How Blackpool used League Two, freebies and loans to reach Wembley play-off final - a lesson for Portsmouth recruitment

Recruits from Mansfield and Crawley, a striker who last season played in League Two, and at least six free-transfer arrivals.

Tuesday, 25th May 2021, 5:30 pm
Blackpool booked their place in the League One play-off final after beating Oxford United 6-3 on aggregate. Picture: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Since October, no League One side have taken as many points as Blackpool

Now Neil Critchley’s men are to face Lincoln in the League One play-off final at Wembley.

While Pompey’s season ended in dismal defeat to Accrington which will prompt an overhaul of a failing squad, the Tangerines are dreaming of a Championship return.

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It’s a tantalising position inspired by last summer’s recruitment drive, which saw 17 players arrive at Bloomfield Road.

Just four involved transfer fees, the highest being Jerry Yates from Rotherham for around £200,000.

Last term he plundered 14 goals while on loan to League Two title-winners Swindon. Since his Blackpool arrival, he has netted 23 times in 53 outings.

And overseeing it all is a former Liverpool under-23s boss who, in his first full season at senior level, lost six of his opening nine league fixtures.

‘Most of the players which have taken Blackpool to the play-off final have come from below League One,’ said Matt Scrafton from the Blackpool Gazette.

‘There is a bit of a snobbishness that if you sign League Two players then you’ve got a League Two squad, yet let’s not forget players can improve.

‘It’s down to a manager and his coaches to train players to become better.

‘Generally in football, fans want their club to splash the cash, especially with a new owner, which Blackpool had.

‘When a player arrives on a free transfer, the question among supporters is “Why is he on a free transfer?”.

‘There were 17 signings last summer, which probably explains why Blackpool got off to such a slow start.

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‘The Tangerines operate using a recruitment committee, which is a mixture of Critchley, chief executive Ben Mansford, head of recruitment Tommy Johnson, head of football operations John Stephenson and head of technical scouting Jonathan Gibson.

‘But make no mistake, Critchley is heavily involved and also helped bring in a number of loan youngsters from Premier League clubs and below.’

Those loanees were Jordan Gabriel (Nottingham Forest), Ellis Simms (Everton), Dan Ballard (Arsenal) and Elliot Embleton (Sunderland).

They supplement a squad which contains CJ Hamilton and Beryly Lubula, bought from Mansfield and Crawley respectively.

Keshi Anderson was with Swindon, defender Marvin Ekpiteta came from Leyton Orient, Demetri Mitchell from Scottish side Hearts, while Ethan Robson was a free from Sunderland who spent last term on loan spell at Grimsby.

Then there were free transfers consisting of Kenny Dougall (Barnsley), former Ipswich loanee Luke Garbutt (Everton) and Kevin Stewart (Hull).

Scrafton added: ‘In terms of League One budgets, I would say Blackpool are in the top 10. If not, the top six.

‘The campaign didn’t start well and it’s hard to put your finger on why considering their football was good on the eye.

‘Critchley admits himself that he’s learning on the job and, since defeat at AFC Wimbledon on October 27, it has been six losses in 37 league matches.

‘With one game left, let’s just hope the Tangerines can win that one too.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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