For the first time since last March, Blackpool failed to score today, and while they also kept a clean sheet and their unbeaten home record, they may rue these two dropped points by the end of the season. Plymouth were a well organised and physical side, but they had no special threat and this really should have been the game to put Blackpool back on winning ways. Despite the problems with Evatt's injury and Gorkss' suspension the defence, strengthened by another M Jackson, did well. The problem lies with midfield, where both Southern and Fox are looking short of confidence, resulting in little constructive play through the middle and too many hopeful long balls. Despite this Blackpool created two or three perfect chances, including one which hit the post, and on a more fortunate day they would have run out comfortable winners.
The visit of Plymouth Argyle to Bloomfield Road this afternoon began with a minute's silence in memory of Bill Perry, observed immaculately by both sets of fans. In the bright autumn sunshine Blackpool revealed their on-loan response to the loss of two central defenders - Matt Jackson, a veteran defender currently with Wigan but with several clubs including Everton and Norwich in his past. He was good and solid, nothing spectacular but no serious errors either and a very acceptable stopgap. This meant that Barker was able to remain in his best position, at right back, with Crainey returning from injury to replace Coid on the left. After two games of 4-5-1 Blackpool reverted to their preferred 4-4-2, with Taylor-Fletcher, Southern, Fox and Hoolahan in midfield and Parker and Morrell up front.
The game kicked off with Blackpool attacking the south end of the ground, and the pattern was established early. The Plymouth midfield were playing well for each other, passing accurately and setting up plenty of attacking opportunities, while their Blackpool opposite numbers did not have the confidence to hold the ball and look for a constructive pass. Hoolahan was the exception to this, and he had one of his most active games for some time, being the source of most of the creative play that Blackpool put together. However for the most part when the home team gained possession the result was usually a hopeful long ball up the middle for Morrell's head, or up the wing for Parker to chase.
That having been said, the balance of chances was in fact in Blackpool's favour, because Plymouth found it very difficult to break down the defence when they reached it, and many crosses into the box were dealt with comfortably. Very early on what looked like a foul on Hoolahan was allowed to go on and the winger took the ball into a dangerous position, but his cross was cut out. Plymouth won several corners, but they were cleared, and it was not until much later in the half that a serious chance was created.
At the other end Blackpool's pressure, erratic as it was, made the Plymouth defence look very shaky at times. In one attack Parker pushed up the wing as the keeper came to kick the ball, and his hurried clearance sliced very close to Morrell, in the open in front of goal. Several times Parker was given offside by what must have been the narrowest of margins, to put it charitably - the linesman at that end was very poor. Twice Blackpool had possession inside the box, but as they passed it to try to set up a shot it was intercepted each time. The first really good chance came when a corner on the right was cleared out to Fox, who had an opportunity to play a good cross into the box. His first effort was poor, low and straight to a defender, but the clearance came straight back to him, and this time he whipped in a much better effort. Low and hard, it sliced in behind the defence to Barker, who had stepped into space on the near post, only a few yards out. He only needed to get a touch on the ball, to deflect it into the net, but he hit a full-blooded shot which skied well over the bar.
Not long after this Morrell won a free kick right of centre, about ten yards outside the box. Crainey took it and struck it well, but it cannoned off the wall. Next Parker took a pass on the right wing, beat a man and hit a shot over the defence beyond the far post, where it dropped to Hoolahan. He had so much time that he might have done better to trap it and set up a shot, but he tried to place the volley and put it much too high.
Plymouth were a more physical side than most we have seen in the Championship, and while the referee applied good advantage on a couple of occasions early on, he seemed less willing to protect the Blackpool players as time went by. He completely missed an elbow in Jackson's face, and a couple of minutes later Taylor-Fletcher was felled by a player who jumped across him and caught him with an arm to the side of his head. He was down for some time for treatment and was clearly shaken, but the referee did not even deem this a foul. Not long afterwards Crainey was caught by a head-high boot and again had to undergo treatment, but not even a yellow card was shown.
As half time approached there were two great chances, one at each end. First Plymouth attacked up their left, and a neat pass put the winger in for a shot across goal. Rachubka saved well, but the ball bounced loose in the middle of the area, landing perfectly for an attacker who was running in, but with the goal at his mercy he pulled his shot outside the left-hand post. Then after another Plymouth attack Blackpool cleared the ball up the middle, Parker knocked it to Morrell who lobbed it forward perfectly for Fox, who had beaten the offside trap and was now clear, reaching the dropping ball just ahead of the keeper who had rushed out of his area. Fox could have done several things - touched the ball past the keeper, taken it sideways or even headed it, but unfortunately what he tried to do was scoop it over the keeper, who was very close, and in doing so he scooped it many yards wide of the goal.
After the break, and Blackpool were playing with a little more purpose and composure, with a number of controlled passing moves which we had not seen at all in the first half. They were by no means dominating the game, but they had more possession, and the home defence were comfortable, with Blackpool looking the more likely to score. Taylor-Fletcher had a better game in this half, especially when he swapped sides with Hoolahan and linked up with Crainey. However Hoolahan was still by far the outstanding player for Blackpool, with the ball seeming to stick to his boots whenever he received a pass, and he regularly beat two, three of more players. However his big failing remains a reluctance to pull the trigger, and several times a good cross or even a shot could have come, but he held on too long and was smothered. In the first part of the second half, while Blackpool were on top, the Plymouth keeper did not have too many saves to make, as crosses fell in empty space, and final passes on the edge of the box were repeatedly cut out.
Over a period of ten minutes Plymouth made three substitutions, including Lee Martin, on loan from Man Utd, who looked sharp. Blackpool waited until the 70th minute to start making changes, the first being to replace Morrell with Vernon. I am not happy with this move - while Morrell was clearly tiring he is the one genuine goal scorer that Blackpool possess, and with a breakthrough badly needed I would have preferred to leave him on the pitch. The breakthrough nearly came, however, when Blackpool had a corner on the right. It was taken short and then chipped to Barker, who headed on to Southern at the far post - he had the goal at his mercy but he failed to put it in, deflecting it just enough to hit the post and come out.
Not long after this Southern was substituted, with Jorgensen coming on, but this did not make a big difference. Plymouth had a number of attacks, one of which led to a long range shot, low to Rachubka's left - he dived and turned it around the post. A couple of corners caused nervousness, but each time the defence managed to get to the loose ball first. Hoolahan was involved in defence many times, often taking the ball out with tricky dribbles which promised disaster if he lost it, but today he made no mistakes. In attack, Blackpool were now starting to look a little desperate for a goal, with Parker and Fox both making space for a shot and hitting rather feeble efforts which were not trouble for the keeper - Parker also tried for a curving ball to the top corner, memories of his Wembley goal, but it was much too weak. Wes dribbled up the middle, beat nearly the whole defence, but then failed to shoot or cross, was driven wide and eventually lost it entirely. They won a couple of free kicks some distance from the area - at the first Hoolahan was booked for taking the kick while the referee was pacing out ten yards for the wall, and both kicks were cleared after scrambles in the box. In another scramble the ball came out to Hoolahan on the edge of the area, but he had no time to set up the shot and it went wide.
With five minutes left Andy Welsh replaced Taylor-Fletcher, and his first involvement was to get a yellow card for clipping the heels of Martin who had got past him on a run up the wing. However the next move was more impressive - chasing a ball up the left wing he touched it inside the fullback and ran outside, catching the ball in space. His first touch seemed to be too wide, but this only made space for an extravagant second move when he swerved inside the central defender who was covering, and into the box. The position was perfect and he pulled a pass back along the ground across the middle of the area, but there was no-one there to plant it in the net. This was the last really good chance for either side, and while there was a corner or two at each end, the game subsided with honours even.
Two points dropped, and a two week wait until the next opportunity, another home game with Crystal Palace the visitors - and that is now looking like a game that Blackpool really need to win.
Teams (4-4-2): Rachubka, Barker, Michael Jackson (Capt), Matt Jackson, Crainey, Taylor-Fletcher (Welsh 85), Southern (Jorgensen 76), Fox, Hoolahan, Morrell (Vernon 70), Parker
Subs not used: Coid, Flynn