Another home defeat, and another game which leaves Blackpool claiming with some justification that they deserved more. Stoke, while living up to their billing of Land of the Giants, were also pretty skilful giants, and at times they looked very good indeed. However Blackpool only conceded goals when they made basic errors in defence, and unfortunately they made three. The point was that Stoke punished them clinically, while at the other end Blackpool piled on the pressure, broke into the box again and again, but either failed to set up a chance or missed it when they did. Some of Blackpool's play was excellent, with commitment and drive, especially late in the game, but with no end result it all went to waste. Even Shan Barker's late goal served only to emphasise how different it might have been if Blackpool had taken just a few of their many chances. Stoke are one of the best sides we have seen here this season, and Blackpool gave as good as they got for most of the game and across most of the pitch - but this is not the first time this has been said and in the end goals are what matters, and Blackpool are just not converting their chances into goals.
Goalscorer Michael Flynn celebrates
Blackpool made two tactical changes this afternoon specifically to combat the notorious height of the entire Stoke team, with Ian Evatt starting in place of Jackson, and Slusarski replacing Parker. Jackson's move was purely tactical, he has been playing well, but the fact that Parker was not even on the bench suggests that his weak displays and lack of goals also had something to do with it. The third change, the return of Wes Hoolahan after a back strain kept him out of the Cardiff game, was inevitable - as long as he is fit Hoolahan must start, the only truly flair player in the squad.
Blackpool, kicking towards the north stand, started brightly. Instead of the usual hoof into touch, they played the ball out to the right wing, where Taylor-Fletcher hit a good cross into the box. Slusarski's effort was blocked and dropped to Burgess a little wider on the left. He hit the shot on the half-volley, but he drove it just wide of the left hand post.
In its early stages the game was end-to-end, and Stoke's attack soon showed that they had a lot of skill as well as height. They broke quickly, and ran at the defence with great speed and control, but happily when the ball was played into the centre the defenders dealt with it well, most notably Gorkss and Evatt, who had an excellent game. The giant Sidibe always looked dangerous, as did Ricardo Fuller, who was, of course, booed incessantly as an ex-Deepdale player. He got involved in Stoke's first serious threat when a shot came in from outside the box. Fuller, who looked offside, stepped over the ball right in front of Rachubka, but the Blackpool keeper kept his eye on it and gathered cleanly. No flag came, so presumably if the ball had gone in they would have said Fuller was "not interfering".
After fifteen minutes of hectic play, Blackpool won a free kick in the middle, about ten yards outside the area. Crainey took it, but it hit the wall and bobbled back out. Flynn met it just outside the box and struck a hard shot, keeping it low, and it flew past the keeper's right hand into the net. It was an excellent strike, and the first time Blackpool have scored in the first 30 minutes of a game all season.
Only a few minutes later Flynn had a chance to make it two when Hoolahan rolled a nice ball across the face of the box, but this time the midfielder got underneath it and it went over the bar and into the stands. However Stoke were pushing hard for an equaliser, and Rachubka had to make a couple of good saves from shots inside the box. However on the hour Blackpool conceded a free kick just outside the box, wide on the right. There were just two men in the wall, allowing Rachubka a clear view of the shot. It was hit hard, swinging from right to left, and while the Blackpool keeper got a hand to it he did not send it very far, and it dropped to Fuller in space outside the far post. The Stoke striker touched the ball back slightly to give himself a better angle, then blasted it into the roof of the net.
This was something of a soft goal, but worse was to come only three minutes later. Stoke won a corner on the left, and it was swung in, dropping about six yards out from the near post. Here it found two or three Stoke players running in with no markers close, and it was a simple task for one of them to head it past Rachubka into the net. It was the one moment when the organisation of the centre of defence broke down, and they were punished for it.
The rest of the first half was more Stoke than Blackpool, who were happy to survive another five minutes or so and go in to regroup.
They came out after the break with more determination, and throughout the second half they were more or less on top. This was not easy, Stoke were still big, fast and strong, but Blackpool worked hard and found their passing touch quite well. After a few minutes they created a double chance when Hoolahan set up Burgess in the box, but his shot was saved, and Hoolahan hit the rebound back at the keeper. Burgess created another chance for himself when he cut into the box from just right of centre and made enough space for a shot, but his attempt to curve it over and around the keeper did not have enough bend on and it flew wide. Blackpool were pushing into the box all the time now, but all too often the fans were left frustrated as the home players twisted and turned, trying to set up a solid shot, but were eventually dispossessed.
As happens all too often, when Blackpool were enjoying one of their best spells of the game, disaster struck. Jorgensen played a poor pass across the centre of the field and it was intercepted, with the ball being pushed quickly forward up the middle, allowing Fuller to run through with only Rachubka to beat. Unfortunately for Blackpool his scoring boots were well and truly on form, and he fired his shot past the keeper and into the net.
After a minute or two of shock Blackpool picked up the pressure again, and once more started to try to penetrate the defence. A double substitution was made, with Fox and Morrell replacing Jorgensen and Slusarski. The pressure continued, a header looped close to the Stoke right hand post, and then Morrell had an excellent chance to get one back, when Burgess rose well in the box to win a knock-down. Morrell pounced on it and made space for himself, but then he drilled his shot wide of the post. Fox fitted in well, in fact the midfield was performing nicely to get the ball forward, but still they could not get a telling shot in. Hoolahan had several runs in various parts of the penalty area, but rarely found the right angle for his left foot, and when he did his shot was not strong. After a good first half the referee was losing control, and a Stoke defender was booked for using his elbow on Burgess, while the Blackpool player was also booked, apparently for looking cross.
Time was running out now, and Grayson played his last card, replacing Taylor-Fletcher with Welsh. This did not look like an obvious winner, Welsh is not the player for a physical side like Stoke. However within a couple of minutes Blackpool won a corner on the right, it was taken short and Welsh played a cross to the far post where Barker rose well and planted his header firmly home.
Five minutes were added, and Blackpool pushed forward seeking the equaliser. A handball gave them a free kick out on the left, Fox touched it sideways to Flynn but his low hard shot was always going wide to the left. There was still time for more drama - Morrell, running down the right and trying to cut in towards goal was sent flying by a waist-high tackle, this by the defender who had been booked for the foul on Burgess. Astonishingly the referee decided to take no action and he stayed on the pitch. The free kick was headed away, and that was Blackpool's last meaningful opportunity gone. They had given it a good shot, but in the end they had no reward. Coventry is coming up next week, and if there is no joy there then it will be a depressing Christmas at Bloomfield Road, with more turkey than cracker.
Team (4-4-2): Rachubka, Barker (Capt), Evatt, Gorkss, Crainey, Hoolahan, Jorgensen (Fox 66), Flynn, Taylor-Fletcher (Welsh 88), Burgess, Slusarski (Morrell 66)