Away wins and the Blackpool effect

If there was a criticism of the Roy Hodgson era it was that away from home we never really seemed interested in attacking.  Hodgson denied that we played differently on our travels, but anyone who watched the team scuffle to horribly attritional narrow defeats in those seasons knows better: we kept everyone behind the ball and hoped that inspiration might strike.  It never did, unless we had either secured our Premiership status or needed to win to stay up, in which case all of a sudden things became different (as did results).

Football has always been a conservative game run by conservative people who knew what they liked and liked what they knew. Outside influences have been foisted on our game in the Premiership era, but the prevailing ethos in British football remains a ‘get stuck in’ version of 4-4-2, with perspiration not far behind points as the barometer of success (I exaggerate for effect… but not by much). 

So when it comes to playing away from home there’s never been much of a challenge to the ‘hope for the best’ approach. “Win your home games” is the mantra for any struggling side, as if whatever obstacles (mental or otherwise) are erected before/in away games really can’t be overcome so a defensive approach is probably best.

Nobody’s ever really understood home field advantage.  Certainly the crowd might help (or not, if it’s restless), travel arrangements might make a difference of course, and basic familiarity with the environment/pitch must play a part.  Some say that defending your own patch is an intrinsic human trait and accounts for home teams’ improved performances. Others suggest it’s all about refereeing.  Probably all of these are important, each contributing a small edge and combining to make a larger one.

But in addition to all this, I’ve always thought a lot of away day blues are down to the aforementioned negative approach: teams tell themselves that going away from home is harder, adjust their play slightly, which then makes it harder to play away successfully. It feels like there should be a latin phrase to slip in here.  Quintus sunt latrimae rerum.

Then last season Blackpool came into the league and Ian Holloway had them attack everyone.  This was initially successful as superior teams were blown away by this unexpected barrage of tangerine madness.  Blackpool lost their way and lost a lot of games, but their approach was instructive: positive play away from home actually yields results! 

http://www.statto.com/football/teams/blackpool/2010-2011/results

Now we learn that this year’s season has enjoyed more goals per game and more away wins than ever before.  Is this the Blackpool effect?  Is this something we should be copying?

7 thoughts on “Away wins and the Blackpool effect

  1. Actually, regarding home field advantage, some recent work has been done academically and explained in the popular “Scorecasting” (http://scorecasting.com/). Turns out that it is in response to the home fans pressurising the officials. There’s a direct relationship between the nearness of the fans to the field and how much home field advantage is expressed. While I have been to only a half dozen premiership grounds, sitting in the Johnny Haynes Stand is as close as I’ve ever been to the players. Given just how much better we are at home than away, I think this adds some support to this hypothesis.

    Cheers,

    James

    1. Hi James – I agree, but against that, and I can’t remember where now, someone took the Scorecasting arguments apart quite convincingly. I’ll try to find the review at lunchtime.

  2. I loved Blackpool last season, but I think the problem with their approach (and why it was ultimately unsuccessful) was it was not flexible enough. Holloway refused to adapt his style at all during games and this meant that exactly what made them so dangerous, being open, was also their achilles heel. Case in point – I watched them play Man Utd at home. They went 2-0 up and were looking good until around 60 mins when they started to tire. If Holloway had added more steel to the midfield and perhaps sat back and gone for the counter, they probably would have won. As it was, they conceded three in 20 minutes and were knackered.

    At the end of the day, more defensive, structured sides are always the most successful. You have to have a top defence to win things, and as much as I would love to see a buccaneering style of play from Fulham away, I am not sure how successful in the long run it would be. Sure we would win more away, but I bet we would also lose more both home and away.

  3. I’ve always thought that teams underperform away because of the players’ inherent laziness, which is less inclined to surface when playing at home because of the crowd’s expectations. That’s not to say the players don’t try when away, but rather don’t put in that extra running required when covering or moving off the ball. The really top teams (Man U, Chelsea, Arsenal etc) don’t suffer from this – their players don’t relax when away. The teams in the bottom half of the Prem have too many away games where they don’t turn up, which occurs far less frequently at home.

    1. Yep, there’s a subconscious feeling of “well, we’re away, we’re not expected to win here” I think. Perhaps not a big effect but another of the 1%s that all add up.

  4. Great observations, Rich.

    Personally, I do not think there is much logic…it is all in the mind, and that is the problem, especially when, like us, we have struggled away from home for so long. If Martin Jol is able to change their away mind-set, he will definitely go up in my books…

    @barrygilbertson

    barry@barrygilbertson.com

    COYWs

  5. I remember an Ian Holloway post-match interview where he pointed out that his side were “Up 3-2 away from home with 2 minutes left on the clock and we had SEVEN players in the opponents penalty area.” He just shook his head and smiled, since he knew that it was only that “attack at all costs” aggression that gave them the lead in the first place.

    I miss Blackpool, and I miss Holloway.

    On the “home field advantage,” certainly the biggest example of it in the Prem is at Stoke City. Their shrunken field augments their playing style. With a pitch even as wide as ours, Pulis would not be able to rely as much on the long throw, thus negating the advantage of having all those giants in his squad. Numbers or not, the home field advantage is real.

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