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Poyet left short on numbers
The Albion squad Gus Poyet is assembling will have real depth and quality for the Championship once everybody is fit.
Providing, that is, he can add one more established striker between now and the middle of next week when the transfer window shuts.
The arrival of Ryan Harley from Swansea will increase the already considerable competition for places in the middle of the park.
And we all know the game-changing options provided in wide positions by Craig Noone, Kazenga LuaLua and the hamstrung Will Buckley.
The bench, yet alone the team, will have a very strong look to it, especially in the league now that only five substitutes are permitted.
The one area where Albion have currently been caught short though is the one that matters most, up front.
The absence from contention again of Will Hoskins emphasised Poyet’s eagerness to add another forward.
The substitutes did not include a striker, which is pretty unusual, particularly at home.
Roland Bergkamp and Torbjorn Agdestein are clearly not considered by Poyet to be ready yet for the rigours of the Championship, although one of them is likely to be on the bench tomorrow night against Sunderland in the Carling Cup with seven substitutes allowed.
Albion have three very good strikers in Craig Mackail-Smith, Ashley Barnes and Hoskins but that is not enough. It only needs one of them to be injured, fatigued or suspended for Poyet’s hands to suddenly be tied.
At Cardiff last Wednesday, with a two-goal lead in the second half, he still had Hoskins up his sleeve. The summer signing from Bristol Rovers scored on his debut to put the game beyond the Welshmen.
Unfortunately, he suffered a reaction to the abductor muscle injury which had ruled him out up to that point. That had serious, and arguably decisive, repercussions against Blackpool.
Hoskins would certainly have come on at some stage in the second half, either when Albion were 2-0 or 2-1 up.
Having Buckley sidelined at the same time exacerbated the striker shortage, because he can also operate centrally.
Noone and LuaLua, on the other hand, are out-and-out wingers. That was the like-for-like trade made by Poyet as soon as the lead had been halved.
Off went Noone after two assists and a caution, on came LuaLua. It would be simple to blame the change for the final result – simple but misleading.
Crosses from LuaLua twice almost laid on what would have been the killer third goal but Mackail-Smith was denied from point-blank range by keeper Matthew Gilks and Barnes the chance to slot another penalty when the referee failed to spot Ian Evatt impeding him.
Albion relinquished their 100% start because they made the fatal mistake of giving room inside the penalty area to Kevin Phillips, who could have been that fourth striker Poyet is seeking.
Phillips decided for geographical reasons to join Blackpool, which is a pity. Imagine if Poyet had him now too?
Phillips, like all natural goalscorers, has the priceless ability to anticipate where the ball is going to drop and to find space accordingly.
A far post header breathed life back into the visitors just beyond the hour mark, his equaliser on the stroke of full-time was exquisitely executed.
Stephen Crainey’s corner was nodded back by Evatt for Phillips to pounce with a swivelling right-foot volley. Poyet said, somewhat ruefully: “I am sure if it was the other ten players without Kevin Phillips they would never have scored, so you need to give credit to him.
“But at the same time we conceded two goals that we normally don’t so we are to blame, the whole team, the staff, not individuals.”
Ian Holloway also deserves credit for the Blackpool revival. A triple change with his team second best and two goals down had the desired effect.
One of the replacements, Neal Eardley, supplied the cross for Phillips’ opener but it was not so much the individual contributions of the substitutes that made a difference as much as the galvanising impact of introducing them simultaneously. The disappointment of letting a commanding lead slip should swiftly subside because Albion were excellent otherwise in an absorbing contest.
The voracious Mackail-Smith headed in a penetrative cross from Noone in the 29th minute and Noone’s corner was cleverly back-heeled at the near post by Gordon Greer for Ashley Barnes to slot the second five minutes into the restart.
It should have been enough, it would have been and some if Phillips had been playing in blue and white instead of tangerine.
Still, it has been a very fruitful start. It could be another very fruitful season as well with that extra striker on board.
Albion (4-1-2-3): Ankergren; Calderon, Greer, Dunk, Painter; Bridcutt; Vincelot, Dicker (Navarro 81); Noone (LuaLua 63), Mackail-Smith, Barnes. Subs not used: Brezovan, Sparrow, Cook.
Goals: Mackail-Smith (29), Barnes (50).
Red cards: None.
Yellow cards: Greer (24) foul, Noone (57) foul, Mackail-Smith (84) foul.
Blackpool (4-2-1-3): Gilks; Basham (Eardley 58), Baptiste, Evatt, Crainey; Ferguson, Southern; Taylor-Fletcher; M. Phillips (Sutherland 58), K. Phillips, Clarke (Ormerod 58). Subs not used: Halstead, Hill.
Goals: K. Phillips (61), (90).
Red cards: None.
Yellow cards: Basham (37) foul, Evatt (64) foul, Taylor-Fletcher (78) foul, Eardley (90), K.Phillips (90) over-celebrating.
Venue: The Amex.
Entertainment value: 4 out of 5.
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