Blackpool Season Preview: a bitter-sweet promotion

Last season was bitter-sweet for Blackpool. On the one hand, they won their first promotion since that glorious Wembley victory over Cardiff in 2010. On the other, there were around 35k fewer fans in London to see it. While results are changing on the field, little has changed off it as fans continue to understandably vote with their feet against the Oyston regime. Supporter Gareth Banks reflects on the contrasting emotions at Bloomfield Road ahead of the new season.

I personally think Gary Bowyer, his staff and the players did an incredible job, in the circumstances. We’re all very keen to see an end to the unrest.

Over December the club released some funny videos of the players playing Christmas games and having a laugh. How big a factor do you think the spirit and camaraderie within the group was behind your promotion?

I think Bowyer tried, and succeeded, to create close bonds between the players and in doing so a very deep team spirit. It’s his job to manage proceedings on the pitch; he recognised and no doubt relayed to the playing squad that they could do nothing about what was happening elsewhere. The manager is a firm believer of building relationships and rapport within the squad and I think that’s a very good thing.

You felt in the play-offs that when Brad Potts played well, the team did too. Do you worry that Championship clubs will be in for him?

As I write, Barnsley are the latest club to be linked although it appears they’re quite well off for midfielders. I’m not sure whether the price tag of £750k is enough (based on current market trends) and I think a season in League One with us will be more helpful to his development rather than to ‘jump ship’. He’s still young enough; I’m sure he’ll further develop under Bowyer and his coaching staff should he stay.

Striker Mark Cullen came up trumps at key moments in your three play-off victories. Will those big game performances give him confidence?

They should do, yes. I’m looking forward to seeing him in League One. I’ve always been impressed with his character and work rate. He certainly knows where the back of the net is and I think he deserves the chance to be playing at a higher level. I hope he gets a good run in the team, something he’s not really yet done in the famous tangerine.

Cullen’s form, Kyle Vassell being top scorer, Nathan Delfouneso’s permanent deal and Max Clayton’s arrival from Bolton means you’ve got a lot of strikers. Which two do you see starting the season?

I think Bowyer will start the season with Cullen and Vassell, assuming he’ll play with a formation like that. I’m excited by Max Clayton’s arrival. I think we’ll sign another striker yet, though.

Tom Aldred has left for Bury this summer. Will you miss his character, as much as his ability as a centre-back?

I was disappointed to see him leave, particularly to a club like Bury. I always enjoyed seeing him in a tangerine shirt; I liked his character and attitude. A real ‘100%er’. Having said that, he’s very replaceable and featured prominently in our League One relegation season of 2015-16.

New signing Peter Hartley was rated highly by Greens and Gasheads. Do you expect him to form a back three with Will Aimson and Clark Robertson?

Hartley is a decent signing, and yes I’m sure he’ll feature in a back three, at some stage, with Aimson and Robertson. We’ve also signed highly rated defender, Curtis Tilt, who Bowyer had been chasing for some time.

Full-backs Kelvin Mellor and Andy Taylor look good going forward. Assuming Mellor keeps his place over Oliver Turton, is that where the width will come from?

Yes, I’d think so. Bowyer has said that last season he felt we didn’t really have enough cover for the full-back berths, I’d expect both Mellor and Taylor to be names early on the team sheet, although Turton looks like another exciting signing, so the competition for places and tactical options for the manager will only help our cause.

Bright Osayi-Samuel scored an outstanding solo goal at Newport. Was he unlucky not to start more often?

He’s still young, I think quite raw, too. He’ll continue to develop under Bowyer, but a lack of starts perhaps illustrates his standing in the squad. I’m sure if his talent is channelled correctly, he could play a big role next season. The rumours linking him with top Premier League clubs, however, does make the mind boggle.

Neil Danns has gone back to Bolton but Jimmy Ryan joins the midfield. Do you expect him to provide some technical quality?

I can’t honestly recall ever seeing Jimmy Ryan play so I can’t pass comment too much, but his range of passing apparently will greatly assist his colleagues. He’s experienced at this level, too, and if Bowyer thinks he’s good enough, that’ll do for me. Neil Danns certainly did a job for us whilst he was here.

New goalkeeper Ben Williams was part of a 15/16 Bradford side that reached the play-offs. Are you excited that he has joined?

Not really, no. But having said that, I wasn’t too enamoured by Sam Slocombe and he didn’t do too badly. I think Bowyer has another goalkeeper lined up to bring in, so I’m not expecting Williams to be the No.1. We’ve also got 19 yo ‘keeper Myles Boney who some fans say deserves his chance in the first team. I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone like Andy Lonergan brought in.

How are things looking off the field? Do you expect attendances to remain the same, even though you’ve gone up?

There’s currently a court case in the High Court between the owners and Valeri Belokon. For obvious reasons, I can’t comment on that but suffice to say attendances will remain the same or very similar. Some may start to go to home games after promotion last season, although some may begin to stay away after reading all about the case in the press. Every decent Blackpool fan wants this all to end as soon as possible, we just want our club back.

What are your thoughts ahead of the League One season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

I think it’ll be a tough league, you’d expect the likes of Blackburn Rovers and Wigan Athletic to be strong and, ergo, towards the top of the table. I don’t see anyone running away with it. As regards dark horses, I have a feeling for Oxford United, please don’t ask me why!

Where will you finish? You were spot on with 7th and promotion via the play-offs last summer…

I was spot on, indeed, and I’m still smiling about it! This year, though, I’ll go for consolidation and a good 15th place finish before our promotion season in 2018-19, via the play-offs at Wembley, of course.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

Wing-backs Mellor and Taylor will provide width for Blackpool while goalscorer Cullen will be confident, meaning they should stay up. With off-field divisions remaining though, the loss of big characters like Danns and Aldred doesn’t make things easy. 19th

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