Blackpool’s managerial search has been ongoing since the departure of Mick McCarthy, with Stephen Dobbie only standing in on an interim basis.
But on the 23rd of May, Blackpool announced that their ‘new’, or returning, manager, would be Neil Critchley, appointed on a 4 year deal.
The announcement may have come as a surprise for some Blackpool fans, with Critchley leaving the club previously to join Steven Gerrard at Aston Villa, which kickstarted Blackpool’s poor season in The Championship, ending with their relegation to League One.
Despite Dobbie doing a good job in his 6 games in charge, the club decided to look elsewhere, with Dobbie returning to the U23’s as manager, working with the development squad as he did previously.
Critchley used to be a fan favourite at Bloomfield Road, remembered for his fist pumps and badge tapping, things may be different this time around, especially due to his ominous exit which brought up questions marks over his loyalty to the club.
Here I take a look back at some of Critchley’s highlights at Blackpool, and touch on his unconvincing stints at Aston Villa and QPR.
Critchley joined Blackpool on the 2nd of March 2020, a season where Blackpool finished 13th when the season ended early due to COVID.
Critchley had a big summer ahead of him, with a big rebuild needed, to help push Blackpool up the table and challenge for a spot in The Championship.
His eye for young talent soon became apparent. Signing the likes of Ellis Simms from Everton, Dan Ballard from Arsenal and Jordan Gabriel from Nottingham Forest all on loan.
To add to these exciting loan signings, there were multiple players signed on a free. Marvin Ekpiteta joined from Leyton Orient, and Keshi Anderson arrived after playing for Swindon.
Experienced centre midfielder Kenny Dougall joined from Barnsley to strengthen up the middle of the park, whilst Demetri Mitchell joined from Man United’s U21s to add some quality into the wider areas.
One of the better signings of the season was one of the only ones Blackpool paid any money for. In desperate need of a new striker after losing star man Armand Gnanduillet, Jerry Yates arrived from Rotherham.
After an exciting transfer window, the start of the season did not go to plan. Blackpool won just one of their first seven games of the League One season, that coming in a 2-0 win at home against Swindon Town.
Once Blackpool got going, they looked like they could not be stopped. After losing 3-2 away against Doncaster late in November, Blackpool went on an impressive run which saw them lose only 5 of their next 36 games, including the playoffs.
That incredible run saw Blackpool rise up the table, and finish in 3rd place, 7 points behind Peterborough in second, and 9 points behind Hull City, who won the league.
New signings Jerry Yates hit 20 goals for the season in the league, and Ellis Simms impressed on loan, chipping in with 8 goals in 21 appearances. Ekpiteta soon showed his captaincy credentials as he shored up Blackpool’s defence in the latter stages of the season.
After finishing in 3rd, Oxford United awaited Blackpool in the playoffs. The first leg was to be played away from home, and Critchley had one of his games of the season with his tactics. Blackpool ran out 3-0 winners and looked extremely comfortable, taking a big lead back into the home tie.
Blackpool advanced to the final after drawing the second leg 3-3, going through 6-3 on aggregate, setting up the playoff final against Lincoln City. A Kenny Dougall brace meant that Blackpool ran out 2-1 winners, and Critchley achieved promotion in his first full season in professional football.
Critchley took Blackpool into The Championship, and quickly became the entertainers of the division. They took teams by surprise, and challenged the teams at the top of the table on a consistent basis.
His eye for a young player became evident again, signing Josh Bowler on a free from Everton, Daniel Grimshaw from Man City’s U21s, and experienced centre back Richard Keogh arriving from Huddersfield.
A dramatic late equaliser from new striker Shayne Lavery handed Blackpool a hard earned 1-1 draw when they visited Bristol City on the opening day of the season, and they had to wait until their 6th game before they got their first win.
Blackpool had to rely on a sturdy, defensive display, and a bit of magic from Josh Bowler, as they ran out 1-0 winners against the eventual league winners. The result handed Blackpool a major boost, who went on to pick up many good results throughout the season, such as their wins away against Middlesbrough and Sheffield United.
Critchley got rewarded for all his hard work, with a 4 year extension on the 19th November, keeping him at the club until 2026.
The season finished with Blackpool ending up in 16th, comfortably clear of a relegation fight, representing a very good first season back for The Seasiders.
Critchley went into his second season in The Championship, but it did not last long. Steven Gerrard of Aston Villa came calling, and Critchley duly replied. He left Blackpool on the 2nd of June, becoming Gerrard‘s right hand man, and leaving Blackpool scrambling for a new manager.
His time at Villa did not last long, however. Gerrard’s poor run of results led to him being sacked on the 21st October, with Critchley leaving the day later.
Next up was a very small stint in charge of QPR. He joined them on a 3-and-a-half-year deal on the 11th of December, and his first game in charge went perfectly. A 1-0 away win against Preston halted an extremely poor run of form.
This did not continue however, as Critchley did not win any of his next 11 games, drawing 5 and losing 6, before the board eventually decided to sack him on the 19th of February.
Critchley’s time away from Blackpool has been less than successful, and this has put questions over whether it was a good decision to reappoint him. But the circumstances were different at QPR.
Even Gareth Ainsworth, who took the helm after Critchley, struggled with QPR, losing to Blackpool 6-1 in March. They did eventually struggle to safety, but the appointment of Critchley did not help.
Despite performing poorly, his return to Blackpool should be met with some excitement. His attractive brand of football will work wonders in League One, as it did last time, and they will be one of the favourites to go up this season.
Only time will tell whether Critchley’s homecoming was a good idea or not, but we should see some good football along the way.