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!
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?