22 November 2014 – Blackpool (7-3-7, 11th place) v Bolton Wanderers (13-2-2, 2nd place)
Championship Match Day #18 – Bloomfield Road, Blackpool
Once again, we woke up in second place in the Championship, due to Fulham’s 2-0 win at Brentford the day before. This was our match in hand, and we needed to win away to regain the pole position.
It’s only a forty-minute drive on the M6 and M55 to the Irish Sea coast, so we didn’t have to worry about travel arrangements. We stayed at the Whites Hotel the night before the match and took a coach to Blackpool at 8:00 to play.
There was a real air of anticipation outside the ground, and among the Blackpool faithful who gathered to jeer at our coach as we wound our way from Park Road to Bloomfield Road, which is about three kilometres from the Irish Sea coast.
The street which gives the stadium its name virtually bisects the city’s Central and South piers, reaching the sea at the famous Blackpool Promenade.
But today, though, the natives along the Golden Mile were starting to get a bit restless. It was my job to make sure they stayed that way.
After a surprisingly strong start to the season, the Seasiders have fallen upon comparatively hard times, as I have previously mentioned. Yet Riga isn’t the guy who is taking the fall – it’s owner Owen Oyston and his son, chairman Karl.
Somehow, Blackpool started the friendly season with only eight players under contract, forcing the club to cancel its pre-season tour of Spain. The fact that Blackpool is anywhere but dead last in the table at this point is a minor miracle, and the Oystons took great heat for it.
It’s been bad enough that some supporters walked out of Bloomfield Road in the 53rd minute of the club’s 0-1 home loss to Cardiff in October, with the reference being to 1953, the year of the famous “Matthews Final”, in which the club last won the FA Cup. Unfortunately for the Oyston’s optics, the 53rd minute was four minutes after the Bluebirds’ Anthony Pilkington scored the only goal of the match.
So the supporters weren’t happy. And this was when the club was still playing well. Since that date, they’ve won once in six matches and scored four goals.
Owen Oyston has been accused of siphoning money out of the club, a charge he steadfastly denies. As proof, he points to midfielder Jose Cubero, one of only two players the club spent money to purchase in the last two years. Oyston claims Blackpool have no debt, and he’s probably right – but the club training complex at Squires Gate is considered substandard and, laughably to a Bolton man, still carries a sign over it which reads, and I kid you not, “Blackpool Football Club Centre of Excellance.”
Poor spelling aside, we lined up this way to take on another of our local rivals:
Bolton Wanderers (4-1-3-2): Bogdán: McNaughton, Dervite, Mills, Tierney, Spearing (captain), Hall, Vela, Moxey, C. Davies, Clough. Subs: Lonergan, Vermijl, Ream, Pratley, M. Davies, Chung-Yong, Beckford.
I was pleased to have Pratley on the bench. He’s battled injuries all season and he’s finally at match fitness so in the young man came. Wheater will join him as soon as he’s able to make it through a reserve match without setback.
I should have figured that, for all his bluster about us having a ‘weak link’, Riga would set out a side that was largely negative in scope. They played a 4-2-2-2 with two anchor men, and that was apparent from the kickoff. They were going to wait for us and then try to counter.
But the two behind the strikers were wingers with a backtracking mentality, so with no one in the centre of the park, they ceded dominance in an important area fairly early on. Their plan seemed wholly defensive, and minute after minute passed in almost complete, stultifying boredom. It was going to take something special to wake up the fans and, to a lesser extent, the players.
My repeated cajoling to wake up and concentrate didn’t seem to help much, until it became apparent that the first player on either team who snapped out of it would give his team a huge advantage.
Thankfully for us, it was Moxey. With Chung-Yong on the bench resting from his international exertions, Hall had been moved over to the opposite side and made things happen despite playing on the side opposite his stronger foot.
His cross found Moxey in space in the penalty area and he hit what is now one of his trademark volleys into the lower left corner of Joe Lewis’ goal four minutes before the interval.
We had controlled play, but a goal was just what the doctor ordered because it allowed me to give an upbeat team talk at the intermission.
I was especially interested in firing up Clough, who had worked hard but been bottled up by the Blackpool defence and one of the holding midfielders.
“They don’t think you can do it,” I chided. “They’re wrong, but you need to show them. Now, go do it.”
The teenager smiled and prepared to get to his task. His confidence is high and even if he couldn’t score, I wanted him to have a strong performance so I could publicly back him against Riga’s charge after the match.
The second half kicked off and it took us exactly nineteen seconds to threaten. Spearing found Craig Davies through the middle and the veteran forward strode forward, drawing both holding midfielders onto him.
That opened up space and immediately Davies slid the ball right, onto the very intelligent diagonal run of … Clough, who whipped a quick shot past Lewis and home for the goal vital to his confidence and our chances.
That’s one of the things I love about young players. Sometimes, they not only do what you tell them to do, they do it quickly.
The second goal was a punch to Blackpool’s solar plexus and it did serve to wake them up a bit. They moved to a flat 4-4-2 and started to get forward a bit, trying to get Delfouneso and Nile Ranger free in our area. We had bottled them up pretty easily due to lack of service in the first half, and what Fulham had failed to do to Blackpool in ninety minutes, we had done twice in 46.
But then they came forward with purpose, and midfielder David Perkins found space down the right to get to the byline. He crossed for Delfouneso, who was well marked by Dorian Dervite.
Too well, as it turned out. The cross went off Dorian’s outstretched leg and my defender put through his own goal to get them back into the match in 52 minutes.
Dervite looked devastated. Bogdán, for his part, took it with good grace.
He picked the defender up off the floor and gave him a swat on the behind and a muss of his hair to get him back into the match. We still led, but anything that got them back into the match was anathema to me and obviously to Dervite as well.
Yet, the defender held up well mentally despite his own goal. That was very gratifying to see. He stood tall against Ranger and against his eventual replacement, Tom Barkhuizen. Their 4-4-2 was really no match for us as our strength and depth eventually began to tell.
It didn’t take long for us to restore order, though, as well as our two-goal lead. Just before the hour mark, we got a corner to Allen’s right, in front of the new Jimmy Armfield Stand. Spearing took it, and instead of going into the six-yard box as I generally prefer, he pulled the corner back to Vela at the top of the eighteen.
The midfielder controlled the ball with a very deft first touch and rifled an unstoppable right-footed shot between Allen’s fingertips and Tony McMahon, who was guarding the right goal post but had no chance to react.
It was a super strike, Vela’s second goal of the season, and it restored us to a 3-1 advantage. With Blackpool looking toothless, I was able to get Moxey out of the game in 69 minutes after he took a good, hard whack from Dion Charles that saw him slow to get up.
Able to risk it because of the score, I simply switched Hall from right to left and brought in Chung-Yong, asking him for twenty good minutes which he gave with no problems at all.
When it was done, it had been easy. In fact, we had scored all four of the goals, and since we had won, we could (gently) kid Dervite about his finishing skills.
Match Summary: Bogdán: McNaughton, Dervite, Mills, Tierney, Spearing, Hall, Vela (Ream 84), Moxey (Chung-Yong 69), C. Davies (Beckford 84), Clough. Unused subs: Lonergan, Vermijl, Pratley, M. Davies.
Blackpool 1 (Dervite o/g 52)
Bolton Wanderers 3 (Moxey 41, Clough 46, Vela 58)
A – 17,000, Bloomfield Road, Blackpool
Man of the Match: Dean Moxey, Bolton (MR 8.9)
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