As it stands: Wycombe 27-13–8–6 (3rd, 47 pts, GD 3) | Blackpool 25-8–10–7 (15th, 34 pts, GD 3)
Form: Wycombe LDLWL | Blackpool LLDLL
Last time out: Peterborough 4-0 Wycombe | Lincoln 1-0 Blackpool
|P||Wycombe W||Blackpool W||D||Ave. GpG|
Previous meeting: Blackpool 1-1 Wycombe (League One, 22/10/19)
Setting the Scene
If you like a good draw, Adams Park is the place to be on Tuesday night. Wycombe and Blackpool’s last six encounters in all competitions have ended all square after 90 minutes (we won our 2016/17 Football League Trophy quarter-final on penalties). You have to go all the way back to January 2004 for the last time either side emerged victorious – a 3-0 triumph for the Tangerines in South Bucks. Our last win? September 1999 at Bloomfield Road, 2-1 with goals from Jermaine McSporran and Sean Devine.
Perhaps somewhat reassuringly, Blackpool are one of the few teams lower down the League One form table than us. They’ve tasted league victory just once since mid-November – although the 3-1 dispatching of neighbours Fleetwood no doubt delighted fans – and have taken three points on their travels just twice all season – at Southend in August and Doncaster in September – even if they have only lost three of their other 11 away fixtures. That bodes reasonably well for Wanderers, who will return to the automatic promotion spots with a draw if leaders Ipswich beat second-placed Rotherham – but win and we’re back in regardless. We’ve been below par of late, but we’re somehow still in a great place. Let’s make the most of it!
Last season: 10th in League One
Manager: Simon Grayson (appointed July 2019)
Top scorer: Armand Gnanduillet (ST) – 12
Most assists: Liam Feeney (RM) – 10
Style of play: Emphasis on width, play long balls, frequent crosses into target man
A Deeper Look
Last Tuesday night’s drubbing at Peterborough – forgettable and indelible in equal measure – may have been helped along by Giles Phillips’ dumbfounding sending off, but we were getting exposed even in the 20 minutes before that. The reason? The diamond midfield which hasn’t worked any time we’ve tried it this season. Diamonds aren’t forever and we should toss ours back down the mine. If 4-3-3 is no longer the way to go then, to evoke the dulcet tones of Mike Bassett, let’s play 4-4-f******-2.
Several other times since Christmas, our lack of width has been exploited to devastating effect. Sunderland took our 4-3-3 apart with their 3-4-3, while Coventry could scarcely believe their luck when their 3-4-2-1 came up against our 4-1-2-1-2 – even if we did have a centre-back at right-back in both games. Even when we beat Rochdale for our only win in the last six weeks, we did it largely despite the dreaded diamond, not because of it.
Blackpool make heavy use of the flanks – only four teams in League One are bigger crossers – and setting up narrowly again will only play into their hands. A 4-3-3 with the wingers dropping back to make it a 4-5-1 out of possession has worked for us to good effect before, but when in ‘must win’ territory, it can be best to keep things simple. A midfield of David Wheeler, Dom Gape, Curtis Thompson and Paul Smyth should do that and restore some much-needed solidity. If absolutely necessary, though, a front two of Josh Parker and Adebayo Akinfenwa – who have shown glimmers of forming an effective partnership – would also allow for a reversion to 4-3-3 with Smyth moving forward and Wheeler dropping into midfield.
The visitors can create dangerous overloads on the right with right-back Ollie Turton linking up with Liam Feeney, who’s teed up more goals than anyone in the division apart from Burton’s Scott Fraser. Lining up on the right of a lopsided three in a 4-3-1-2, 4-2-3-1 or, as it was in the defeat at Lincoln the weekend before last, 4-1-3-2, the 33-year-old former Bournemouth and Bolton winger/wing-back is given licence to burst forward and get the ball into the box. Armand Gnanduillet is the usual aim, but fellow target man Gary Madine – winner of promotion to the Premier League in 2017/18 and 2018/19 – could be in line for the first start of his second spell at Bloomfield Road, having joined on a free after leaving Cardiff earlier this month.
Feeney has assisted Gnanduillet five times in 2019/20 – a figure matched only by the now closed route of Marcus Maddison to Ivan Toney at Peterborough – and the towering Frenchman – who’s been linked with Derby and Charlton this window – isn’t purely an aerial threat either, spreading his goals evenly between headers and right-footed finishes. It goes without saying that he’ll need to be kept under close guard from corners, where Blackpool may not score a hatful but do create high-quality chances. Goals from corners account for 9% of their total, set-pieces overall 21% (so not quite our 32%…).
Our area could come under siege, therefore, with Nathan Delfouneso or Joe Nuttall providing a more dynamic presence to feed off either of the big men. We’re not going to have Bayo – winner of so many first balls – back defending in open play, and with neither Anthony Stewart nor Darius Charles aerial powerhouses exactly, it could come down to winning those second balls. Stopping the deliveries from coming in to start with for a team who so excel at it is far easier said than done, obviously, but Wheeler and Smyth won’t give their counterparts a moment’s rest, while Jason McCarthy has revitalised the right-back position and matches up intriguingly against technically-gifted left-back Marc Bola, back on loan with the Seasiders from Middlesbrough.
As for weak spots to try and exploit, to Blackpool’s credit, it has to be said nothing immediately stands out – the problem arguably being an abrupt change from a 3-5-2 system (don’t even think about it, Simon). They remain pretty sound at the back and have conceded just 29 goals so far – two fewer than us and putting them in the top ten defences in the league – compensating for their relatively low tally of 32 scored. They’ve lost by more than one goal only once all season (0-3 at home to MK over four months ago) and have, like us with David Stockdale, strengthened in the goalkeeping department, bringing in former Fleetwood, Preston and Hibs stopper Chris Maxwell.
With any luck, Joe Jacobson’s withdrawal at Peterborough was a precaution, while Gape sat that game out but was fit enough to make the bench. Scott Kashket has begun his two-month ban for betting offences, while Phillips is suspended. Stockdale is surely set to make his second Chairboys debut.
Including loans turned permanent deals, Blackpool made their ninth signing of the window on Monday, snapping up 21-year-old Leicester midfielder Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall – who debuted for his parent club in the FA Cup at the weekend – on loan for the rest of the season. Among others, promising centre-back Jordan Thorniley has moved from Sheffield Wednesday for an undisclosed fee and could partner Ben Heneghan – scorer of the Tangerines’ equaliser in the reverse fixture – while versatile winger Grant Ward has arrived on a free following his departure from Bristol Rovers.
In the Middle: Trevor Kettle 😑
|Games in 2019/20||Yellows||Reds||Penalties||Last game||Last refereed Wycombe||Last refereed Blackpool|
|22 (9 League One, 9 League Two, 2 FA Cup, 1 League Cup)||83||2||11||Colchester 0-0 Bradford (L2, 21/01/20)||Wycombe 3-2 MK, (L1, 17/08/19)||Blackpool 0-3 Bristol Rovers (L1, 03/11/18)|