After narrowly beating Sunderland thanks to comically poor goalkeeping in the reverse fixture which was only played 10 days ago, Blackpool find themselves in similar poor form to the Black Cats. Who will come out on top?
The story so far
It’s been atrocious really hasn’t it. Sunderland looked to be steamrolling their way into the final four weeks of the season. They weren’t playing with the free-flowing, attacking football that was evident at the start of an excellent unbeaten run - stretching to 12 games in the league and picking up a trophy win at Wembley along the way - but the team was winning the majority of their games by hook or by crook.
Then arrived a huge fixture which most fans would have been keeping an eye on as a real acid test of what Lee Johnson has managed to build since arriving in early December, namely Peterborough away.
Sunderland drew 1-1 in what was an entertaining fixture, having to come from behind to secure a point in a clash of two of the top teams in the league who were both chasing automatic promotion.
The signs looked good, the Sunderland fan base were buoyant and the team was still undefeated. That positivity was bleeding into every aspect of the club and fans dared to dream of a potential return to the Championship to end so many years of disappointment and hurt.
Then, promptly, as if it had missed its train on the way up north, arrived Sunderland’s usual end of season form and luck.
Dispiriting and abject defeats to average looking Charlton and Wigan performances set the warning klaxons blaring for all involved with Sunderland to hear, loud and clear.
By the time Lee Johnson’s side has slid to a third straight defeat to this evening’s opponents Blackpool, those warning sounds were deafening.
A mixed performance against Hull earned a draw and appeared to have stopped the ever impending sense of dread that had descended on the club, but nope. There was more frustration to come.
Accrington Stanley went to Wearside in some terrible form, having been on the end of some real pastings in terms of results in the form of a 7-0 defeat to Peterborough and 5-1 to Wimbledon.
It was a perfect opportunity for Sunderland to turn around their recent poor results and form and get the promotion push back on track.
Aiden McGeady was back after sitting out the Hull draw and many expected the Wearsiders to build upon their last performance against the league leaders.
The first half was a majestic affair for Sunderland fans to watch. The Black Cats knocked the ball around freely and produced some attractive football which saw Charlie Wyke aiming for a hat trick after a mere 20 minutes.
The aforementioned McGeady was in rude form, pulling the Stanley defence about and serving up Wyke a number of sublime crosses which could have seen the big striker with 4 or 5 in the opening half.
Lynden Gooch seemed to be having a good afternoon, bagging an assist and causing all kinds of havoc on the right hand side of the pitch. The Californian’s low centre of gravity gives him the ability to turn on a 6 pence and that skill was much in use that afternoon.
Despite some of the wonderful football that home fans had been treat to, Sunderland could only dispatch two of the many chances on offer and they went in at half time two goals to the good.
How things would change over the next 20 minutes would surprise everyone.
The same team emerged - in terms of the personnel were wearing the same shirts and names as the eleven from the opening 45 - but the football from the first half remained firmly back in the dressing room.
From the off Sunderland laboured and seemed devoid of ideas. The movement and desire from the first half was gone and nowhere to be seen.
All of a sudden Stanley’s direct football was causing trouble for the Sunderland backline. O’Nien and Wright having to back peddle and scramble to stop Stanley having clear cut chances.
The first Stanley goal was something that Sunderland fans have seen in their last few games. Stanley made progress down the home sides left and found Colby Bishop in the box who only had Lee Burge to beat and he duly did to make it 2-1.
Accrington’s next would be considered an affront to Sunderland’s faithful in that the free kick it came from should have gone the Wearsider’s way and that their own players should have dealt with it better.
Charlie Wyke, who forever sees free kicks awarded to the opposition when he is fouled by them, was competing with a Stanley centre back who succumbed to the pressure and used his hand to prevent Wyke from going through on goal.
Rather than a card and a free kick in a good position for the Sunderland, the referee awarded it to Stanley (it’s worth noting that the referee received a blow to the head in the first half from Aiden O’Brien which may have contributed to this silly decision).
The Accrington keeper knocked a speculative ball over the top of his entire team and Luke O’Nien casually got his head to the ball to nod it back to Lee Burge.
The only problem was that Lee Burge had rushed out of his goal to try and collect the ball at the edge of his area.
The former Coventry stopper could do little more than clumsily scramble back in a vain attempt to prevent the ball rolling into the back of his net for Stanley’s equaliser. 2-2.
Lee Johnson made some changes in an attempt to turn the tide back in his sides favour and one of them made an instant impact.
Jack Diamond’s relentless running soon made dividends when the young academy product got on the end of a clearance from an Accrington corner.
He literally ran the length of the pitch, sucking in the Accrington defence and offloading to Captain Max Power who had bust a gut to get from right back to the left hand side of the Stanley box and he made no mistakes with the finish.
Sunderland were back on top 3-2. That lead lasted 2 whole minutes for the home side.
Sloppy defending saw Accrington awarded a free kick in a dangerous area just outside the box. Midfielder McConville, who had been sharp with his set piece deliveries all afternoon, whipped a deadly curling shot straight into the top corner to level things up yet again for the visitors.
Sunderland huffed and puffed but couldn’t find a winner and nor could Accrington, firmly laying the home sides automatic promotion hopes to rest for this season.
Blackpool notched their 16th game unbeaten in the league with victory over this evening’s hosts.
A Luke Garbutt deflection was enough to secure all three points at home for the Seasiders, but since that positive result, things haven’t gone Neil Critchley’s way at all.
A defeat to Rochdale was followed up with another loss to Shrewsbury, both by a single goal.
Despite the results the Tangerine’s dominated the stats in both games in terms of shots on target, possession and pass accuracy, but they fell short in terms of actually putting the ball in the back of the net.
Does it point to bad luck or bad form? It’s too early to say at this point for the visitors on Tuesday night, but it does present Sunderland with an opportunity to turn around their form against the team which proved to be the inception of their automatic promotion hopes demise.
What could go down?
Sunderland have struggled immensely against direct football lately. Balls over the top or into the channels have been a source for successful crosses and openings for opposing sides the last few weeks.
A season ending back injury to Dion Sanderson has noticeably unsettled Luke O’Nien at centre back and the return of Bailey Wright alongside him has done little to plug the leaks.
Denver Hume was a noticeable improvement defensively and offensively at left back against Accrington and he should continue against a team who are far more dangerous than the last to visit the Stadium of Light.
Charlie Wyke scored two in his last game to impressively reach 30 goals this season, but he also missed some sitters. If he’d put away one of the three other golden opportunities which came his way Sunderland probably wouldn’t be having to look over their shoulders to keep an eye on the competition for play off places.
Blackpool play a rock solid 4-4-2 formation and in Jerry Yates and Sullay Kaikai have two players who are dangerous in space.
Yates has notched up 20 goals this season, 10 behind Sunderland’s top scorer Wyke, and Sully Kaikai has assisted 8 and scored 6 himself.
These are players who love to run beyond the ball to create a yard of space to either shoot or pass and Sunderland will need to be cautious in how they marshal the dangerous pair.
The Seasiders are vulnerable to pace and passing around the box, they prefer to defend aerially and don’t like the ball on the deck when it's in a dangerous position.
This could provide some problems for the home side who cross the ball more than any other outfit in the League and with the vast majority of Wyke’s goals coming from his noggin.
Sunderland will need the extra man in midfield and must play 4-3-3 to ensure they’re not vulnerable to being stretched on the outside.
Perhaps Jones and Gooch could start on the flanks and the Black Cats’ main creator Aiden McGeady can be given a free role in the middle of the park. Home fans will be no strangers to the Irish international popping up in central positions to further his influence on the game.
After the total collapse of performance in the second half of Sunderland’s last fixture and the fact that Blackpool have been unlucky more than poor, I have to go with a 1-1 draw.
Solidity and a 90 minute performance is all the home side should be looking for here and with a playoff place potentially being secured if Pompey or Charlton slip up, the Black Cats have plenty to play for.
Ha’way the Lads!