Jane Stuart – Writer

Writing about real life Up North: football, ale, food and mental health – with a good dash of humour.

Blackpool v West Bromwich Albion: No Smirking Please

The FA Cup seems more important than ever this season. It offers something different at a time when football is becoming very samey. Sure, Blackpool’s inconsistency provides variety; but we watch every match from the same seat in the same living room at the same temperature every week. There’s no travelling, no weather, no changes of scenery, no overcooked pies. But the FA Cup is just something else and I confess I’m growing especially fond of the competition.

It helps that Critch gets a little twinkle in his eye whenever he talks about the FA Cup. You can see it genuinely excites him. I like Critch. I like that he is keen to learn and improve and become a better version of himself. I like that he takes notes during matches. I like that he wants to pick the brains of more experienced managers and staff (even Sam Allardyce). I like that he wants his players to develop and improve – and I like seeing evidence of this on the pitch. There’s nothing more disheartening than paying to watch a match only to find yourself wondering ‘what do they do in training?’.

But what was different to our routine today? Well, the game was on BT Sport, which meant we had to watch it on a different device. Usually, we’re on the 27″ iMac, when we’re watching iFollow. It’s a good sized screen and we’re able to clearly make out the players and the numbers on their backs and shorts. Today we were on the much smaller 10.2″ iPad, which was much more challenging to see. My latest set of contact lenses are bionic. I’ve been short sighted since the age of 7, but now my close up vision is starting to fail too. I’m unable to have varifocal contact lenses owing to an astigmatism in one eye. Therefore I now have one lens for distance and another to help with the more close up stuff. This appears to have left my middle vision (i.e. screen work) leaving something to be desired. I should probably return to the opticians but it’s all a bit weird with COVID and not being able to wear a mask because my breath steams up the lenses. In summary, I’m ok on the big screen, but this is going to be a challenge today…

I spend the morning working on my book (my BFC memoirs) as always. I’ve hit a bit of a hiatus, with all my chapters now planned but not enough completed. I need to get out of research mode and back into writing mode pronto. Meanwhile I’ve also been blogging, writing a play, catching up with my correspondence and writing articles for other mediums. This week I’ve written a piece for ‘Out Of The Blue’, the magazine that Squires Gate FC are putting out to help them raise funds during what is a continued difficult time for non league clubs. You can pre-order the magazine here from £1 for a digital copy or £4.95 for a hard copy. Please buy a copy. You’re guaranteed a great read and you’ll also be helping out a club that really needs your support right now. Just take a look at their match programme by way of example of the quality material produced by Squires Gate FC.

I was asked by a West Brom fan who they should be looking out for as our main threat – and I wasn’t really sure. Ordinarily, I’d have said CJ or Kaikai but, with the former injured and the latter out of sorts for the last couple of games, I began to question where our attacking threat was going to come from. Then at 2pm the team was announced and Bez was in it and I was happy. I like Bez. He looks like he’s running into trouble all the time but always comes out with the ball. He excites me. We have a lot of players who are very good indeed at their jobs but they do so in a matter of fact way. The defenders don’t make mistakes and block and tackle and close down very well. Our positioning is good. We have no nonsense midfielders. Gary Madine ‘holds the ball up well’. And, don’t get me wrong, that’s all brilliant. But I do like an exciting player who has me on the edge of my seat. And Bez is exactly that.

The team is a really strong one. I’m delighted to have Chris Maxwell back in goal. We really did miss him and I’m confident the defence will be strong and able to face anything any team (Premier League or otherwise) can throw at it. The pairing of Dan Ballard and Daniel Gretarsson at the back is a new one, with Big Marv presumably rested, but they’re both excellent centre halves and we’re more than ok with that. We know Ollie Turton (now our longest serving player) will put in a solid shift. James Husband is in for the excellent Luke Garbutt but I know he’s more than capable of whipping in some dangerous balls to assist the attack as well as being a force to be reckoned with in defence.

In midfield we have Kenny Dougall, Grant Ward, Dan Kemp and, of course, Bez: a good combination of power, pace, graft, energy, chaos and creativity. Our midfield offering is looking strong today. There’s no room for Matty Virtue, who’s on the bench today after a couple of weeks out with COVID. We know there’s much more to come from him (including those all important goals).

And we’re 4-4-2 (the fans’ favourite formation) with Jerry Yates and Gary Madine Goal Machine up front. Sure, they’re our only choices, but we’ve grown fond of this pairing. They link up well together, get along well off the park and we’re seeing their personalities coming through. Gaz offers a great post-match interview and Jez…well we kinda love him for whipping his shirt off on the lash in Manchester back when such things were allowed:

So, did we have enough about us to beat the Premier League strugglers? Their fans were by no means confident. We’d been off form lately, though. What did we have in store today? I honestly had no idea.

What happened? I enjoyed the match from the kick off. Blackpool seem to raise their game when they play Premier League opposition. We’ve seen it against Stoke City (matched them 0-0 in the League Cup); Everton (3-0 up within ten minutes) and Liverpool (2-0 up). Would a neutral observer have known which was the Premier League outfit from the two teams on the park today? I doubt it.

Our passing was way better than it has been of late. Our link-up play was back with a vengeance. We were getting ball after ball into the box (really decent balls) – and shooting from long-range. This was much better! Both of our goals were beautifully crafted with a number of players actively involved in each move. Yates and Madine each got on the scoresheet.

Virtue came off the bench with a specific job in mind – he was shooting for fun. This is the Matty Virtue we’ve been missing. Welcome back, Matty.

The game ended 2-2 and extra time brought no further goals, just a couple of injuries, to Ward and Gretarsson. West Brom were a very physical side, muscling our men off the ball and using their arms and hands and fingers (Ward got one in the eye, leaving him with blurred vision), grabbing and pulling and wrestling. Our players will have known they’d been in a game – and will likely be glad of no midweek fixture this week.

And so it went to penalties again – our fourth(?) shoot out of the season so far. We ought to be experts at them by now. We felt we had done enough to win the game before this point. But this is a Sam Allardyce team and we’ve had to endure his fat miserable face chewing gum with his mouth open for far too long this afternoon (why oh why did the BT cameras keep zooming in on him? I was now grateful to not be watching on the big screen). God I’m not sure I could bear it if they beat us. They hadn’t deserved it.

You can watch our reaction to the pens as they happened from 3h12 at the link below:

Up stepped Jez for our first pen. If anyone can take a pen, Jez can. It’s what he does.

Their keeper saved it and had such a smug smirk on his face I wanted to punch it even more than his manager’s.

Husband did a cheeky stutter before taking his (converted) penalty and the next WBA player up attempted to replicate it, failing miserably and having his effort saved by Maxwell.

The Goal Machine nearly broke the net with his penalty – then appeared to shoot Mr Smug a filthy look and call him something that, frankly, we were all thinking he was (22:41).

Dear reader, let me remind you about Chris Maxwell, the Blackpool keeper and captain. Today was his first game back after being ill with COVID. He’s just played 120 minutes plus quite a bit of stoppage time. He probably just wants to have a lie down now. But he’s having to face penalties to try and keep his team in the FA Cup.

Dear reader – he saved THREE! What a keeper we have here. I’ve long been an admirer of Maxwell but this afternoon he propelled himself to legend status amongst the Blackpool faithful.

We won! On penalties! Critch and the boys looked so happy. You can tell this meant the world to them. And we’re in the fifth round draw (which is being drawn at the same time as the fourth round) on Monday night. Come and join me and Lee on Lee Charles TV on YouTube and watch our reaction to the draw as it happens from 7pm.

UTMP!


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