Blackpool 2 Blues 0 .. Ron's Report

Last updated : 27 January 2009 By Richard Barker

Words like "inept" and "unimaginative" and "lacking" and "clueless" and "rubbish" and "pedestrian" and "disappointing", well, they're appearing in practically every one of these that I write. As I say, it's boring me to keep writing it.

Still, if those words are the best ones to describe a performance, what else can I do? Lie? Well, it's tempting, but I won't.

Firstly, let's look at the latest baffling team selection. Alex McLeish, upon signing Hameur Bouazza, talked of the pace he wanted down the flanks and his excitement at signing the winger. So, after one game, he plays him through the middle in a supporting striker role, when you have James McFadden (who is made for that role) sat on the bench. Then, the lone striker that you pick has about as much ability to play a lone striker role as a wheel of Babybel. Cameron Jerome generally displays the control of Amy Winehouse and the hold up ability of a broken shelf. Say what you want about Marcus Bent, but given the players available, if you're playing a lone striker with the intention of him bringing others into the game you HAVE TO play Bent. Of course, that option wasn't even available as Bent was left out of the squad altogether.

Whilst Blues played brightly for about the opening seven minutes, the rest of the game illustrated what I've been saying every week for what seems like an eternity - they are shocking at ball retention. Firing the ball up at Jerome is the equivalent of just handing possession back to the opposition. Obviously, about 20-30 minutes in it clicked with the management that Bouazza was a winger, so they switched him with Scott Sinclair, who had again been unable to have any impact on the game because of poor service. Then, as anyone with a brain could probably have pointed out pre-match, it was thought better to play with two wingers/wide midfielders in their right positions with two strikers on, rather than playing a winger up front and all the rest of it. As such, Sinclair was withdrawn and McFadden did get on. Sinclair's loan is nearly up now - I bet he can't wait to get back to Chelsea's reserves.

The less said about the first half, the better. In fact, I'm going to pretty much ignore it, save as above. Read into that what you will. In my mind though, the second half just summed up Blues and their problems.

Firstly, there was the embarrassment of a "huddle". Blues, thankfully, have never indulged in this meaningless and generally rubbish pre-match ritual. I always tend to laugh at teams doing it. Here though, Blues did have one, only it was pre-second half. I am very much against huddles, but if you absolutely have to have one, have it pre-match. Don't do it at half-time, almost as if to say to everyone; "Crap, first half was useless, but in this second half, let's all be in it together, even though we're 2-0 down to Blackpool. We'll show them now." It's too bloody late. If it was meant to be a show of unity for the supporters, well, it was being laughed at in the away stand too. It was embarrassing. What was it meant to prove? Ok, we're 2-0 down at Blackpool, but now we'll roll our sleeves up and dig in and try and get away with the 0-2 scoreline we've got?

Then, as Blues chased the game, the whole pedestrian, clueless, unimaginative side came out in droves. Blackpool understandably sat back more, no doubt expecting a Blues onslaught. They'd have probably expected it anyway, but as soon as they saw the huddle, well, they'd have been quaking in their Diadoras. However, Blues' huddle-inspired urgency never materialised, as Maik Taylor took the sting out of the game by taking his time with his kicks and then by being woeful with his distribution, whilst Lee Carsley constantly turned back towards his own goal and played superb four yard balls back to his centre halves. Up front, Blues continued to be unable to hold the ball up and hence bring the midfielders into the game, and it was all the same as ever. I felt robbed, to be honest. I'd seen the huddle and they'd fooled me.

Whilst Blues did suffer an injury to Stuart Parnaby, another thing that sums up the season and was apparent in the second half was players playing out of position. Blues ended up with Seb Larsson (a midfielder) at right back, Hameur Bouazza (a winger who'd started the game up front) at left back, James McFadden (a left footed striker) on the right wing and Keith Fahey (a right footed central midfielder) on the left wing. But hey, at least they'd finally got two strikers up front. Poor Bouazza started up front, then moved back to the left wing, then to left back. I swear I saw Maik Taylor offering to swap with him late on so Bouazza could complete the set.

Until Fahey's introduction, Blues had shown no drive whatsoever, what with Carsley and Taylor killing the game as much as they could. Lee Bowyer had started superbly, but faded and at times tried too hard, but at least Fahey did add a bit of dynamism to Blues' play. Don't get carried away, it was all still pretty rubbish, but it improved slightly. Blues even had a few chances late on, which was nice. They failed to hit the target with all of them, of course, but creating a few chances late on against a Blackpool side with no manager and who have recently lost about nine players through their loans ending and only had ten men, well, that's surely a positive, isn't it?

The first half was bad and the Blues fans were angry, but the second half, well, to be honest, it became a joke. There was the worst conga line ever seen that about 100 Blues fans got involved in and chants of "it's just like watching Scotland". Fans sang "Liam, Liam, wave your arms" in tribute to Ridgewell's windmills and generally it was all a bit of a laugh. It was so bad that it became funny. In saying that though, the players and management got some right abuse on the full-time whistle, and you can't say it was undeserved.

Maybe I'm blinkered, but I honestly don't think I'm wrong in saying that every single Blues player that played would be first choice if they were at Blackpool. To a man, as footballers, the Blues team is far, far superior to the Blackpool side. I would hope that any Blackpool fans reading this would agree with me when it comes to the players themselves. They might turn around and say, "you can shove that Radhi Jaidi", but otherwise, I'd guess that they'd take every single one of our players. So, (and here we go again...), why on earth are Blues playing as poorly as they are???

In some ways, I think it's time to cut the crap. Yes, Blues are third and still in with a shout of automatic promotion and people will be sat reading this, shaking their head and pointing to the league table. Ok, ok, I get it. The truth is though that Blues have been pretty abysmal for much of the season. There is not one single game that I can think of in which for 90 minutes you thought, "blimey, we're playing well". There was 45 minutes at Bristol City and 20 minutes at Cardiff and 45 minutes at home to Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich, but that's about it. Shove your league table - the football's rubbish.

Why is it rubbish though?

Well, there is a horrible sense of going through the motions throughout the whole club, and I don't think that anyone is exempt. I don't want to spark a debate on the board of directors really, and I'm a defender of theirs, but the fact is that 14 months ago they decided that they wanted out of the club. That didn't happen and they're still here, but it's very difficult for them to completely backtrack and change their mind. Sure, they say they're in it for the long haul now and they're still doing what they can for the club, but there's a sense that it's only because there's no buyer, and, well, they're just going through the motions.

Don't necessarily take that as me criticising them though - I think it's just natural in their position. People may say, "well they should spend £5m this month and get us promoted", but we've all heard them talk and read their interviews and some people may hate them, but one thing I think we'll all agree on is that they do actually know a little about football now (David Sullivan, certainly). If we're all sat there and saying, "hang on, look at the squad we've got - how are we not top of the league?", then surely we can understand them thinking or saying the same thing? Surely Sullivan would look at the squad and think, "why should we buy more players? This should be more than enough." I can understand that.

As I say, the idea of going through the motions seems to be pervasive across the club - the players too. I'm a big admirer of James McFadden's, but can anyone actually say that he's happy and he's currently busting a gut for us? The same for Seb Larsson? Even the likes of Cameron Jerome - can you honestly say that he's happy with his lot at the moment? The team looks like a side just going through the motions. Even Lee Carsley, who is becoming less of an influence by the week, in every sense. They can have all the huddles they like, they're not fooling me.

Who else is going through the motions? Well, we are, aren't we? The fans are. People have stopped going, but those who do still go, well, it's only out of habit. Go back six or seven years to the St Andrews atmosphere that the likes of Alex Ferguson described as the most hostile in English football. Are we doing what we can to recreate that? Granted, there's very little to raise so much of a mumble at the moment (I'm not for one second blaming the fans for this, just pointing it out), but we're going through the motions too. If we weren't, there'd be no need for clapperboards.

But do you know who I think is just going through the motions the most?

The manager.

I've thought about it a few times recently, and it did worry me last May when Blues were relegated. Here is a man who had the top job in his own country, and was on a bit of a crest of a wave. The only thing he'd really give that up for was a crack at the Premier League, and Blues gave him that chance, he took it, and that was that. However, he wasn't able to have the impact he'd hoped (for whatever reason) and six months later his Premier League team was now a Championship team. Now, would he have resigned from his previous position to take up a managerial role at a Championship club? No chance. I don't blame him for that, but he wouldn't have. And yet here he was, lumbered with one.

It's only natural, really. Of course, you need to be seen to be doing a job, but is Alex McLeish really and truly doing his job at the moment? (I include his coaching staff in this). Is he putting his heart and soul into the job? I don't know the answer, but I like to think I understand human nature a little bit, and in some ways, I couldn't blame him if he wasn't. Before he took the job he had no connection with the club whatsoever, he then took it, possibly underestimated the task and was then left in a job very different to the one he'd taken on.

I guess the reasoning behind me thinking this is a cumulation of various factors:

1) His post-match reaction. It's always a case of, "well, things didn't go our way and I'm not too happy with this, that and the other, but we've got another game coming up on Tuesday/Saturday/Sunday, and we'll need to improve for that." Ok, yes, very true, but do we ever see any improvement? Is he always so laid back? Why not tell it like it is and say, "we were pretty poor - I need to change things, and I will". Why not get angry? Which leads me onto point two...

2) The players. I mentioned above that, like everyone else, they're just going through the motions. Are they actually playing for their manager? Do they respect him? Does he command respect? He cites Alex Ferguson as a great influence of his, and just thinking about Alex Ferguson scares me, let alone getting that famous "hairdryer treatment". Do I think the same about McLeish? No chance. Do the players? I'm not sure, but it doesn't look like it.

3) The lack of improvement. As I've said above, what I'm saying now isn't new - we've been saying it all season. I genuinely, honestly believe that given the talent at his disposal, if there was a manager putting his heart and soul into his job, things would have improved. They haven't though. If anything, they've got worse. Blues have won once in their last seven games, losing four. That's awful. They've picked up five points out of the last eighteen available. Those people that I mention above jabbing their finger at a league table, well, I jab my finger back, jabbing it at our fixture list and our results since 9th December 2008. If that continues, Blues won't make the play-offs. How's that for jabbing?

4) Kris Boyd. Bear with me on this one, but I feel that saying, "we're not scoring goals, so I'll spend £4m on a striker who scores for fun" is the easy way out. It's not identifying the problem. As I've said before, it's not that the current forwards (or anyone else, for that matter) are missing a hatful of chances. Blues simply don't create chances to be missed. Had Boyd been playing against Blackpool, he'd have barely been involved, such is the unimaginative, clueless way that Blues play. McLeish's pursuit of Boyd, to me, showed that either he doesn't understand the problem himself or, as I say above, he's looking for the easy answer. Some genuine hard work and tough decisions (which is what he's paid for) I feel sure would see Blues improve in this regard, without having to spend £4m.

5) Logic. Without re-hashing what I said above, it's obvious that managing a club in the Championship isn't why McLeish left the Scotland job. It's something he's now lumbered with (and brought on himself, in many respects) and so human nature dictates that he may not be totally committed to the role.

I've wanted to believe that things will get better for a while, I honestly have. I've genuinely felt that McLeish has the right intentions and is trying. I'm becoming far less convinced, to be honest though. In fact, I'm getting very, very close to saying that I don't think that he's the right man for the job.

For those saying that this is "all doom and gloom", I'm writing this 26 hours after the game finished. I've had time to reflect and think about it. This isn't spur of the moment, "we've lost to Blackpool, sack the manager!" stuff. This is looking at the overall picture. In doing that, I see a club that, twelve months ago, was in a position to make a decent fist of stopping in the Premier League, now struggling to score goals or get results in the Championship. Shove your league table now - stop jabbing your finger at it. We're going backwards now, and anyone denying that is deluded. As I say, in some ways, this isn't what it's been like all season, as the evidence clearly shows that earlier on in the season was better - this is getting worse by the week.

I really don't want to indulge in the whole "who's a better supporter" issue, as that's not my point, but if you asked every one of the 1,500 or so fans who went to Blackpool if they still had faith in McLeish, I'd hazard a guess that 85% would say "no". Six weeks ago, asking the same people, I reckon around 50% would have said "no". It is getting worse. For those currently not witnessing what is going on, I can (sort of) understand why you're jabbing your finger at the league table, but honestly, trust me and trust those who are witnessing it week in, week out - this is going to end in tears at the current rate. At present, unfortunately, Blues are barely good enough to win a football match, let alone string a few wins together to push for promotion. If this continues as it is, I assure you that there'll be no promotion this season.

I still (after about eighteen pints last night) remain hopeful that this result will serve as a kick up the backside, and that perhaps all parties will realise that they've been going through the motions and shake themselves into gear. I very much hope that will be the case. The season isn't dead by any stretch of the imagination, and should various people buck their ideas up, well, Blues should be promoted. My worry, however, is that I've been thinking that for the past two to three months, and as yet, there's little or no evidence of it. In fact, as I say, things are getting worse.

There's only so long that people will keep thinking "hopefully next week will be better", because the season is moving on apace, and I guarantee that there's only a few more times (if that) that the fans can take performances like this before the worm really does turn. Things aren't desperate quite yet, but they're going that way. The next two or three weeks are crucial, because unless things do pick up, the only battle Blues will have on their hand this season is trying to make sure that they finish in the top six and have a shot in the lottery that is the play-offs.

If you think this has been "doom and gloom", fair enough. As far as I'm concerned though, I'm just telling it as it is.