The inside track on in-form Blackpool and the key threats that may worry Sunderland in crucial League One clash
In-form Blackpool are the next test in front of Sunderland – as they aim to bounce back from consecutive defeats.
The Black Cats need a victory to keep their fading automatic promotion hopes alive, but will be facing a side who are in a rich vein of form having gone 15 games unbeaten.
So what can Sunderland expect from their trip to Bloomfield Road?
We caught-up with Matt Scrafton of the Blackpool Gazette to get his take on the Pool’s form, key men – and to catch-up on Elliot Embleton’s progress:
Blackpool have been on a fine run recently - how have their performances been during that 15-game unbeaten run?
Very, very good. Very controlled, very measured and very mature.
The most important thing is that they don’t just have one way of playing, they can alter their style depending on who they’re facing. In a perfect world they’d like to dominate possession, but given Neil Critchley’s background with Liverpool, your readers won’t be too surprised to hear his side are also capable of sitting deep and hitting sides on the counter.
Equally, they have players that are willing to roll their sleeves up, dig in and do the dirty as and when required, so they really do have a bit of everything.
What kind of game plan do you expect them to implement against Sunderland?
I’d imagine Neil Critchley will pay Sunderland a lot of respect and acknowledge they’re likely to have more of the ball. It’s just a case of whether they’re prepared to press high from the front, which they’re excellent at with top scorer Jerry Yates leading the line, or sit off a little bit and pick and choose when to attack.
As I say though, the Seasiders are more than capable of mixing it up and can even alter their approach within games.
But given Sunderland’s back-to-back defeats, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Blackpool go for it early on and look to capitalise on their low confidence.
Are there any weaknesses in the squad that Sunderland could take advantage of?
They’ve not lost in 15 games and they’ve not been beaten at home in almost six months, so there’s no glaringly obvious weaknesses.
If I’m being over-critical, they have tended to struggle a little bit against sides at the bottom who set out to frustrate, wind the clock down, play the referee a little bit etc.
But even then they’ve managed to find an answer more often than not.
Apart from that, they’re still without six or seven players and they don’t have a great deal of depth in the forward areas, so they’re lacking a little bit of an attacking threat off the bench.
Who are the players Sunderland will have to keep a close eye on during Saturday's game?
Jerry Yates is the obvious one. Since failing to score in his opening 11 games, he’s found the back of the net 20 times from 34 games. He’s also deadly from penalties.
It’s not just his goalscoring exploits though that catch the eye, it’s the way he sets the tone with his pressing from the front.
He’s very intelligent in terms of knowing when to close down, when not to and which players to target.
He’s been a really important player since signing from Rotherham during the summer.
How has Elliot Embleton been performing during his loan spell?
He’s done really well.
He made a bit of a slow start as he was thrown in straight away at Ipswich away on February 6, which was Blackpool’s last defeat, and he didn’t have the greatest of games.
He had to bide his time on the bench for a little bit after that but since he’s come into the side he’s been excellent.
You can tell he’s a really clever player who likes to get in the pockets and link-up play.
He’s actually played out to the right in recent weeks but has been given license to roam inside, allowing the right-back to surge into the free space.
He’ll certainly be a miss.
What do you think the score will be on Saturday?
I think it’ll be a tight one, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was another draw (Blackpool have drawn six of their last eight home games).
But after back-to-back draws, the Seasiders will be desperate to get back to winning ways against a side a little low on confidence, so I’ll go 2-1 Blackpool.