A club on the up with a coach "destined for the top" - The inside track on Blackpool ahead of Sheffield United clash

Blackpool make their first trip to Bramall Lane to face Sheffield United since 2015 this weekend, and there is a feeling amongst the club’s fans that they are “back where they belong” after promotion to the Championship last season.

Wednesday, 27th October 2021, 10:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 27th October 2021, 11:21 am

Neil Critchley’s men won the League One play-offs last season after four seasons at that level, and are three points ahead of the Blades in the table under the former Liverpool U23 coach.

Ahead of the game we asked Matt Scrafton, who covers the Seasiders for our sister paper, the Blackpool Gazette, for the lowdown on his side’s start to the season...

The story of Blackpool’s season so far

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Blackpool got off to a slow start and took a few weeks to adjust to the new level, but since then they’ve been absolutely magnificent and have recorded wins against some top sides (Fulham being the standout one). There were reasons for their sluggish start, too. They suffered with Covid during pre-season, key players were sidelined with injuries and they didn’t finish their recruitment until the final day of the window, with three players arriving on deadline day itself.

But in Neil Critchley they have a head coach that is destined for the very top and, fresh from beating rivals Preston North End last week, there’s a real buzz and excitement about the club. Outsiders might think Blackpool will just be happy to stay up after being promoted from League One last season, but I don’t get that feeling at all from speaking to people from within the club.

How are Blackpool’s fans finding the return to the Championship?

There’s a real feeling of ‘we’re back where we belong’. The club obviously endured five or six really tough years under the previous ownership, but they’re over that and under Simon Sadler, a hometown owner who has shown he has the best interests of the club at heart, Blackpool are only heading in one direction.

Blackpool manager Neil Critchley: Picture Steve Flynn/AHPIX LTD

As I touched upon in my previous answer, no-one is feeling the Seasiders are just here to make up the numbers. They’ve invested in the playing squad, they’ve rewarded the players from last season with bumper new contracts and there’s also a focus on improving key infrastructure off the pitch.

The fans know they’re at a level where there’s some big clubs floating around, but they’ve got their house in order and there’s no reason why they can’t compete and give a good account of themselves.

What's the view on the Blades, and of Saturday’s game?

Saturday’s trip to Bramall Lane is bound to be a tough one for Blackpool, but they’re among the form sides in the division with six wins from their last nine, so they’re absolutely flying at the moment. Under Critchley, the Seasiders tend to perform just as well away from home as they do at Bloomfield Road, if not better.

With a healthy following in the away end on Saturday, they’ll be looking to continue that good record. The view of Sheffield United is that they’re still coming to grips with their new manager and looking to get back on track after their relegation from the Premier League. With that in mind, Pool will be hoping to pick up another impressive three points. One will certainly do though.

Any early team news ahead of Sheffield United v Blackpool?

Blackpool were without as many as 10 players only a couple of weeks ago, but the picture is finally beginning to clear up a little bit. There was a worry they’d struggle without their number one keeper and captain Chris Maxwell and leading scorer Shayne Lavery, who are both sidelined with injuries.

But Blackpool have won two of their last three since they suffered the knocks, so they’ve shown they can cope. Aside from those two, Matty Virtue (ACL) and Grant Ward (achilles) are the only others who are sidelined for the long term.

The Seasiders do have two or three others who are only just returning from knocks, such as Daniel Gretarsson, Reece James and CJ Hamilton, who are unlikely to feature.

Finally, what’s your prediction?

PredictionAn entertaining, topsy-turvy, end-to-end 2-2 draw.