Promising debut for McPhee as Pool let victory slip away

Last updated : 20 January 2008 By John Secker

The turning point in this game, ironically enough, was the harsh sending-off of the Ipswich fullback Sito. Before that point Blackpool had been in comfortable control, but afterwards, and especially after they missed an easy chance moments later, the game tilted towards the visitors. Indeed at times in the last ten minutes Blackpool were hanging on, their shape and game plan in tatters. It is a shame that this final phase will be the lasting memory of this game, because up to then it had been a good performance by Blackpool, featuring a very encouraging home debut by Stephen McPhee. Coming a week after the drubbing by Charlton this was back to normal form, but it is a shame that they could not hold on for the victory.

It was a sodden Bloomfield Road which greeted the visitors from Suffolk this afternoon, although the worst of the rain had passed. Ipswich, undefeated at home, have yet to win on their travels, and have only managed four draws, so Blackpool were hopeful of a result to banish memories of last week's defeat at the Valley. They made one change, giving a home debut and first start to their new signing, Stephen McPhee, alongside Burgess in attack. There was no place for Jackson, with Evatt and Gorkss in the centre of the defence. Within a minute of the kickoff McPhee endeared himself to the home crowd, taking a ball up the right, running at the defence into the box, and then firing in a shot which went wide of the near post.

This was no flash in the pan, and McPhee followed up with several more moves which make him look like a very good signing. He is fast, perhaps as fast as Parker, but with far better ball control. He is not Hoolahan, but he does have the ability to hold the ball in tight situations, push it past defenders and beat them for pace - at one point he found himself surrounded on the right touchline, somehow smuggled the ball out and set off up the wing with a pack of four defenders chasing him. He is also very strong for his height, and was often able to win and control a high ball dropping to him against a much bigger opponent.

In the early stages it was mostly Blackpool on the attack, with a couple of offside decisions going against them, wrongly it seemed. Crainey took a free kick on the left, and Ian Evatt stole behind the defence to get onto the end of it. He struck the ball past the keeper but it hit the post, with the offside flag already raised. A more blatant error came when a neat diagonal ball from Hoolahan between two defenders looked to have put Taylor-Fletcher clear on the right in the box, but the flag went up again. Taylor-Fletcher did well a little later to beat his man on the right wing and put over a good cross. Burgess met this about eight yards out and powered a header back towards the right hand post but, with the keeper beaten, it went just outside the target. A little later Taylor-Fletcher put over another cross for Burgess, but this time the header was straight at the keeper.

Ipswich had been showing very little attacking form in this spell, with their only real chance coming when Crainey misjudged a header back to Rachubka, and an attacker threatened to get to it for an easy shot. Gorkss managed to use his long legs to get a saving tackle in and fire the ball away. In another attack the Ipswich centre forward charged straight into Rachubka, long after the keeper had caught the ball, and then fell to the ground and spent the next few minutes moaning to the referee. Generally Ipswich found it very hard to penetrate and their star player, Haynes, was well matched by Crainey, who had another excellent game.

The half was nearing its end when an Ipswich move broke down, with Hoolahan winning the ball in his own half. He played it to Burgess, who in turn pushed it forward to McPhee, running up the left. McPhee, Jorgensen and Taylor-Fletcher all looked to be offside but the linesman did not flag, and McPhee raced onto the ball, holding off a defender, and running in towards goal. The keeper came out towards him, and at the last moment McPhee slipped the ball sideways into the centre of the goalmouth, where Jorgensen was entirely unmarked, with the simple task of knocking it into the empty net. Ipswich protested, and it was clear that most of the crowd thought they had a point, but the goal stood and Blackpool celebrated.

The home team continued to dominate, and could easily have extended their lead before the break. A quick pass from Jorgensen to McPhee's feet on the right, he controlled it and took it up the wing, but the cross was headed clear. Then Hoolahan, who had started quietly but became more influential, set up Flynn for a shot, but he could not keep it down. So it was that the teams went in with the score at 1-0, but Blackpool clearly well on top.

This situation continued after the interval, with Blackpool now kicking towards the North stand. Again McPhee was involved in several good moves, at one point taking on the defence out on the right wing. He beat his man and ran into the box, but with players waiting in the middle a good tackle managed to block his cross. On another attack, started by Hoolahan up the left, the ball was played across the front of the box to Taylor-Fletcher in the centre. He beat several people and looked to be setting himself for a shot, but a last ditch tackle took the ball from him. At the other end Ipswich showed a flash of danger with a shot from an angle on their left which fizzed across the face of goal but just missed the far post.

Just after the hour, Ipswich were on the attack up their right, but it was stopped and the ball came to Hoolahan, half way to the centre line. He was fouled by the right back, a two footed tackle but not over the ball and not looking particularly dangerous. However referees have been instructed to crack down on these tackles, and the red card came out. Oddly this was the only card of any colour for both teams - the game was played generally in a very good spirit.

While Ipswich were still regrouping Blackpool mounted an attack up the left. Burgess took it near the corner of the area and swung over a curving ball towards the far post. McPhee met it, jumping right in front of the open goal, and although he made good contact he somehow managed to drive the ball wide of the left hand post, when it seemed easier to find the net.

This is the sort of miss that is often punished, and so it proved. A couple of minutes later Blackpool conceded a soft corner on their right. The cross was hard and met, near the penalty spot, by an unmarked forward. He produced an excellent header which gave Rachubka no chance, hitting the underside of the bar and bouncing down and into the goal.

Blackpool pushed forward in search of the lead again, and soon afterwards they won a corner on the left. Hoolahan hit it some yards out from the near post where it was met by Gorkss, running in on it. He took it well and it was flying towards goal, but the keeper dived across and made a great one-handed save, turning the ball over the bar. After this Blackpool began to lose their shape progressively, and at times they found themselves clinging to their single point. Instead of using their man advantage by passing and running they were increasingly hitting long balls upfield, playing poor passes which were easily intercepted, and generally making things difficult for themselves. Taylor-Fetcher had been struggling after going down and getting some treatment, and he was replaced by Welsh, but the substitute never really made a mark. He had plenty of space and time out on the right wing, but almost every cross was far too close to the keeper, an easy catch and a wasted opportunity. On another attack into the Ipswich area Hoolahan played the ball short to McPhee but after controlling it he was a moment too slow in taking a shot and the saving tackle came. Blackpool were starting to have more pressure again, but they could not make it count in terms of chances, with both Flynn and Jorgensen guilty of hitting shots from range far too high, despite having plenty of time to line them up. With fifteen minutes to go Andy Morrell was introduced, replacing McPhee. This was a curious decision, as the Scot had always looked likely to make things happen, and a better choice would have been Burgess, who looked a little slow today. The high ball was not working, and I would have liked to see Morrell working in combination with McPhee. In the final minutes Fox came on for Flynn, a straight swap, but Blackpool could not find the breakthrough. Hoolahan probably came closest, creating a little space for himself with a neat touch outside the box, right of centre, but his hard shot just skimmed over the bar. Into injury time and they continued to press for the win, but still far too many crosses were easy for the keeper, and in the end the whistle went with honours even.

This was no disaster, Ipswich are a good side, but they were there to be beaten and Blackpool will regret this as two points dropped. Gorkss and Crainey were excellent, and Taylor-Fletcher had a good game, but apart from that nobody really shone. McPhee's debut was very promising, though, and as he slots into the team, gets match fit and settles down he could prove to be a real gem.

Team (4-4-2): Rachubka, Barker (Capt), Evatt, Gorkss, Crainey, Taylor-Fletcher (Welsh 74), Jorgensen, Flynn (Fox 84), Hoolahan, Burgess, McPhee (Morell 78)