2020/21 Preview – Blackpool

Host of Express FM’s Football Hour and pundit on Pompey Live, Jake Smith continues his look at each League One club ahead of the new season.

Intro: A new chapter has opened up in Blackpool’s history book, promising new owner Simon Sadler is aiming for an improvement on last season’s bottom-half finish in his second year at the top of the hierarchy.

Blackpool FC, known by nicknames such as ‘The Tangerines’, ‘The ‘Pool’ and more commonly ‘The Seasiders’, were founded in 1887 and have called Bloomfield Road their home since 1901.

Against all odds, the club reached the top-flight in 2010, winning promotion to the Premier League at the expense of Cardiff City in the Championship Play-Off Final in May of the same year.

Despite thumping Wigan Athletic, whom they’ll meet once again but in the third-tier this coming season, 4-0 on the opening day, the Seasiders were relegated in their first and only season.

Fast forward 9 years and there seems to be a lot more positivity on the pitch following the dismissal of Simon Grayson in February, the 50-year-old underwhelmed during his half-a-season at Bloomfield Road. Grayson was known to send his Tangerine squad out “not to lose” according to some fans, who are glad to see the back of him.

Six new signings, and decent ones of that, have been made at the time of writing, however it will be the departures of some key figures which could have a huge say on how the side perform this season.

Nathan Delfouneso upped sticks to be a part of the exciting new setup at Bolton Wanderers in League Two, whilst Ryan Edwards moved on to Dundee United and Ryan Hardie (Plymouth Argyle) and Calum MacDonald (Tranmere Rovers) were both loaned out, leaving supporters who had expected to see them feature under Neil Critchley bewildered.

Home Ground: Bloomfield Road, Blackpool (Lancashire), 282 miles (by car) from Fratton Park – Capacity: 17,338

2019/20 Table Position: 13th (League One) – 45 points after 35 games with an average of 1.29 points per-game.

Overall Head-To-Head Record: Blackpool Wins: 27 – Draws: 23 – Portsmouth Wins: 22

Previous Meeting With Pompey: Blackpool 1-1 Portsmouth, 31st August 2019, League One

2020/21 Fixture Dates:

Tuesday 1st December, 2020 – Bloomfield Road

Saturday 20th February, 2021 – Fratton Park

Photo: PompeyCarlo

Manager: Newbie to first-team management Neil Critchley takes charge of Blackpool for what he hopes to be his first full season at the helm, when the league starts on September 12th.

The 41-year-old’s only previous coaching experience was at Liverpool between 2013 and March 2020 (when he was approached by Blackpool for the first-team manager vacancy).

Not much is known about Critchley’s approach to games as a manager, having only held his first and current position for 2 matches to date, although he was known to be held in high regard at Liverpool, having coached the Under-18s, the Under-23s and even the first-team via a technicality on two separate occasions.

As a result of crazy fixture congestion of Liverpool’s first-team squad in December 2019, the Crewe-born gaffer served as stand-in manager for the Reds’ Carabao Cup Quarter-Final fixture at Aston Villa, fielding a team compiled entirely of youth players, as the more high-profile members of the side competed in the FIFA Club World Cup in Qatar.

Critchley’s Scouse youngsters were defeated 5-0 by Villa, who were seen as both the underdogs and the favourites ahead of the tie. He also went on to oversee the proceedings of Liverpool’s FA Cup Fourth-Round Replay at Shrewsbury Town in February, after Jurgen Klopp refused to travel to New Meadow on the grounds of a dispute with The FA over a promised winter break, which was disrupted when his side could only manage a draw with the Shrews at Anfield.

The new head-coach of Blackpool is one of only sixteen coaches worldwide to have obtained UEFA’s Elite Badge, the highest coaching qualification available. Critchley ranks at 13th in Liverpool’s history of managers for highest win percentage of games with 50%.

He is likely to exercise a positive 4-3-3 formation at Blackpool, where he is still seeking his first competitive victory.

One To Watch: 23-year-old Ethan Robson is a name carrying a load of expectation at Blackpool this season.

The Sunderland youth prodigy burst on to the scene in 2014 but failed to make a first-team appearance until September 2017, coming on as a late substitute for former Pompey forward James Vaughan, in a 3-0 defeat to Everton in the League Cup.

Robson enjoyed valuable loan spells out at Dundee and Grimsby Town between January 2019 and the tail-end of last season, leaving the Stadium of Light permanently this summer having featured just 9 times for the Black Cats.

The midfielder has a lot to prove this season, in particular as he comes face-to-face with his former club, and that could prove to be the making of the youngster, who is tipped for a big career in the Football League if given the game-time to improve.

Signing of the Summer (So Far): Of the six arrivals thus far in the summer transfer window, the standout name is former Rotherham striker Jerry Yates, who linked up with the club on July 21st after an undisclosed fee was agreed between the two sides.

The 23-year-old was identified as Blackpool’s top target, thanks to an impressive loan spell at Swindon Town, who he helped to the League Two title and promotion to League One last season. The loss of leading goalscorer Armand Gnanduillet to Turkish outfit Altay in the summer forced big changes up top at Bloomfield Road and the signing of Yates, a young but proven EFL striker, was completed quickly to avoid being left short in attack.

Yates was born in Doncaster but came through the youth ranks at Rotherham, earning his first pro-contract at the club in 2014. He made only 47 appearances for the Millers during his 6-year stay, spending most of his career at the New York Stadium out on loan. Spells at Harrogate Town, Carlisle United and Swindon Town eventually earned him a permanent move away, Blackpool is where he is now contracted to stay for at least the next three years.

Season Expectation: The end goal at Bloomfield Road this season should realistically to have improved on last year’s 13th-place finish and to trouble those in the top-half/play-off positions. Blackpool are still in the early stages of new ownership after three topsy-turvy decades with the Oystons, therefore the progression back up the Football League ladder is, understandably, expected to be slow and sensible.

New owner Simon Sadler has pinpointed 2022 as the year he wishes the Tangerines to be promoted to the Championship, without loading the squad too heavily on expectation, he is aware that may not be the case.

The forthcoming campaign promises to be a tightly contested one at the top, despite a handful of sides going through their own financial difficulties. The three teams coming down from the Championship are all expected to challenge for promotion, as well as the likes of Sunderland, Ipswich, Peterborough, Oxford and of course Pompey.

There is, however, always room for a dark horse and Blackpool are more than suited to be that team IF they can nail down and work together as a newly-constructed squad – strong cohesion and high morale could play a vital part.

My Predicted Finish: 11th

A Tangerine Dream – Life After the Oystons

“You’ll struggle to find a more popular owner than Simon Sadler.” – That’s the opinion of Blackpool fan Rob Walker, who has been supporting the club since 1988.

For too long, the fans of the seaside club suffered under the “ownership” of the Oyston family, with local businessman and convicted sex offender Owen Oyston controlling ownership of the Tangerines between 1988 and 2019. A new dawn has loomed over Bloomfield Road over the past 14 months however, another local businessman by the name of Simon Sadler completed his takeover on June the 13th, 2019, ending 32 years of Oyston’s reign. It’s safe to say that after years of hurt and what proved to be eventual successful boycotting, Blackpool fans finally have their club back.

Rob tells of how the mood around the town has been lifted since Sadler’s arrival little over a year ago: “He really has been a breath of fresh air. The club has been re-shaped from top to bottom with investment both on and off the pitch.

“The club has improved the current training facilities in the short term and is currently in discussions with the local council on finding a permanent new site.” – he went on explain.

“The fans’ biggest bug bear with the previous regime was, despite millions having been earnt on promotion to the Premier League, the players struggled to even have warm showers available at the decrepit Squires Gate training facility.”

At the time of writing, Blackpool are entering their fourth consecutive season in League One, having been promoted alongside the Blues from League Two in 2017. The club’s shock demise to the basement tier of English football was completely pinned on the shabby running of the club at the time, fortunately they managed to bounce straight back up at the first attempt.

It’s time now for the seasiders to put the past behind them and focus solely on the future and Rob certainly agrees with that sentiment: “Realistically, promotion within the next couple of years has to be our aim, as well as continued investment into the academy and youth set-up, which I know is a high priority for the new owner.

“We have to be challenging for promotion.” – Rob explains, discussing the upcoming league campaign.

“Last summer, Sadler targeted promotion within 2-3 years. The club identified new targets this summer and moved quickly to secure their signatures.”

One of those signatures was that of CJ Hamilton, who joined for an undisclosed fee from League Two side Mansfield Town in July. The 25-year-old winger signed a 3-year contract at the Lancashire based club and has been described to be useful for his blistering pace and for having a keen eye for goal.

Rob is one of many supporters who is looking forward to seeing the new man in action: “He looks to have lightening pace and if Critchley can fit him in our 4-3-3 system, he could make a big impact.

“I’m also hopeful of former Under-18s player Cameron Antwi making a breakthrough, he’s been involved in the three pre-season games to date and looked very calm and composed in the centre of midfield.”

Optimism is getting the better of Rob, who predicts his side to end the season in 5th: “We’ve had a refreshing change from the previous regime where it was always the last-minute dot com approach. The appointment of new head coach Neil Critchley is an exciting one on paper.”

Rob even went on to boldly claim: “If Critchley can secure some quality loan signings then maybe the top two isn’t out of the question!”

You can follow Rob on Twitter – @TangerineRob

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