Blackpool and central midfield links go hand in hand these days.
Neil Critchley has seen the middle of the park as an important place to reinforce in recent windows, but with deals failing or not quite crossing the line, the situation remains. Currently the sailors can call on Callum Connolly, Kenny Dougall, Ethan Robson and Matty Virtue to fill both roles – with Kevin Stewart currently spending another spell on the sidelines.
When Connolly first arrived at Bloomfield Road, it was expected that he was likely to fill a defensive role, which seemed to be the case as he played at right-back at the start of the season before. the arrival of Jordan Gabriel and Dujon Sterling. Now Connolly is starting to look like a solid Championship midfielder, arguably the man of the match in the recent draw with Blackburn Rovers.
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As for Dougall, his form has been dropping lately and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him drop out of the team for a while now that Virtue is back at full speed after playing 70 minutes against Liverpool U23 on Monday afternoon. Dougall was a mainstay in the center of the field for the Seasiders under Neil Critchley and played a pivotal role in their promotion from League One.
Stewart and Dougall have probably been the partnership that played out when Blackpool were at their best, but given the unsustainable times Stewart is spending on the sidelines due to injury, other signings to fill the void are needed for the next season. If Blackpool are looking to play with more control and an upcoming possession-based campaign, then having a lasting partnership is essential to their success in this regard.
Mo Sangare, a Newcastle United U23 midfielder, played the full 90 minutes in the 4-1 defeat at the Liverpool Academy stadium on Monday as part of a trial period with the club and looked the kind of combative, composed presence that Critchley would like to see in his midfield. While the pace of his game seemed a bit labored at times, with his contract expiring he could be an option to turn to in the market if other deals fail to materialise.
Oliver Norburn’s name has again been mentioned in relation to Blackpool by his current club Peterborough United, with Barry Fry confirming there is a gentleman’s agreement in place with Seasiders to sign the player on a deal worth up to up to £800,000 this summer but an ACL injury saw that drop. The Tangerines saw two offers rejected for the 29-year-old in the January window, with his club keen to keep him as part of their relegation fight.
Cameron Brannagan will be another name to appear in the talk for the near future given the club’s continued push to sign the man from Oxford United. Blackpool saw numerous offers rejected for Brannagan in January, having already had bids rejected at the start of the season for the player who has an estimated seven-figure release clause.
It is clear that bringing in one or even two quality central midfielders is essential for Blackpool to maintain success at Championship level and while a player of the quality of Kevin Stewart is equally important, his injury record indicates he is not a player to rely on. It remains to be seen whether the Seasiders will look to spend the money needed to eventually get Brannagan out of Oxford’s hands, with Josh Bowler’s future likely playing a role in the funds available for the window.
However, with Ethan Robson clearly out of the picture, only being thrown out of necessity against Preston North End and Kevin Stewart’s ongoing injury worries, the central midfielder simply needs to be tackled this time around.
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