On The Road McCarthy channels his inner Steve McQueen
BLACKPOOL RISE TO VETERAN MANAGER’S ESCAPE MISSION
THERE was a clip doing the rounds on social media in the aftermath of Blackpool’s defeat at Reading last week. Another loss. One win in 17.
‘It can’t go on like this, can it?’ manager Mick McCarthy was asked by a journalist.
‘It can,’ replied McCarthy. He knew what was coming next. Vincent Kompany and Burnley. A team on course to break the 100-point mark. A team Huddersfield boss Neil Warnock describes as the ‘best Championship side of the last 25 years’.
Despite the seriousness of Blackpool’s predicament, McCarthy was admirably frank. In his 31 years in management, there cannot have been many as straighttalking as the 64-year-old.
‘I doubt there will be too many people around the world with Blackpool on their bet slip,’ he added pre-match.
Yet McCarthy’s side shut Burnley out. Something that no side had managed in the league since August.
It wasn’t pretty but it was proof that there is still a place for an old-fashioned 4-4-2 and a backsto-the-wall display in modern football. Alan McInally, working for Sky, was particularly impressed with the way they nullified the Burnley overload on the wings.
McCarthy said: ‘I picked the team, I got it right and they all put a shift in.’
Such is the madness of the Championship that Kompany was happy to say it was a ‘point gained’ despite Blackpool starting the day 23rd in the table. You would hardly have expected Mikel Arteta to describe it as a ‘ point gained’ if Arsenal had drawn with Bournemouth.
But that respect from Kompany came from a place of understanding. ‘ We were up against a team who really had something to fight for, so you have got to expect it to be difficult,’ said the Belgian.
This was an uneventful game played against a backdrop of constant singing from the travelling Burnley support. ‘ You’re going down, we’re going up,’ they belted out all afternoon.
Only 33 miles separates these Lancashire clubs but the 45 points and 22 places in the league between them pre- match gave the away fans plenty of ammunition with which to taunt their rivals.
On the pitch, however, McCarthy’s men were equal to the task. They are yet to lose at Bloomfield Road under him. ‘It was proper stoic — we were organised, resolute and belligerent,’ said McCarthy. ‘You want a performance so the fans can get behind you and enjoy it. We certainly did that.’
Perhaps that is all the Blackpool supporters want after a year to forget. Boss Michael Appleton was sacked in January after going 10 games without a win.
Nathan Fogg, a lifelong Blackpool supporter and author of How Not to Run a Football Club, said: ‘It feels like a season that was doomed from the start, after Neil Critchley left in the summer. Appleton was a terrible appointment — a step back and pretty uninspiring.
Blackpool fan Rob added: ‘Mick McCarthy and his assistant Terry Connor have shown more passion than Appleton did all season.’
McCarthy insisted: ‘We are going to have to scrap every single day for the rest of the season — and if that’s the standard we’ve set, then it’s a good one.’
Perhaps this draw could be the catalyst for a decent run, with home games coming up against fellow strugglers Cardiff and QPR. Fogg continued: ‘The fans are all into it, of course. We’re a northern, working-class town so without oversimplifying it, there’s an element of our fans gravitating to how Mick brings it back to basics with how he speaks and what he stands for.’
Passion alone will not be enough to save Blackpool, of course. They desperately need goals — it is now 33 in 35 matches and just two in the last six. Striker Shayne Lavery has a hamstring injury which will keep him out for at least another month.
The reality is that Blackpool are running out of games. ‘ Lofty heights,’ joked McCarthy when he discovered that, after results elsewhere, the gap to fourthbottom Cardiff had extended from four points to six.
The cover of Blackpool fanzine Now that’s What I Call Progress has McCarthy in a tangerine T- shirt superimposed on to the body of Steve McQueen. Underneath it poses the question: The Great Escape?
Was there progress on Saturday? Without a doubt. But with 11 games left and Blackpool still six points adrift, an escape from the drop would be nothing short of epic and another remarkable chapter in the rollercoaster ride of this club.
And yet you would not bet against McCarthy pulling it off.