Neil Critchley is under no illusions that Blackpool are up against it. They are back in the Championship after five seasons in League One and a single year in League Two, but few are giving the north-west club a chance of prolonging their stay back in England’s second tier.
It’s worth remembering that Blackpool were in the Premier League just over a decade ago; the first time in which they had been in the top flight since their only previous foray in 1970. This is a very different Blackpool, however, to the one that spent a season hobnobbing with the elite.
Two years ago, the 32-year reign of the Oyston family as the owners of the club ended rather acrimoniously. The tensions between the family and the supporters had grown worse after Blackpool failed to pro-long their single-season stay in the Premier League. Fans turned their backs on the club and made their voices heard by not turning up.
It is, therefore, quite a different picture with Simon Sadler now as the new owner and Critchley, the former U23s manager at Liverpool, in the dugout. Last season’s promotion and return to the Championship for the first time in six seasons represented a great achievement for the club in its current guise. But the task of staying up is going to be tough.
It was always going to be a challenge
The Championship is always a competitive division, both at the top and the bottom, and Blackpool are somewhat fortunate to find themselves in the current campaign alongside a Derby County team in disarray with their own ownership issues. Yet still the gap between League One and Championship football must be bridged if Blackpool are to continue their mini-revival.
“You can feel it on the side of the pitch, there is a big difference between League One and the Championship in the quality of the play, the physicality and the speed,” Critchley said. “You have to think quicker with and without the ball and you get tested all over the pitch.”
The Lancashire club are yet to win after three games back in the Championship; drawing with Bristol City in their opening game before losing two home games to Cardiff City and Coventry City. The challenge will not ease in the short-term with matches against promotion hopefuls Bournemouth and Fulham being two of their next three league games.
“You have to be competitive in all moments of games and all areas of the pitch,” Critchley continued. “You have to do the basics extremely well. What happens in both penalty areas is really decisive and we haven’t been quite good enough at the moment.
“Without stating the obvious, you’re playing against players who are technically a little bit better, physically a little bit better. But it’s not something I or the players weren’t aware of.”
Missed chances may come back to bite
Blackpool managed 12 attempts at goal in the one-goal defeat to Coventry on Tuesday evening and edged the second-half after falling behind deep in first-half stoppage-time. Despite chance creation coming rather easily, especially down the right through Josh Bowler, quality in the final third was lacking.
Their expected goals (xG) measure for the opening three games stands at -0.12, the worst in the division, and suggests that focus needs to be placed on taking the goalscoring chances that come their way.
The squad is made up of a lot of players who were either at clubs lower down in the Championship or have come from League One. There is an acknowledgment that more transfer business may have to be conducted before the deadline. The marque signing thus far being Championship stalwart centre-back Richard Keogh.
Yet, what Blackpool lack in quality they try to make up for in application and effort. Bloomfield Road’s attendance stood at over 11,500 for the Coventry game and the encouragement from the home crowd continued until CJ Hamilton skied an opportunity to equalise from 15 yards out in the game’s final seconds.
“The games are following a bit of a familiar pattern at the moment. The two home games at least,” Critchley added. “We were second best for 25 minutes to half an hour of the game and their shape and the way they played caused us problems.
“The effort was there and the application was there, [in the second half] we played on the front foot with plenty of energy. I can’t fault the players, we created a lot of chances but we didn’t take them and if you don’t take your chances you lose games of football.”