Posh returned to their now familiar spot at the summit of League One following a sublime victory over Gillingham 7 days ago. Portsmouth were still hot on our heels, and the only way to guarantee heading into October as league leaders was to beat basket-case Blackpool; a task easier said than done, as The Seasiders are yet to even concede an away goal this season. James Bloodworth was at London Road to see if the third tier’s irresistible force could overcome its unmovable object.
Naming the same eleven as victory over Gillingham was another bold move by Posh’s coaching team, with the incredibly attack minded Jamie Walker partnering skipper Alex Woodyard in the middle. Winning the toss was just about the only thing to go in Posh’s favour during the opening moments; a rather scrappy first 10 minutes indicated that this was going to be quite a far away from a classic. Walker had two efforts from long-range drift wide and Siriki Dembele had legitimate claims of a Blackpool handball inside their own penalty area, as Posh looked to test their opponents’ defensive resolve. At the other end, Nathan Delfouneso crept in between Jason Naismith and Rhys Bennett, and should have done far better than passing the ball straight to goalkeeper Aaron Chapman.
It was an INCREDIBLY scrappy and downright dull first 20 minutes. One man that did provide a bright spot was a dynamic central midfielder; Unfortunately, he played for Blackpool. Jordan Thompson strode through Posh’s engine room time and time again, and was ultimately pulling the strings for his team. The ease at which Thompson bisected our midfield should have set alarm bells ringing, but we’ll talk about that later… It was in this period that Steve Evans expressed his displeasure at Chapman’s tardiness when releasing the ball, something that didn’t change, no matter how much the beleaguered Scot bellowed.
Posh tested ‘Pool’s defence rarely in the first half, and Marcus Maddison’s feeble free kick can barely be counted as a ‘test’; it’s now 31 months since the free-kick specialist, you know, scored a free-kick. Liam Feeney was part of the Cardiff team that won promotion to the Premier League last season, and his quality showed (albeit in glimpses) today; the 31 year old nearly broke the deadlock after sloppy defending, but Chapman tipped the shot wide. However, the scoreboard soon moved off of 0-0, and for the first time this season, Blackpool conceded to the home team. A full blooded tackle from ‘The New Steven Gerrard (circa. 2010)’ Jay Spearing led to a long range free kick, which was eventually put into the penalty area by Siriki Dembele. Centre back Rhys Bennett towered above the Blackpool defence (geddit? Geddit!?) to flick in his first Posh goal on the 27th minute.
Posh started to rest on their laurels and sat back. The Seasiders were inches away when Curtis Tilt powered a header onto the crossbar; had he *ahem* Curtis Tilted his head slightly more, Blackpool would have been level. We remained under the cosh as half time drew closer, with the long throws of Ollie Turton causing havoc for Posh: there were 4 separate opportunities to clear convincingly, all of which were fluffed by our far from convincing backline. Marcus Maddison rightfully attracted the wrath of his manager for his poor defensive efforts; a willingness to muck in is crucial to a Steve Evans side. Half time quickly arrived, and as low as the general quality was, Posh led at the interval.
It was quite clear that another goal was needed, and Posh restarted with all guns blazing. Jason Naismith forced an early corner from Marc Bola (whose parents missed a chance by not calling him ‘Tom’, or even ‘E’) yet the crucial second goal didn’t arrive. Our course perhaps wasn’t helped by Chapman’s continued slow distribution, as the frustration from Evans permeated the crowd, as sighs echoed around London Road whenever the ball ended up in his hands. It almost got worse for the former Accrington stopper, as he tried to feint his way past Armand Gnaduillet, and although Chapman couldn’t beat the Frenchman, we lucked out as the ball was won with far too much pace and resulted in a goal kick as Terry McPhillips’ side pushed on. While we’re on the subject, ‘Terry McPhillips’ is patently a moniker hastily created by a married bloke checking into a seedy hotel with a prostitute, rather than the real, proper name of an actual, legitimate person.
However, McPhillips’ side soon did get a foothold in the affair. The void in the middle of Posh’s midfield widened as fatigue set in; Alex Woodyard was impressive today and covers a lot of ground, but the consequences are inevitable when your middle 4 have two ultra-offensive wingers and an attacking midfielder 25 yards further on than his captain. That midfielder-Jamie Walker- was good this afternoon, but when he lost possession and Blackpool swarmed forwards, it was clear danger was imminent. As Blackpool sliced through our core, Nathan Delfouneso was played through well, beat Chapman, and put it on a plate for Gnaduillet to sweep home an equaliser, in spite of a hint of offside. 1-1. I always thought ‘The Golden Mile’ referred to the seafront at Blackpool, not the amount of pissing space we afforded them in midfield today. Posh almost retook the lead within seconds, as Ivan Toney burst forwards, but his vicious effort hit the underside of Mark Howard’s bar.
Steve Evans was rather reactive, rather than proactive today, and it took the ‘Pool goal for him to actually address a midfield that appeared at best to be paper thin. Mark O’Hara replaced the hard working-yet unrewarded- Matt Godden as we tried to regain a foothold. Evans’ decision was vindicated inside 180 seconds; a loose ball bobbled around the Blackpool defence, and the fresh legs of O’Hara made the most of it, as he flicked the ball away from Jay Spearing, set himself up, and unleashed an unbelievably clean strike into the top corner. 2-1 Posh. Was that the winner?
Don’t be so fucking daft. 2 minutes after the restart, Blackpool managed to score a goal that eclipsed O’Hara’s. Beautiful build up play between Gnaduillet and Delfouneso set up the latter, and the former Aston Villa man swept it past Chapman. Two all. Bollocks. And it could have gone from bad to worse, as a blatant handball on the halfway line went unpunished (to quote my dad: “the only way he didn’t use his arm then would be if he had tits”). The break that followed set up Jordan Thompson with an easy chance to put Blackpool 3-2 up. Incredibly, Thompson put the ball wide of Posh’s upright; had we conceded in such an unjust manner, I’m fairly sure Evans would have suffered some sort of rage-based brain haemorrhage.
And then, it all went a bit pear-shaped. Rhys Bennett and Colin Daniel both picked up idiotic yellow cards, the former’s being a tug on Delfouneso’s ankle whilst laying on the ground, which was cynical beyond words. The back four made some questionable decisions throughout the final 15, such as former Seasider Daniel seemingly forgetting he didn’t play for them anymore and passing their way at any given opportunity, and Jason Naismith deciding the best recipient for a loose ball was Alex Woodyard… Who was on the touchline, on his arse having won a tackle seconds earlier. Naismith was noticeably poor all afternoon; he was keen to get forward whenever possible (and he put a few good crosses in as a result in his defence), but when required to get back to quench any Blackpool attacks, he was crap, and frequently outpaced by Ivan Toney. I’d describe his attempts to get back as having as much conviction and urgency as Paul Pogba rushing to Jose Mourinho with a bucket of water if the Portuguese were to catch fire.
Posh did have opportunities though. Jason Cummings and Joe Ward were introduced by Evans, and our Forest loanee did well to escape his marker, although his effort was blocked well by Tilt. Blackpool had one further chance to steal all three points when Marcus Maddison was sloppy in allowing the ball to go out of play and then not bothering to mark his man from the throw in that followed; fortunately, Delfouneso dallied and Maddison could hook away before ‘Pool could drive forwards. Ryan Tafazolli picked up a knock and was struggling to move, but little could be done with all substitutions made. That could have had a negative impact given the pace the Blackpool attack possessed, although his injury could arguably have been the difference between 3 points and 1, as Iranian centre back Tafazolli couldn’t connect with a loose bouncing ball with minutes left. Naismith almost redeemed himself for a poor display when he unleashed a vicious swerving shot towards the Blackpool top corner. A thunderbastard of a winner looked inevitable, but Mark Howard palmed it away in style. And that was that. Full time. 2-2
It was a disappointing result, although it could have been far worse. The performance simply wasn’t good enough as a team, and the bold midfield selection didn’t work at all. Work must be done in training this week. And FAO Steve Evans, Paul Raynor and Mark Tyler: if you do nothing else before we play Sunderland, make sure you tell Aaron Chapman it is possible to kick the ball within half an hour of catching the bloody thing.
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James Bloodworth (jwb1997)