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A comeback story - Interview
Thursday, 4th Nov 2021 23:10 by Clive Whittingham

After a shaky start to life back in the Championship, Blackpool are now flying and we’ve asked Poolies @OneDaveBamber and @BlackpoolJane to take us through one of football’s great comeback stories.

For those that don't know, take us through how Blackpool have clawed their way back from the rock bottom they reached?

JS: We’ve got a new owner who is turning the club around. We’re really investing in young players with good attitudes and work ethic and have a great coach in Neil Critchley (formerly of Liverpool U23s) who knows how to coach and develop them.

ODB: It’s been an incredible change in fortunes really. This time three years ago the majority of Blackpool fans were still boycotting the club in a bid to force the former owners out. Our squad was packed with League One journeymen at the time but the improvement since Simon Sadler took over and then later appointed Neil Critchley has been astounding.

There’s been investment from the new owner, but he’s not thrown silly money around and you get the feeling there is a clear plan in place from top to bottom. Promotion last season took most of us by surprise I think, but it was well deserved given how strongly we finished the season. It’s great to be back at Championship level again with big games every week.

How would you assess your start to the season?

JS: The first few games were tough because we hadn’t finished building our squad. And I don’t think we’d realised we needed to add an element of shithousery to our game to really compete at this level. We’ve settled in nicely now though and have started taking a few people by surprise.

ODB: It took us a while to get going, but I always had confidence that the results would come and that’s what’s happened over the last two months. We’ve shown we can take points off the top clubs by beating both Fulham and Sheffield United but I also don’t think anyone is going to get carried away either.

Blackpool league results so far…
Bristol City 1-1 Blackpool Martin 44 – Lowery 90
Blackpool 0-2 Cardiff Bacuna 52, Moore 86
Blackpool 0-1 Coventry Gyokeres 45
Bournemouth 2-2 Blackpool Solanke 6, 19 – Husband 57, Yates pen 60
Millwall 2-1 Blackpool Wallace 63, Cooper 90 – Lavery 56
Blackpool 1-0 Fulham Bowler 49
Blackpool 0-3 Huddersfield Koroma 48, Pearson 54, Hogg 62
Middlesbrough 1-2 Blackpool Tavernier 8 – Ekpiteta 62, Hall og 78
Blackpool 1-0 Barnsley Lavery 32
Hull 1-1 Blackpool Eaves 84 – Lavery 42
Blackpool 2-1 Blackburn Lavery 4, Yates 24 – Brereton 50
Forest 2-1 Blackpool Johnson 22, Grabban 61 – Yates 53
Reading 2-3 Blackpool Dull 11, Bashiru 22 – Dale 69, Yates 73, pen 85
Blackpool 2-0 Preston Anderson 27, Madine 68
Sheff Utd 0-1 Blackpool Anderson 76

What changed, because you had a really bad start but you're flying now? System? Selection? Luck?

JS: See above. We brought in a few to finish off our squad (we didn’t have a right back until deadline day, when we brought in two). And we learn quickly.

ODB: A big problem we had at the start of the season was down to recruitment I would say, including the amazing fact it took us until deadline day to actually have a right back, which was a bit of an oversight. Richard Keogh also started very slowly and had us scratching our heads about what possessed us to sign him, but it turns out he’s good after all, and he’s got better each week. Critchley has pointed to a COVID-disrupted pre-season too as one factor that went against us. So much of what we do well is about our organisation and how well drilled we are, so I can imagine it takes some time to get those ideas into players.

The summer transfer business seems very youth and academy fall out orientated. Is that deliberate? All you can afford? Due to the manager's background?

JS: We buy young players so we can develop them and ultimately turn a profit - not that we need to sell, nor do the players want to leave. But that’s part of our business model. There’s no need for us to pay big money. Those players can come with attitudes and that’s the opposite of what we want. We’ve got a good bunch of hard working lads with no egos.

ODB: I think it’s probably a mix of all three. While our owner isn’t shy of a bit of cash, I think he’s realised he can’t compete with the daft money that gets spent in the Championship and therefore we need to go about things a different way. That means picking up players released from Premier League reserves, signing players from lower levels and relying on loans.

If the club is going to become sustainable too, then we need to bring in younger players with potential for decent re-sale value so I completely understand the approach. Having the likes of Keogh and Gary Madine in the squad though does add some vital experience which the younger players probably need. Critchley has definitely shown he can improve players, so I’m confident that the players brought in can all do a job, even if they’re not ready-made stars.

Ins: >>> Jordan Lawrence-Gabriel, 22, RB, Forest, £700k >>> Sonny Carey, 20, RM, Kings Lynn, Undisclosed >>> Oliver Casey, 20, CB, Leeds, Undisclosed >>> Josh Bowler, 23, RW, Everton, Free >>> Reece James, 27, LB, Doncaster, Free >>> Daniel Grimshaw, 23, GK, Man City, Free >>> Shayne Lavery, 22, CF, Linfield, Free >>> Callum Connolly, 23, DM, Everton, Free >>> Richard Keogh, 34, CB, Huddersfield, Free >>> Tyreece John-Jules, 20, CF, Arsenal, Loan >>> Ryan Wintle, 24, DM, Cardiff, Loan >>> Dujon Sterling, 21, RB, Chelsea, Loan >>> Owen Dale, 22, RW, Crewe, Loan

Outs: >>> Ben Garrity, 24, CM, Port Vale, Undisclosed >>> Nathan Shaw, 20, LM, Fylde, Free >>> Liam Feeney, 34, RW, Tranmere, Free >>> Ollie Turton, 28, RB, Huddersfield, Free >>> Sullay Kaikai, 25, LW, Wycombe, Free >>> Alex Fojticek, 21, GK, Bardejov (Slovakia), Free >>> Ethan Robson, 24, CM, MK Dons, Loan >>> Jordan Thorniley, 24, CB, Oxford, Loan >>> Adi Yussuf, 29, CF, Yeovil, Free >>> Jack Sims, 22, GK, Released

Stand out players and weak links in the team?

JS: Josh Bowler is electrifying down the wing; the most exciting player I’ve seen in years. Yates and Lavery up front are special young prolific talents. I’m honestly not sure we have weak links this season; we’ve got a strong squad in every position. Last season we were short on strikers but we’ve got that issue sorted now, bringing in Lavery and Carey to add to Yates and Madine.

ODB:
It’s been strange that we’ve already had a number of players come to the fore as our biggest threat, only to then get overshadowed by someone else. The start of the season was all about Shayne Lavery and Josh Bowler, but Lavery’s been injured for a month now and Bowler seems to have gone off the boil a little. More recently the danger man has been Keshi Anderson, but knowing Critchley’s penchant for surprising team selections, I couldn’t even guarantee he’ll start at the weekend.

In terms of weaknesses I don’t think there is anything obvious, although our squad depth at centre back and in the middle of the pitch is a worry if we get any injuries. Losing Keogh during the game mid-week against Stoke was a blow, so hopefully he’ll be fit by Saturday.

Revised expectations for the season?

JS: I said before the season started we’d be looking at top half, maybe sixth at best. The way things are going, I’m looking at the higher end of that now. We’re still on a high and playing with confidence. We’re still being underestimated by many because we’re ‘little Blackpool’ from a working class town and people think we belong in the lower leagues. But we’ve been here before. And we know something special is happening at this club right now. Watch this space…

ODB: Staying up still has to be the first goal, and I think the home defeat to Stoke on a Wednesday is probably a decent wake up call that we’re in a tough league. That said, I’d hope we could be relatively comfortable in mid table. If we can add a few faces in January I’ve got every reason to think we could manage that.

Links >>> Blackpool Official Website >>> Bloomfield Road Ground Guide >>> Blackpool Gazette – Local Press >>> A View From The Tower – Message Board >>> Seasiders – Podcast >>> The Mighty Pool – Blog >>> Blackpool supporters trust

The Twitter @loftforwords @BlackpoolJane, @OneDaveBamber

Pictures – Action Images

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TacticalR added 19:44 - Nov 5
Thanks to OneDaveBamber and BlackpoolJane.

It sounds like the club has really landed on its feet after the Oyston years. It makes all the difference to have owners who know what they are doing (or at least know enough to employ people who know what they are doing).
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JohnMcCo added 00:23 - Nov 6
It's good to see another likeable club bouncing back after the odious Oystons. Plus, interesting to get such divergent perspectives. I reckon the realist is more likely to be right but that would still be a fair return for Blackpool I reckon.
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francisbowles added 14:43 - Nov 6
Thanks to Dave and Jane. it's very exciting for you guys today and I expect a difficult game. Bowler having left us for Everton and Keogh for historical reasons will want to have good games for you. We will have to be better than our recent performances.
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