Meet the opposition: Armand the danger man as Grayson seeks fifth League One promotion
PUBLISHED: 17:00 22 November 2019
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Ipswich Town host Blackpool in a top-six League One clash at Portman Road this afternoon. STUART WATSON takes a closer look at the Seasiders.
UPS AND DOWNS
Blackpool's single swashbuckling season in the Premier League under Ian Holloway's management is now almost 10 years ago (2010/11).
Back-to-back relegations saw them fall to the fourth-tier in 2016, but they instantly bounced back with a play-off win against Exeter at Wembley following a seventh-place finish.
The Tangerines have finished 12th and 10th upon their return to League One.
Owen Oyston's 31-year ownership of the club ended in February after the High Court ruled he, having been found guilty of asset stripping, must pay ex-director Valeir Belokon £25m.
It saw fans, a large proportion of whom had boycotted matches in protest against the Oston family's running of the club, return to Bloomfield Road.
After a period in receivership, Blackpool announced Simon Sadler, a businessman born and bred in the Lancashire town, as their new owner in June.
In July, Terry McPhillips resigned saying he 'never really had any intention of becoming a manager' following promotion from a caretaker role. The very next day, Blackpool appointed League One promotion specialist Simon Grayson as their boss.
Grayson started his managerial career with the Seasiders in 2005, leading the club to the Championship in 2007.
He subsequently went on to oversee third-tier promotions at Leeds (2010), Huddersfield (2012) and Preston (2015) before less successful spells at Sunderland and Bradford.
The Tangerines find themselves fifth in the table following a good start to the campaign.
Grayson's men have suffered just four losses inside 90 minutes across 22 games in all competitions so far. Just once have they tasted defeat on the road in the league (3-2 at Coventry back at the start of September).
They come into this game off the back of four straight wins and a six-match unbeaten streak. November has consisted of a topsy-turvy 4-3 win against Peterborough in the league, a 1-0 win against Wolves U21s in the EFL Trophy, a 4-1 victory against League Two side Morecambe in the FA Cup and a 2-0 league win against AFC Wimbledon last weekend.
All four of those matches have come at home, with this weekend the first time Blackpool have been on the road since October 26. After their trip to Suffolk, their next three games are at home too.
French striker Armand Gnanduillet is said to be interesting several Championship clubs, including Derby County, after scoring 12 goals already this season.
The 26-year-old is formerly of Chesterfield and Leyton Orient and arrived at Bloomfield Road on a free transfer in 2016.
A former Ivory Coast youth international, the 6ft 4in front man almost left the club in 2018 to join South African side Baroka FC. He was convinced to sign a new one-year deal though and has really begun to flourish.
"When is he working hard and he is committed to the cause, he can cause any defence in this league problems," said captain Jay Spearing.
"I do believe he can go higher, but he has to want to and has to show it week in, week out. One week he can't be nine out of 10, then the next week five or six.
"The gaffer is keeping him on his toes, making sure he's working hard in training and not becoming lackadaisical. He has to bring that consistency to his games and I think over the last few weeks he's done that very well."
FIRED UP FEENEY
Winger Liam Feeney had a nine-game loan spell at Portman Road, from Bolton, at the back end of the 2015/16 season. The 33-year-old went on to sign for Blackburn, have a loan spell at Cardiff, before joining Blavckpool on a free transfer in the summer of 2018.
"I was at Ipswich for about three months," he recalls. "I really enjoyed it. It was really good and a really nice place to live.
"It's a massive football club, with a great set of lads, and the fans were really welcoming to me as well.
"I've got nothing but good memories, but now we're both in the same league and have similar objectives of getting out of this division.
"They are going to be a strong team in this league and we're going to have to be fully on our game to get anything down there.
"We don't fear anyone but it's a big game and we'll be respectful of them."
There are two players in the Blackpool squad who Ipswich previously looked at closely.
Paul Hurst tried hard to sign centre-back Curtis Tilt in the 2018 summer transfer window but the two clubs ultimately failed to agree a transfer fee, while winger Sullay Kaikai was watched by Mick McCarthy when at Crystal Palace in 2016.
Striker Joe Nuttall was said to have been discussed as part of a swap deal this summer had keeper Bartosz Bialkowski moved to Blackburn instead of Millwall. Instead, the 22-year-old joined Blackpool for a seven-figure fee.
"Ipswich are one of the favourites," said Simon Grayson.
"They have a really strong squad and have the threats of (Kayden) Jackson and (James) Norwood up front.
"We will go there in good spirits, make sure we're hard to beat and be ruthless in both boxes. There's no reason why we can't go there and get a good result."
He added: "When you see their team (at Lincoln in midweek), I think there were only two or three who played the previous league game.
"I was pretty sure that's what Paul would do - play his fringe players - and keep a different team up his sleeve for Saturday.
"We've had a good week on the training pitch, and though it's a long trip we'll go in a positive mindset and hopefully give our supporters something to shout about."