Matt Scrafton, the Blackpool FC writer from the Blackpool Gazette, reviews The Tangerines return to The Championship and looks ahead to the weekend's match.
Blackpool secured promotion to The Championship last season with a 2-1 victory against Lincoln in the League One Play-Off Final, and currently sit 15th with 33 points on the board.
"They made a slow start which was to be expected given they had to adjust to the new level, but they also suffered a disjointed pre-season thanks to Covid and injuries. Since then they’ve looked right at home and even threatened a Play-Off push at one point. Their form tailed off over Christmas, but they’re still well positioned in the table and will be aiming to finish in the top half.
"They’ve played a few extra games than a lot of other clubs - as they were one of few clubs to carry on when they recorded positive Covid cases - so they’re likely to remain in mid-table which would still make for an excellent first season back in The Championship."
Two weeks have passed since their FA Cup defeat to Hartlepool United, meaning Neil Critchley's side have not played a League game since New Year's Day.
"I think the postponement of the Barnsley game due to positive Covid cases and injuries in the opposition squad probably came at a good time for Blackpool. Unlike most other clubs in The Championship, the Seasiders fulfilled their hectic schedule over Christmas and New Year even when their squad was beginning to become really stretched.
"That began to take its toll and injuries were mounting up, so a rare weekend off might have even been welcomed by Neil Critchley and co. You can never be too sure how an unplanned break will impact things, but they’re likely to have a healthier squad by the time Saturday comes around, so that can only be a good thing."
Shayne Lavery & Jerry Yates have both scored goals for Blackpool this year, but Scrafton has high praise for a defensive player:
"One of the keys to Neil Critchley’s success at Blackpool has been his ability to mould together a genuine team, one that isn’t dependent on individuals or standout star men. Blackpool would often be without eight, nine or 10 players during the run-in in League One last season, but they found a way to adjust and thrive. It’s been a similar story this season as well, so whatever team Critchley puts out he finds a way to get results.
"Saying that, Marvin Ekpiteta is probably their standout player - he’s a commanding centre-back who has been wearing the captain’s armband in the absence of number one goalkeeper Chris Maxwell. Ekpiteta was in non-league as recently as two years ago playing for Leyton Orient, but he continues to make the step-up to League One first and then The Championship with ease. Josh Bowler, who plays on the right-wing, is another man to keep your eye on. His end product isn’t always the best, although it has improved recently, but his dribbling ability is something else."
The Lions defeated Blackpool 2-1 at The Den, earlier in the season, thanks to Jake Cooper's late goal.
"Blackpool performed well and were unfortunate not to hold on for a draw despite being down to 10-men. Blackpool will want to put that result right and their home form is generally good, helped by a really good atmosphere at Bloomfield Road. It’s a shame Dan Ballard isn’t available because he would have got a nice reception from the home fans on his return to the Fylde coast. I predict the same scoreline, a 2-1 win for the home side."