Change needed at Blackpool and Crewe


Steve Davis –

A dramatic finale at Gresty Road saw 10-man Blackpool climb out of the relegation zone with a priceless three points. Crewe’s Marcus Haber cancelled out Jack Redshaw’s first half opener late on, before Tom Aldred’s strike two minutes later proved to be the winner, after Brad Inman’s missed penalty in the dying moments.

The away fans’ protests towards the club’s owners were made clear, yet Blackpool were not the only declining club represented on Saturday. In the late 1990s, Crewe Alexandra had been a stable, lower midtable second tier outfit averaging around 7k at home games. They had played in the Championship as recently as 2006, yet now the team is eight points adrift of League One safety and preparing for another relegation back to the fourth tier.

The problems at Gresty Road, in some ways, differ from those at Blackpool. Strife at Bloomfield Road is well documented, due to the overwhelming sense of hatred between the board and the fans. Karl Oyston has not re-invested any of the money the club gained from playing in the Premier League five years ago, not to mention the sale of Charlie Adam and Matt Phillips. He has left the club to rot for his own financial gain.

Everybody in football knows about the problems at Blackpool, but why have the board and management at Crewe Alexandra not come under anywhere near the same type of scrutiny? There appears to be a culture of faith and loyalty at Crewe, which owner John Bowler has instilled, yet this has arguably come at the cost of accountability.

Bowler might be a much nicer man than Oyston, and clearly has good intentions, but that does not automatically make him a good owner. Serious question marks linger over the board’s running of the club in recent years. Why did Crewe have the 16th highest attendances in League One last season and yet repeatedly lose players for free? Why is the board charging £22 for tickets, but not investing money into the club? Why has the club not been able to secure deals for last season’s key loanees, Alan Tate and Greg Leigh? Why has the club let Anthony Grant go down the A500 to Port Vale? And, if the club was going to let Grant depart, why have they not replaced him with another strong, tenacious midfielder? There appears to be no backbone, on or off the field.

Anyone who saw Crewe’s performance against Blackpool could see that they were open to counter-attacks, a re-occurring problem. Time after time in the second half, Pool’s Brad Potts would waltz through the midfield unchallenged and, with better decision making in the final third, his runs could have been more productive.

What seems questionable is that Davis and his coaching staff believe that they can win games with a midfield of James Jones, Charlie Kirk and David Fox. Jones and Kirk are 20 and 18 respectively, while Fox is not exactly renowned for his upper body strength. None of those midfielders had the bravery required, in and out of possession. Whenever one of them came under a degree of pressure, they would unthreateningly roll the ball sideways, giving Blackpool time to re-organize.

It is no coincidence that Crewe’s man of the match, rightly, was awarded to Zoumana Bakayogo. He was the only player who had power, speed, a desire to make things happen – and he was their left-back. Inman had a few chances including the penalty but was rarely involved in build-up play while George Cooper seemed too keen to move into central areas. Crewe tried too hard to cleverly work the ball through the middle of the pitch, rather than purposefully attack the byline.

Callum Ainley looked to change that when he came on, making some good runs whilst getting the better of Luke Higham on occasion. Ainley, only 18, will hope for consistent game time in League Two next season and could be a player to look out for.

However, 10-man Blackpool generally retained their shape well. David Norris and Jim McAlister showed battling qualities and stuck to the task. The Tangerines could have killed the game off and had a golden opportunity when Danny Philliskirk sliced the ball wide from close range, after Higham’s cross.

That miss looked to have been costly when some good play from Ainley found Haber, who flicked the ball home at the near post. That goal redeemed the Canadian, who had not had his best afternoon. Every time he was given the ball, he would hold it up for a moment, then pass it 15 yards backwards, leaving Crewe back to square one.

And they were back to square one two minutes after the striker’s goal, when Aldred’s drive deflected over Ben Garratt into the net, prompting a mini-pitch invasion from the away fans. Those supporters know more than anyone that huge changes are needed at that club at boardroom level. Victory however, which was confirmed by Inman’s missed pen in the dying seconds, provides a huge boost for the Blackpool players battling for survival.

Aldred’s passionate celebration after the match appeared, in part, to be making a point to the fans on the right of the stand who had repeatedly used gallows humour. Although sections of support had sung: “we’re going down with the Crewe”, Blackpool are now a point above the relegation zone and have a more than realistic chance of staying up. Whilst maintaining rightful protests against the board, it is important that Pool fans back the players on the pitch.

Eight points below the Seasiders lie Crewe, who are all but relegated. It is a difficult time to be an Alex fan, with some believing this current team to be their worst since the early 80s. Next season, a change in mentality – and perhaps manager – is needed.

They need somebody in charge who will make the team hard to break down. You cannot win games purely with young, tidy players who have no aggression or tactical discipline – eight wins this calender year testifies to that. That is not to say that the club should forego its long-held aptitude for developing youngsters, but there needs to be an increased emphasis on physicality and pragmatism. Those were qualities that Blackpool showed on Saturday, ones they will need if they are to avoid a third relegation in five years.