Friday, May 6, 2011

Blackpool, Premiership strugglers, stick to their (pop) guns

Though Ian Holloway has earned plaudits for his attacking play and forthright press conferences as well as Charlie Adam for his "wonderful left peg", it could be that their Blackpool team are doomed to relegation from the Premiership this season. Holloway's philosophy, which he said came about after a period out of the game where he watched too much boring football, is to attack at all costs - a vast difference from the dour style he favoured as manager of Bristol Rovers, QPR, Plymouth and Leicester.

Adam and a mildly-surprising DJ Campbell helped the Tangerines into the top half early this term with an flurry of goals, but the club has won only twice this year in the Premiership and now sits seventeenth, out of the drop zone only on goal difference. But the offensive style so favoured by the Seasiders has come at a cost - Blackpool have conceded seventy goals already this season, one of the worst totals in the Premier League over the past ten years. There are still three matches to go.

Only seven other times has a team shopped over seventy goals. Three of those times occurred last year as Wigan (79 goals conceded), Burnley (82 conceded) and Hull (75) got pounded repeatedly by larger clubs. Over the past decade, of all the teams that conceded more than Blackpool have this year, only last year's Wigan escaped relegation; a fact due probably more to other club's incompetence rather than any particular Latic resolve. So does a promoted team playing expansive football have any benefit - other than aesthetic - in the Premier League?

Holloway's men have a goal difference of -22, meaning they've conceded 22 more goals than they've scored. Since 2001-02, every other club who's conceded more than seventy goals in a season boasts a goal difference in excess of -35. His fast-paced tactics mean their scoring balanced (somewhat) the ineptitude of their defence leaving them better placed (for now and without them taking a disastrous thumping in their last three games) than every other porous club this decade. Perhaps we're looking at this the wrong way: while 'Olly likes attacking football and instructs his club to play that way, he's probably correctly surmised that with the defence at his disposal, their best chance to avoid the drop is to attack.

However, football is more than stats. The Blackpool boss could have (again) correctly judged his club didn't have the mettle to compete against giants like United and Chelsea and thought it best to go out playing the style that got them to the Big Dance in the first place. As with Owen Coyle at Burnley and now Bolton, there's something to be said for sticking to one's principles. If Blackpool were to survive to fight again next year, many would celebrate: another year of Olly's sound-bites, more fluid football and the joy of supporting an underdog in the top flight.

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