When I saw Ian Holloway had changed ten of his playing personnel for his side’s midweek encounter at Villa Park, I understood exactly what was going through his mind.
I immediately recalled an animated Mick McCarthy vehemently defending his decision to make ten changes when he took Wolves to Old Trafford last year (although he was perhaps not as animated as the Blackpool manager this week click here).
The logic is fair enough. It is widely acknowledged that Premier League games come thick and fast which has lead to calls from many quarters, including England manager Fabio Capello, for a winter break.
So, when Holloway and McCarthy say they are concerned about their player’s energy levels ahead of vital weekend games and following strenuous exertions to secure results the preceding weekend, I am appreciative of the right they have to shuffle their pack.
Of course, there is a valid argument that Aston Villa were there for the taking on Wednesday evening. Holloway’s first eleven may well have been capable of overpowering a Villa side heavily depleted by injury and relying on rookies in several key areas.
But Holloway evidently considers West Ham, the League’s bottom side, as genuine relegation contenders and a potentially huge scalp in Blackpool’s amazing quest for Premier League survival.
To criticise Holloway’s team selection is doing a big disservice to the players that put in a good performance and a spirited show against a team that has finished in the European spots for the past three years.
The former Plymouth and Leicester boss has a 25 man squad at his disposal and is entitled to demand a contribution from each, especially when his starting eleven on Wednesday contained three internationals. He should be allowed to manage his battalion however he sees fit and without fear of reproach from the FA.
The manager was quick to point out that his skills have already helped Blackpool defy the odds and claim 14 points so far this year. But having managerial freedom also comes with the responsibility of being accountable for all decisions made, although no doubt Holloway will relish rather than fear this.
No matter how close the so-called reserves came to pinching a point from the Midlands, the side picked by the Bristolian undermined his side’s chances of a possible 3 points.
Certainly, the impact of the late defeat will be offset should the Seasiders claim the proverbial six points from Upton Park on Saturday, but with the pressure cranked up on Holloway’s charges a failure to produce the goods against the Hammers will devalue his ploy.
Win or lose at the Boleyn Ground, now is not the time to question Holloway’s judgement and his decision should not be put under the microscope in isolation.
End of the Year
We will know to some degree whether it was a clever scheme by 5pm on Saturday evening, but it will be the end of the year and Blackpool’s final league position that will determine the cumulative success or failure of his decisions.
Last season, Mick McCarthy’s squad rotation was thoroughly vindicated when his team bounced back from the midweek defeat by the then Champions to beat their relegation rivals, Burnley.
He was further vindicated at the end of the year when Wolves retained their top flight status and Burnley returned swiftly to the Championship.
The decision to field an almost completely changed line up against Manchester Untied was just one gamble in a very long season for the Molineux club. The Wolves boss had to pick 38 teams over the course of the season and his team survived because he got more of them right than he did wrong.
Managers are constantly forced to make decisions that extend far beyond team selections. Some choices will have a big and obvious impact on the team. Snap judgements such as when Phil Brown decided to deliver his half time team talk on the pitch with his side 4-0 down to Manchester City have evident repercussions.
Other actions will have a relatively insignificant and less apparent effect on a club but will accumulate over the entire span of a league campaign. The key factors in McCarthy’s successful season were his ability to stay true to his style, have faith in his tactics and unflinchingly accept any criticism of either.
The man Wolves fans dub Merlin was hauled before the Premier League, placed under the microscope and asked to explain himself for fielding that team with so many changes from the side that had secured victory at White Hart Lane just three days earlier.
Wolves were given a suspended £25,000 fine, but as they celebrated survival in April there was very little mention of that controversial December evening and no concern whatsoever for the punishment that was handed down to them at the time.
As with Mick McCarthy last year, the Premier League will ask Ian Holloway to excuse his team selection. The only people ‘Ollie’ should be concerned with justifying himself to are the Blackpool board and the fans; an inquest that should only take place at the end of the season.
Furthermore, it should take into account the tremendous miracle he achieved simply by getting the northwest side into the league. When that day comes, whether Blackpool remain a top flight club or not, they will surely count themselves extremely fortunate if Holloway is still managing the club his way.