Another matchday, another 1-1 draw, with Baldwin’s header from a Leadbitter corner (sound familiar?) needed to rescue a point after Blackpool had taken the lead against the run of play in the first half. Thirteen draws is too many when we’re chasing a top two spot, so it’s not surprising that there are grumbles in the stands.
Fans had voiced their opinion on team selection and tactics, and on an unseasonably warm evening that had hats left in pockets and scarves loosened, Ross made the changes for the visit of the Seasiders, and we lined up:
O’Nien Dunne Baldwin James
Watmore Gooch McGeady
…at least, that’s what I thought it was, but the three behind Grigg shifted across and up and down, and the fullbacks pushed up as we kicked South….whatever it was, it allowed us to get two shots on target in the first two minutes, with the first, from Watmore after an exchange with McGeady, being pushed away for a corner. Leadbitter slung it in and had time to make it to a central position when it was cleared and his shot was accurate but straight at the keeper. At this stage, things were looking bright, and when Watmore used his pace to get clear down the right, his low cross just needed an outstretched boot – but none came. We got to about halfway through the half with lots of nearly things - still a lot more promising than at Oxford – but the game slipped into scrappiness for a while as Blackpool got a little bit more of the ball but signalled their intent by letting an easy pick-up for a defender roll behind for a goal kick and the keeper began his nonsense.
Dunne then had a Benno moment and galloped – strode, rather, you can’t gallop with legs that long – forward and hoofed a shot goalward, with the keeper electing not to move as the ball flew narrowly wide of his right hand post. The next five minutes were Blackpool keeping us at bay and have the odd moment going forward, and McLaughlin had to save a header at the expense of a corner, which we cleared comfortably. On the half hour, as we tried to move forward, Dunne was pushed over but the ref did well to play the advantage, and we burst through with Watmore going into the box and squaring it to Grigg to his left – we were out of our seats in anticipation as Will pulled the trigger, but the keeper got down well to smother the shot. Should have scored – and you know what happens when you miss a good chance like that.
Aye, the opposition go straight down the other end and score, with our defence allowing the big centre forward time to sort his feet out and hit a low drive into the corner from well outside the box. Aw, give over Lads. To be fair to the players, they didn’t let their heads drop and went for the equaliser immediately, and there were big shouts when O’Nien went down in the box as he chased the ball to the by-line, but the ref was having none of it. After McGeady had won another corner, we were awarded a free kick in a perfect position for him – a couple of yards outside the box, inside left area. As our big defenders came forward and jostled for position, Aiden curled a typical effort over the wall and it glanced off the outside of the post, with the keeper again rooted to the spot.
We got to half time still trailing, and could have been two down when their lad put a header wide when it was easier to hit the target, and the single added minute was a ridiculously short amount of time considering they’d had to make an early substitution after their lad spent an age on the deck receiving treatment that eventually forced him off.
Much of the break was spent discussing what Ross should do in terms of personnel, shape, and tactics, but the same eleven started the second half, with Blackpool the livelier side in the opening exchanges. There was a big shout for a Blackpool penalty, which looked like it was worth shouting for from my seat a hundred yards away, but the ref had a good look and gave nothing. The visitors had another chance soon after, as we let their centre forward waltz past our defence to shoot wide.
The gaffer gave it eight minutes before bringing on Wyke for Gooch, and adopting a traditional 4 4 2 formation, and soon after Watmore came in from the left, where he’d moved for the second period, and fired just wide. He kept running, and created a chance for Wyke, but Charlie’s shot was charged down and the loose ball was cleared. Isn’t it funny (peculiar, not ha ha) that when things aren’t going exactly to plan, all the bounces seem to favour the other team? Aye, that was tonight. When you’re cruising, everything drops for you, the loose balls end up on a Sunderland foot, and the bounces go against the opposition. Not tonight. Just after the hour, McGeady made way for Morgan, who took up residence on the left, and five minutes later we should have won it. Grigg burst into the box down the inside left channel, left the defender for dead, and went round the keeper – then fired into the side netting as we were already in the air celebrating. Oh, Will. An absolute sitter, but at least the crowd didn’t get on his back and there was a fair old noise of encouragement (mixed with disbelief, obviously). The team responded by keeping Blackpool in their own half, and created a couple of chances for Wyke, both of which were blocked. Surely one of our efforts would get past the keeper before long, and there were more corners – and a crucial one on 75, with Leadbitter putting it right in the danger area and Baldwin nodding it down and in. Gerrin, let’s have another.
Then it got a bit silly, time wasting style. First the keeper was warned after he took and age to get the ball off the roof of the net, then their lad sat down. The ref had a look, and told him to get up or get off. He waved the physio off, the lad walked almost to the touchline, and sat down again. It was well worthy of a yellow card, but a warning was all he got, then a Blackpool player knocked the ball back into the crowd rather than take the throw in. Nonsense.
O’Nien had taken a couple of whacks, and when the board was held up for a substitution, he jogged across the field only to see James’s number illuminate, with Flanagan coming on and we basically went three at the back and piled forward. Piled forward, but largely ran into their defence. A Wyke header was saved, a Leadbitter free-kick went a yard over, and a Watmore effort was smothered by the keeper. One of those nights. At least the time-keeper had been looking at his watch in the second half, and gave us six whole added minutes to keep at it, but the second goal wouldn’t come, and there was a fair amount of negative noises when the whistle went.
We’re still fourth, we’ve still only lost two, we created something like seventeen chances tonight, and we’ve scored in every game – there’s the positives. We’ve drawn thirteen, and it’s an age since we scored more than one, and there was quite often a big gap between central midfield and the front man/men, and we only converted one of seventeen chances – there’s the negatives. We have two more home games in quick succession to get things flying again.
Man of the Match?
Watmore lasted the whole game, was as fast at the end as the beginning, and that pace was a constant threat – but he didn’t score. Leadbitter was again the organiser, pointing, shouting, and delivering another corner that set up our goal. Honeyman, in the deeper role alongside him that some had been suggesting, kept things moving as well as anyone. Leadbitter gets my vote.
Come on Lads, it’s not quite “save the season” time – but anything less than two wins from two and it will be, even if it is just “save us from the play-offs.” After a long season, the last thing we need is another three games, although it would be mightily preferable to finishing seventh and where the honest ones amongst us thought we’d get before the season started.