Neil Critchley imposed the Liverpool way on Blackpool’s players after arriving from the Reds’ academy – and West Brom could not cope with it… now he’s hoping for a reunion with Jurgen Klopp in the fourth round
- Blackpool shocked their Premier League opponents West Brom in the FA Cup
- Neil Critchley arrived from Liverpool’s academy to start rebuilding the squad
- He has gradually improved them by imposing the way of Liverpool on the team
It was always a risk imposing the Liverpool way on League One players, but Neil Critchley’s vision has allowed Blackpool to add another chapter to their famous FA Cup history.
There was surprise when Critchley left his job at Liverpool’s academy for Bloomfield Road, where a rebuild was necessary after the neglect of the Oyston years.
It has been a gradual process, with Blackpool 13th in their division, but against Premier League opposition on Saturday, the education in training came to fruition.
Neil Critchley arrived at Blackpool from Liverpool’s academy to help start the rebuild
He has imposed the way of Liverpool on League One players, and it worked against West Brom
Sam Allardyce’s West Bromwich could not cope with the crisp, first-time passing of the underdogs, whose goals both came from slick moves that started in their own half.
And though their place in the fourth round was ultimately secured on penalties, when goalkeeper Chris Maxwell made a hat-trick of saves, this was no smash-and-grab.
Blackpool led twice through strike partners Jerry Yates and Gary Madine, and were only taken the distance by a debatable West Brom penalty after the ball had struck Ollie Turton’s arm at point-blank range.
Critchley came to prominence when he took charge of Liverpool’s domestic cup ties while Jurgen Klopp was away with the first-team squad on Club World Cup duty. He joined Blackpool 10 months ago and in recording the biggest upset of Saturday’s games, he was pleased with their style as much as anything.
‘We sprang really good counter-attacks,’ he said. ‘The trick now is to take that form into the league. We have shown what we are capable of. We more than matched a Premier League team.’
The game went to extra time and penalties, but it was no smash and grab for Blackpool
The partnership of 6ft 4in Madine and the skilful Yates is a further example of Critchley’s tactical awareness. Yates started the season struggling on the left, but the 24-year-old is on a roll now and has seven goals in 13 games.
Naturally, Critchley would love to draw Liverpool in the fourth round — ‘that sounds nice’ — but his main concern is who will be fit to face Hull on Saturday with defender Daniel Gretarsson limping off and Grant Ward suffering blurred vision after a poke in the eye.
Before then, goalkeeper Maxwell can be added to 1953 heroes Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortensen in the Seasiders’ Cup gallery. His story was made more remarkable by the fact he hadn’t played for three weeks after contracting Covid.
He still doesn’t know how he and his wife got the virus. ‘You can catch it in the supermarket or the shopping you bring home. It is very serious. The way it affected me and my family was not good. Thankfully I came through it.’
There was little good news for new boss Sam Allardyce, who is still without a win at West Brom
There was little good news for Allardyce, still looking for his first win as West Brom boss.
He has always tried to use the January transfer window, keeping Crystal Palace up in 2017 after buying Luka Milivojevic and Patrick van Aanholt, and is looking for two strikers this month with Karlan Grant out injured and Charlie Austin off to QPR.
Pereira, who missed the decisive kick in the shootout, is usually a winger but played up front. ‘I couldn’t risk Callum Robinson because if he’d got injured I would have no striker for Wolves on Saturday,’ said Allardyce.
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