Blackpool v Rotherham Preview: arresting the slump

Vassell is key for the Seasiders – blackpoolfc.co.uk

These two clubs last met in the Championship in 2015 but neither look likely to return there this season.

Kieffer Moore suspension isn’t ideal for Rotherham United, who have taken just one point from their last seven league games. The optimists among us though might see it as an opportunity to find a system that can be used when he returns to Ipswich in January.

Moore’s absence could lead to a run of games for Jonson Clarke-Harris, who has been hindered over the last 12 months by injuries and a lack of match-practice – but he hasn’t always taken his chance when it has come. The Millers though need somebody who can lead the line other than David Ball, who prefers to operate a little deeper.

While Paul Warne’s options have been limited by an injury to one striker, Gary Bowyer has been boosted by the return of another. Kyle Vassell has scored two in three since returning from injury, including the winner at his former club Peterborough in late-November. Not only has the 24-year-old scored eight goals in 16 league appearances, he is also very difficult to play against because he has pace loves hassling defenders. The 25-year-old is now a guaranteed starter, because Nathan Delfouneso didn’t quite grab his chance in his absence.

Clark Robertson’s return is also a timely boost, with the centre-back getting 45 minutes under his belt in the midweek EFL Trophy clash with Mansfield. The 24-year-old will add composure and maturity to the back-line, having played 57 games in the SPL for Aberdeen. By contrast, Will Aimson and Curtis Tilt don’t provide quite the same leadership qualities and are relatively inexperienced against this level of opposition.

Blackpool’s return improves by 0.98 points per game when Robertson has started this season and by 0.75 PPG when Vassell has started. That would suggest that while they have a starting eleven capable of taking on anyone in this league, injuries to those two have disrupted the whole system.

The Tangerines are in desperate need for more depth but new players are unlikely to arrive before new owners do and uncertainty lingers in that department, despite the success of Valeri Belokon’s court case against the Oyston family.

Due to the off-field issues and last season’s promotion, few questions are asked of Bowyer during this run but Warne has come under pressure from some quarters after two points from seven. The 44-year-old will not be able to pick Darren Potter, who has struggled to rediscover his impressive early since form after an injury in October and another lay-off rules him out for the trip to Lancashire.

Without the Liverpool academy graduate, Warne may want to include a third midfielder to support Lee Frecklington and Will Vaulks, which could mean a start for Brighton loanee Richie Towell, or a first league appearance for academy graduate Ben Wiles.

Whoever does play in midfield needs to show some discipline, because centre-backs Michael Ihiekwe and Semi Ajayi have not been protected well enough in recent weeks.

This clash involves two of the league’s three most out of form teams, but it could be swung by the availability of Blackpool’s key men.

The Football Lab’s Verdict: 2-1