Blackpool 2-1 West Brom: nine-man West Brom almost snatch unlikely draw
Two men sent off in the first half hour put West Brom on the back foot, but Blackpool couldn’t kill off the game.
Blackpool continued to use the 4-1-2-3 system that has won both points and plaudits so far this campaign. One change was made – Marlon Harewood did not start, instead Gary Taylor-Fletcher moved upfront and Elliot Grandin came into the midfield.
West Brom were without star summer signing Peter Odemwingie. They went for a shape that was probably a 4-2-3-1 (in fairness, the eleven weren’t on the pitch long enough to come to an accurate conclusion). Simon Cox started just behind Marc-Antoine Fortune. At the back, Pablo Ibanez was in for Jonas Olsson.
Both sides started by trying to get the ball forward as quickly as possible. Blackpool looked for Charlie Adam to dictate the play from a deep-lying playmaker position, and he hit long, flat diagonal passes to the wings, particularly the left – which Blackpool liked to play down far more often than the opposite wing (see the Chalkboard below). Blackpool’s two ‘outside’ central midfielders would sprint forward and try and win the second ball from any aerial knock-downs.
Early red card
West Brom’s style was also to get the ball to the wings, knocking it out to Jerome Thomas and Chris Brunt to run with at pace.
The game was changed after ten minutes when Pablo Ibanez was dismissed for bringing down DJ Campbell in the penalty area, adjudged to have denied a clear goalscoring opportunity.
The resulting penalty kick in these circumstances – at 0-0, and where the opposition have just been reduced to ten men – is incredibly crucial in a game, even taking into account the raw fact that any goal in a sport that averages around 2.5-2.8 goals a came is likely to be crucial. At 0-0 the side down to ten men can afford to put ten men behind the ball and defended solidly in order to get a point, at 1-0 down there has to be some inclination to attack. Also, since the player dismissed is generally a defender, it will influence a manager’s decision in terms of substitutions, since managers almost always seek to maintain a back four.
Adam scored the penalty kick and put Blackpool 1-0 up. Roberto Di Matteo chose to bring on an extra defender, Steven Reid, and withdrew Cox, going 4-4-1. This only lasted 14 minutes before West Brom were down to nine – with Gonzalo Jara shown a straight red for a ludicrous lunge by the corner flag. This presented Di Matteo with another dilemma, and he eventually decided to remove Fortune for Graham Dorrans, moving to a 4-4-0 approach.
The idea, of course, was to keep a solid defensive shape with two banks of four. In that sense, West Brom did their job very well. They didn’t get dragged too high up the pitch, and Blackpool didn’t really know how to take advantage of their numerical advantage, since the one area where they now had a surplus of players was at centre-back.
What was more impressive, though, was how much West Brom were able to come forward. At one stage in the first half they shaded the possession – remarkable at two men down – and with Thomas and Brunt moving inside and supported by Dorrans, they managed to offer some level of goal threat with three men.
With his two centre-backs redundant for most of the game, Holloway opted to remove two defenders on 57 minutes, centre-back Craig Cathcart and right-back Neil Eardley, and introduce two more attack-minded players, with David Carney and Matt Phillips coming on to play at full-back – both are generally regarded as midfielders.
Five minutes later the extra pressure seemed to have worked, as Blackpool scored what looked to be the clinching goal, when Luke Varney slid in to convert a Grandin cross.
It turned out to have been not a particularly wise move from Holloway, though, since the full-backs were the players charged with picking up West Brom’s two most attack-minded players. Jerome Thomas and Chris Brunt enjoyed running at the makeshift full-backs, and dragged their side back into the game.
The introduction of Giles Barnes for Thomas worked well, as Barnes played more centrally and drew defenders towards him, and when his break was foiled by Matthew Gilks, Youssouf Mulumbu produced a tremendous curler into the far post to give West Brom hope for the final five minutes.
An incredible finish saw tactics go out of the window, as West Brom sent everyone forward (including Scott Carson) to try and convert a corner and a long free-kick. Paul Scharner came closest to scoring with a header that went a yard wide of the far post, but Blackpool should also have scored a third on the counter-attack. In the end, Blackpool saw it out, but West Brom will have been happier with their performance.
Both managers come well out of this fixture – Holloway for making two very attacking changes at 1-0 up, Di Matteo for managing to compete despite a two man disadvantage for the majority of the game. Blackpool were not efficient enough at closing the game out however, and were unable to adapt their usual style of football, getting the ball forward as quickly as possible, to suit this situation, where retaining possession would have been preferable.
It was a good demonstration of how to play with nine men – two banks of four, with one holding player and the other three given license to join the attack. In taking off his two main goal threats after the two red cards Di Matteo seemed to signal the end of his attacking intent, but West Brom very nearly pulled off an astonishing comeback.Blackpool 2-1 West Brom: nine-man West Brom almost snatch unlikely draw