Neil Critchley is back in the dugout at Bloomfield Road having returned to Blackpool for a second stint as manager. Having been relegated to League One, Critchley’s return has provided a huge boost for the club, who will be looking to secure promotion back to the Championship at the first attempt in 2023-24.
The former Liverpool academy coach had a very fruitful first spell in west Lancashire, guiding the club to the second tier via the League One play-offs in 2020-21, beating Lincoln City 2-1 at Wembley Stadium.
Critchley had taken Blackpool back to the Championship for the first time in six years and he did so in his first full season in charge. After laying a strong foundation, Critchley did brilliantly to maintain the Tangerines’ status in the second tier in 2021-22 by guiding them to a respectable 16th-place finish. There was so much to like about his team in terms of its structure, intensity and of course the unity shown by the players.
His fine work didn’t go unnoticed as he was being tracked by teams higher in the division. But he swapped Blackpool for Birmingham as he agreed to succeed Michael Beale as Steven Gerrard’s assistant at Aston Villa. In hindsight it proved to be a bad career move as by October he was out of the job along with Gerrard after a 3-0 defeat to Fulham.
Less than two months later he returned to the Championship to take over at QPR, once again replacing Beale, who had jumped ship to join Rangers. His time in west London was just as miserable as that at Villa Park. The 44-year-old was only able to win one game in charge of the Hoops and that came in his first match, a 1-0 victory over Preston North End. Critchley was handed his second P45 in four months as QPR pulled the trigger in February.
As his year away from FY1 was catastrophic, so too was the 2022-23 campaign for the Seasiders. None of Critchley’s successors could build on what he had achieved in his first reign. Former Lincoln boss Michael Appleton struggled, winning just six Championship games of the 27 he oversaw before his exit in January.
With the threat of relegation growing, Blackpool turned to seasoned coach Mick McCarthy, hoping that he could steer them away from danger. Even he couldn’t get a tune out of the players, conjuring up just two wins from 13 fixtures. He was let go in April and Stephen Dobbie got the gig on an interim basis for the rest of term. The ex-Tangerines striker could not stop Blackpool falling through the trapdoor back to League One, leaving them in need of another rebuild.
The reunion with Critchley makes sense. He guided them out of the third tier before and even had them competing well in the Championship. Both he and Blackpool have suffered since their separation last June and they have a chance to mutually benefit each other once again. Blackpool have offered Critchley the platform to rebuild his reputation, which has taken a significant hit after his QPR spell. And thanks to his successes with Blackpool not that long ago, the Seasiders have a coach who knows the club very well and has the pedigree of delivering success at this level.
When Blackpool announced his return, most of the responses were positive. Some were less so, with a section of fans feeling his decision to leave is what resulted in their relegation from the second tier.
Most fans have overlooked that and welcomed him back with open arms, remembering what Critchley had built at Bloomfield Road only two seasons ago. They and the club have offered him this second chance and he must not waste it. He has experienced the downsides of leaving a club where you had a rhythm and enjoyed success. Blackpool have shown their loyalty and faith in Critchley by offering him a way back to rebuilding his managerial credentials. Now he will need to show the loyalty to them that he didn’t display last summer.