Failing to Prepare by Sadler's Brylcreem

I’m struggling to think of a less memorable season than the 23/24 one. It was a bit like a Boxing match where no one lands a punch, watched by an increasingly frustrated crowd and the points decision at the end suits no one. I say this as someone who attended 36 games last season. The Bolton cup tie, the away win at Barnsley, the home wins against Wigan and Stevenage, and the FA Cup match against Forest stir some memories but otherwise it was not necessarily a season to forget, it was just instantly forgettable.

If the relegation and the season before was a kick in the teeth, the return of Neil Critchley was a kick further down. Whatever you think of him as a coach, a manager or as a person, Simon Sadler should have realised whatever the algorithms, that after Grayson and Appleton it’s never a good idea to go back to a former manager. The problem was confounded by the fact that at the end of the previous season under Dobbie, whether he was the right manager or not, we’d had a taste of the football that Blackpool fans love. Give the Seasiders supporters attacking football, even if it’s a bit gung ho, and they will respond far better than an overly-cautious possession based game.

I was on the fence about Critchley. If someone had asked me when he was re-appointed what his style of football was, I’m not sure I could have given a concise answer. His first season was behind closed doors but did lead to promotion, his second season was undoubtedly helped by being the under dogs in the Championship and performing far better than most expected and then he left. Strangely, the two performances that stuck in my mind about the Championship season were the defeats to Derby and Peterborough at the end of that campaign. Whilst he was bringing fresh blood in to the squad, we were already safe and the opposition maybe had more to prove, I just felt that had he stayed, that the end to that campaign was a sign of things to come (ironically under Appleton and McCarthy it got a whole lot worse!).

In hindsight, our recruitment for 23/24 was poor bar the loans. I know some fans feel that our own players should be better than the loans we bring in but Dembele was a joy to watch last season and if only having him for a season is the price we have to pay, it’s one worth doing. Of course Jordan Rhodes arrival, probably a month too late, was also a shrewd piece of business and had he not have got uncharacteristically injured the end to the season could have been far more fruitful whilst Byers and Coulson were undoubtedly better than what we had. The problem was not only who we brought in but what we had left.

We’d lost some big characters like Yates, Madine, Keshi, Maxwell and Thorniley and had brought in Pennington, Norburn, Morgan, Joseph, Kouassi and Oakley-Booth. It felt a bit scattergun rather than focussed. Whilst Penno and the returning Casey did a job and Morgan fitted in, the rest were disappointing and were a poor sticking plaster for what the side needed. Norburn was the biggest disappointment, it’s still a source of bemusement that we went with Joseph when he was injured and didn’t have a pre-season, Kouassi was too raw to be thrown in and the less said about Oakley-Booth the better. A side that wasn’t good enough for the Championship had been weakened further for a League One promotion challenge.

Then there was the formation. Critchley’s 3-5-2 or 3-4-1-2 or whatever it was failed on more times than it worked - although we will all remember the surprise of Portsmouth away! As the season went on, there were more than enough occasions for Critchley to realise his formation wasn’t working most noticeably at Fleetwood away. Yet he stuck with it. Worst of all was the fact that it was boring. Even at home, and despite the best efforts of the North to get an atmosphere going, I would often follow the path of a seagull or just fan watch people in the stadium. Right up to Reading away and knowing what we needed for the Play Offs, Critchley kept with his predictable and frustrating ways. I read a number of times opposition managers stating you know what to expect from a Neil Critchley team’ - I never regarded this as a compliment more a blueprint on how to play against us.

It does feel as if the whole club is at a crossroads. With the concerning news of Simon Sadler’s court case in Hong Kong, the negative reaction to season ticket prices and the East Stand redevelopment and training ground seemingly stalling, the relegation hangover from 12 months ago is taking time to shift. However, we all know with the right signings, a good start to the new season and some fresh thinking on the pitch that things can change very quickly. If ever the adage ‘by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail’ seems true, it is at Bloomfield Road this summer. David Downes has suggested that preparations are well underway and never has a close season seemed as important as this one.