who thinks it is bad news for Harry can rest easy too, after his late cameo.
I expected a frenetic game, one dominated by the midfield battle but with Blackpool showing lots of energy and pace and that is exactly how it turned out. We had the best of the opening five minutes or so as the home side struggled to settle in an eerily empty Bloomfield Road. I can never, and will never get used to empty stadiums and whilst we are lucky in that we are able to watch 3 pm kick-offs for games away from home, even if I hadn’t gone to the game I would rather 2,000 Imps had and I hadn’t had the luxury of pictures. I do wonder if the game might have been different though, had they had fans in after they scored. Even after Jerry Yates struck a post, I can imagine the crowd noise beginning to lift the team. I think that’s where a home team misses the fans; when they are in the ascendency and needing to be kept driving on. If the away side gets on top, then I suspect the home team do not miss the rising tension and criticism.
We all know that the goal was the fault of Liam Bridcutt and as a leader, he would be the first to admit it. He played a ball straight to CJ Hamilton, the best player on the park wearing orange, and despite some nice closing down from our defenders, he made it 1-0 with aplomb. Don’t play down the role of Yates in the goal; the former Rotherham man had a quiet afternoon, but his part in the neat one-two opened the back four up a little to allow them to take the lead.
17 minutes gone, 1-0 down after an error of our own doing; this sounded very much like Lincoln of last season. However, in last season’s narrative, we quickly concede another. In this year’s story, that isn’t the case. We battle, we keep our heads pointing forward and we make box entries. If you have players with pace running into the box, you can always draw a foul. If you have players like Liam Bridcutt, who can ping 60-yard balls into space for those quick players, then all the better. The captain made immediate amends by finding Brennan Johnson stripping Demetri Mitchell for pace and getting into the area. The former Manchester United man made a really clumsy tackle, and from the spot, Jorge Grant took his season tally to three. By the way, he bagged three goals in total in the league last season, and before the afternoon was out, he would eclipse that.
It was a decent penalty, but their keeper did almost stop it with a smart dive away to his right and for a second, I would have been worried that he’d missed. Luckily, thanks to the intermittent spinning wheel of iFollow, I checked Twitter to type something like ‘back in the game’, and my timeline was filled with news of him scoring. At least I didn’t have any tension as I watched him stride up seconds later.
I felt the rest of the first half was fairly even, I don’t think we were entriely at our best and we did ride our luck at times. Sean Roughan had a tough time against CJ Hamilton, but then again he was up against the fastest player in the league according to FIFA, and he didn’t o too badly. I thought Liam Bridcutt was strong in midfield, McGrandles and Jones worked hard, but we were up against a very good side. You can see with the pace they have across the field, they’re going to be much higher up the table than most. I quite liked Keshi Anderson too, I’ve been critical of his move in the past, but he looked to be really busy.