At the start of the 2010-11 season few would have predicted Ian Holloway’s Blackpool would be sitting in 17th place in the Premier League with just two games left to play. A victory in their final home game against Bolton Wanderers on 14th May could just be enough to secure a second season in the top flight.
The club’s Premier League future looked even brighter at the turn of 2011. Unbeaten in five – winning three of those games – and sitting comfortably in mid-table fans were starting to look up towards the top half of the table rather than the bottom.
Just two wins from nineteen Premier League games in 2011 has left the Tangerines clinging on to their Premier League status. The honeymoon period is over; Blackpool were always going to suffer a mid-season slump; the rest of the Premier League have found them out; all quite inevitable in the eyes of many but that does not tell the whole story.
Success or failure in the Premier League is often decided by the slimmest of margins and a knee-injury keeping out first-choice goalkeeper Matthew Gilks for half of the season could well prove to be the difference between finishing 17th and 18th come 6pm on 22nd May.
Blackpool Boss Ian Holloway had put his faith in Gilks as his number-one for the campaign. That faith had seemingly been rewarded as Gilks helped Blackpool pick up points in the first half of the season and push his way into the Scotland squad.
Despite starting in two fewer games than his replacement – Ghanaian international Richard Kingson – Blackpool have kept twice as many clean sheets when Gilks has been between the sticks this season. Kingson can politely be described as an enigmatic goalkeeper, far from the calming influence an already overworked defensive unit needs to guide them through games.
That point is emphasised by the percentage of games lost with either goalkeeper in the side. Blackpool have only suffered defeat in 41% of the games Gilks has started but with Kingson keeping goal that statistic rose alarmingly to 58%. Simply, Blackpool have conceded more goals per game and picked up less points per game when Matthew Gilks has been out of the side.
It is no coincidence that Blackpool’s worst run of the season through January and early February- losing 7 of their 8 league games – saw Gilks missing from all but one of the starting lineups. Nor is it any coincidence that Gilks’ return to the side has seen them grind out three creditable draws in a row against Newcastle, Stoke and Tottenham, conceding just two goals in the process. Such solid defensive displays just did not seem possible through the middle part of the season.
With their first-choice goalkeeper now back and in form Holloway’s men can go into that next home game against Bolton on 14th May believing they are capable of keeping a clean sheet. Matthew Gilks return to the side may have come just in time to help them earn that vital three points and another season in the Premier League.