MATCH VERDICT: Blackpool 0 Bolton Wanderers 0
JERMAINE Beckford’s agony in front of goal may have continued for Wanderers but there are definitely some new signs of life in a new look side.
A lick of paint was all that separated the summer signing from his first league strike for the club, and goodness knows that was the least the Whites deserved from a performance of real heart and character, if not always quality on the ball.
This was a team that bore more hallmarks of Dougie Freedman than it did his predecessor Owen Coyle.
Even those who were signed by the previous regime – such as Matt Mills, Tim Ream or Darren Pratley, had found themselves regularly out of favour at this time last year before being brought back into the fold.
Three loans signings – Kevin McNaughton, Liam Feeney and Neil Danns – made their full debuts in a line-up barely recognisable from the one that missed out on the play-offs on the final day against Blackpool in May.
Chung-Yong Lee found himself on the bench after his ineffectual display against Yeovil. It was the first time that the South Korean international had been dropped from the starting line-up in the league since Boxing Day, some 32 games ago.
But other big names joined him in the dugout. Combined with Chris Eagles, David Ngog, Zat Knight and David Wheater, the winger made up perhaps the most expensive bench anywhere in the Championship last night.
It was a team sprinkled with less stardust than Whites fans will have become accustomed to but attitude for the most part was spot on.
Winger Feeney was a case in point. Not a name that provoked particular buzz on his arrival at the Reebok from Millwall, where he had slipped down the pecking order, his every surge down the right wing was now cheered on by the Wanderers fans lining the touchline stand.
Early on he was a constant outlet, giving Pool full-back Jack Robinson a torrid time. Though his final ball was inconsistent at times, his willingness to go and beat the defender conjured some pleasing memories of Whites wingers of days gone by.
Beckford came close to turning in two such crosses, one that had been completely misjudged by Matt Gilks at his near post and another well blocked by Craig Cathcart.
Blackpool steadied the ship and Bloomfield old boy Alex Baptiste made a crucial header to clear Ricardo Fuller’s cross at the far post and deny Stephen Dobbie a tap-in.
Adam Bogdan also had a point to prove after Saturday’s horrendous mistake. His catching and distribution was excellent early on and half an hour in he was called upon to make the evening’s first save, pushing away Bobby Grant’s stab at goal.
Blackpool are a much more physical prospect these days under Paul Ince and that was reflected by their threat at set pieces.
Wanderers had to keep their concentration and did to their credit. Marc Tierney’s absence on the left was not felt as acutely as was feared, while new recruit McNaughton added a bit of grit and experience that has been sadly missing at times this season.
Freedman would have been satisfied as his side headed back down the tunnel for the break, albeit with the nagging doubt in the back of his mind that the next goal was crucial.
Both sides could have seized the advantage within minutes of the restart.
Bogdan had to be alert again to push away Fuller’s header but at the other end, a mistake from Kirk Broadfoot allowed Darren Pratley to slide Beckford in on goal and after wrestling off the challenge of Catchcart, he casually slid a shot past Gilks that rebounded agonisingly off the foot of the post.
If anything summed up his luckless start in a Wanderers shirt, then those few moments would have been a good start.
The game finely poised, this really was an acid test for the manager’s new set of characters. Tim Ream summed up the new resolve with a brilliant block to halt the rampaging Dobbie with 20 minutes left to go.
Real chances were few and far between until with seven minutes to go, Wanderers made one last concerted push.
Beckford thought he has scored after heading Pratley’s cross with purpose, only for covering defender Gary Mackenzie to hook it off the line. Baptiste, sniffing out a fourth goal of the season, was within inches of turning in the rebound.
Blackpool scrambled clear and from the resulting corner, Ream burst into the area to head just over the bar.
The home side had one last hurrah – Ince’s low blast forcing Bogdan into another good stop.
But the game’s most controversial moment was reserved for the last possible kick – or rather blow.
Beckford was floored by a flailing arm from Mackenzie in the last seconds but with Chung-Yong racing in on goal, referee Neil Swarbrick blew his final whistle to the displeasure of Freedman, who raced on to the pitch to remonstrate.
Unlike Saturday, this was a point the Wanderers fans could applaud. Now, how about more of the same at Birmingham?