In the ten years from 92/93 to 02/03, Reading looked forward to visits to Bloomfield Road, our record of four wins from five visits during the period testament to Blackpool being a club we could look forward to gaining three away points from. Since the heady days of Division 2 however, the Tangerines seem to have managed to find the formula to beat Reading. Since an opening day 2-0 victory in the Royals 01/02 promotion season, Reading have mustered a solitary point from 12, and that in a game where Reading were comfortably leading 2-0.
The latest Bloomfield Road demise saw Reading actually put in a performance worthy of a minimum of a point. Reading dictated well throughout most of the game, the now familiar and favoured 4-2-3-1 worked reasonably well to a point, Guthrie and Karacan being allowed to pull the strings from deep in midfield by the deep Blackpool defensive line in tandem with lots of endeavour, although ultimately ineffective, from today's combination of wide players Robson-Kanu and McCleary (later Blackman and Drenthe, the latter not so ineffective on the right). Width was also provided by Bridge and Gunter getting forward to support where possible. The defence easily had the measure of the isolated Blackpool attack, Morrison and Pearce bullying any effectiveness from first a lonely Ricardo Fuller, once the scourge of Reading defences back in his days with Preston North End, and then Michael Chopra.
The problem for Reading today, and it is abundantly clear to see it will only serve to be an increasing problem throughout the season unless addressed soon, stemmed from the attack. Blackpool played with a very defensive looking and widthless 4-1-4-1, Fuller and then Chopra the fulcrum of the attack and Barry Ferguson the deepest-lying midfielder. The game plan simple - sit deep with 10 men behind the ball, soak up the pressure, allow us the ball where we can't hurt them and counter attack when presented with the opportunity. It looked solid enough.
Reading made hard work of breaking down a resolute rearguard with far too many long balls to Blackman, caused by overcrowded defensive third, which consequently led to Reading possession being gifted to the opposition. The result, Blackpool had slightly the better of it for the opening half hour, but for all the endeavour of their counter-attacking intent the Tangerines could only muster one chance of note throughout the half (goal aside, the whole game actually). A simple ball through the middle from central defence to Fuller took the whole Reading midfield out of the game, two touches from Fuller and a pass to the left, a cross slung in first time and a reaching free header from 12 yards sent the ball well wide of McCarthy's right post.
That was literally it for Blackpool as on the half hour mark Reading found the knack of finding space and began playing, and we can consider ourselves unlucky not to be leading at the break, Jem Karacan had two opportunities to break the deadlock from 18 yards within two minutes, both from poor defensive clearances. The first he took slightly too long over and the defence blocked his piledriver but the second was much cuter, delicate chipped lob that beat Matt Gilks but not the bar. He also had a good volleyed opportunity from a Drenthe free kick that he failed to connect with quite right, the shot nearly turning into a good pass however which was hacked out for a corner. Drenthe himself also forced the Blackpool keeper, Matt Gilks, into a good save to his left to stop a free kick shot finding the corner.
The game was evidently there for the taking, no changes at half time but with around 25 minutes left Adkins brought Le Fondre into the fray, McCleary the man making way. With that, a formation change to an orthodox 4-4-2. Standard back four, two out-and-out wingers in Robson-Kanu and Drenthe, box-to-box midfielder in Karacan accompanied by the ball playing Guthrie, and he big/small combination up front in Blackman and Le Fondre. Drenthe out wide was much more effective and for the next ten minutes was a joy to watch as he took on, and beat, his full back time and again. From one of these instances a low cross was desperately defended as three Reading players looked to pounce, the ball trickling along the width of the goal before being hacked clear again.
In the ascendancy and looking the more likely to carve an opening, bang. On 75, Wayne Bridge received the ball 30 yards from goal and took a poor touch that was immediately pounced upon by Blackpool sub Tom Barkhuizen, who then put Sean Morrison on his backside to leave just McCarthy to beat. He did so with aplomb from 10 yards out. And that was it, lots of pressure from Reading in a fruitless attempt to get the point but Reading had precious little opportunity to get the goal back their dominance probably warranted. A last minute free header put over the top from Pogrebnyak (from a Blackman cross) was it the last opportunity to salvage something from a game we should not have lost.
To sum this game up, while this was far from a classic Blackpool's efforts to win this game stemmed from a simple desire to prevent Reading's danger men from playing, and pounce when the opportunity arose. They didn't force the attacking issue at all, instead they let Reading play. On another day, and maybe with a more potent striker, we would have won his easily. I would be a little concerned were I a Blackpool fan if that is how they regularly play under Ince. Blackpool effectively nullified the threat of the attacking players in the 4-2-3-1 by denying space in the middle and not being overloaded on the flanks, and the fact that they won this game having had just two shots on goal from inside the area is testament to this. It serves more to show how defensively minded and lacking in creativity the opposition were than just how organised Reading's defence was. I just wonder how much emphasis has been placed on the shoulders of the injured Tom Ince and the now departed Matt Phillips in Blackpool's attack.
Going on today's performance against, on paper, a superior team, one has to wonder where the Tangerines are going to get the goals from to be anything other than relegation candidates, and that makes today's result all the more disappointing. Reading lost this game trying to win it, while Blackpool won it trying not to lose it.
Thanks again to David and you can follow him on Twitter @Handbags82