Mostly, I find football at all levels fascinating. However, I must admit that a week featuring away trips to Yeovil and Fleetwood didn’t exactly provide the most engaging content with which to fill two separate articles. Had it not been for a certain managerial appointment on the Fylde coast, a post 0-0 JPT elimination Fleetwood preview would have made for brief reading.
Before I take a look at our upcoming opponents, it has to be remarked that Tuesday night’s showing against a team struggling in League Two was poor considering our ambitions for this season. There is a real streak of profligacy in this side, even with Adam Armstrong in the team,which will see us struggle in the tighter games if it cannot be stamped out.
The likely return of Marc-Antoine Fortuné to the starting line-up should help matters somewhat but as impressive as the forward was against Shrewsbury, he’s a player who is only as effective as the players he is bringing into play. If we are to win this game, Jacob Murphy, Jim O’Brien and Marcus Tudgay have to provide more conviction to their game in front of goal. Aside from Armstrong, this team appears to be happy to simply get a shot off rather than aim at a specific area of the goal.
Whilst the focus for the pre-game preparation has to be the finishing, Tony Mowbray has a big decision now to make over who to start in goal. Aside from hairy moment early on against Shrewsbury, Reice Charles-Cook has barely put a foot out of place in the past two games. To keep a now fully-fit Lee Burge on the bench though puts our current number one’s development curve at risk.
As little confidence as a section of our fans have regarding Burge, he has more first-team experience. That means that inevitably he’s made more errors but he’s demonstrated his ability to learn from errors with some solid performances thus far. Charles-Cook appears to transmit more of an aura of confidence around him, how much that is simply down to the quality of opposition he has faced is hard to tell at this point. It’s tempting to give Charles-Cook another game just to see whether that aura is actually based on goalkeeping ability but I would imagine that Lee Burge is still seen as the number one and will be back in the team.
Last Time We Met
Our first ever league meeting with Fleetwood Town came last season at the Ricoh Arena during the ‘dark period’ before Steven Pressley’s eventual sacking. Fleetwood didn’t offer a great deal against a poor Coventry City side but took the lead after a shot took an unfortunate deflection off cult hero Andy Webster. Simeon Jackson scored a late equaliser from a Gary Madine knock-down, offering the feint hope that the duo could provide a strike parnership to rival Leon Clarke and Callum Wilson (they didn’t).
Our first trip to the other Highbury came on St Patrick’s Day this year as goals from Dominic ‘Sideways’ Samuel and Frank Nouble secured back-to-back wins that threatened to catapult us into mid-table obscurity under Tony Mowbray. Of course, the team took every opportunity to shoot themselves in the foot until they finally got their act together in time for the final day of the season against Crawley.
How Are They Doing?
Steven Pressley arrives at a Fleetwood Town side that are in a state of transition and disarray. Despite their reputation as one of the lower league’s big spenders, Fleetwood have been more wary of financial fair play restrictions, due to their low attendances, since rising into League One. Whereas in days past, Fleetwood would acquire a bunch of expensive mercenaries and lay siege to each new division, the focus is now on developing younger talent from the local non-league scene and surrounding academies.
Last season, Graham Alexander calmly managed Fleetwood into a comfortable 10th placed finish by finding a decent balance between some remaining experienced mercenaries and promising young players. The football was not of the highest quality, but the team were well aware of their limitations and maintained a level of consistency throughout the season.
The feeling is that it fell apart this season due to the balance being tipped too far in the direction of young, raw talent. Fleetwood have been more entertaining this season but it has been at the cost of the complete erosion of their once formidable defence. Steven Pressley’s job at Fleetwood is to raise confidence in the short-term and to oversee the club’s transition towards being a home for young, exciting talents.
The core of experienced players for Pressley to work with is small with midfielder Jimmy Ryan looking key. The former Chesterfield man was the club’s one lavish signing this summer and provides dynamism to Fleetwood’s midfield area. There are creative talents in midfield in the form of Antoni Sarcevic and Bobby Grant too but both can be rather inconsistent and frustrating.
Fleetwood’s strong defence of last season has been largely taken apart with only the experienced Stephen Jordan still around but appearing to be out of favour. Former Sky Blues defender Richard Wood is currently at the club on a short-term loan deal and he’s likely to be partnered at the back by a fellow loanee, Stoke’s Brazilian-Slovakian Dionatan Teixeira, who is getting his first taste of English first-team football.
Of the raw young talents that Fleetwood are looking to develop, Nick Haughton (box-to-box midfielder), Ashley Hunter (pacey striker) and Tyler Hornby-Forbes (quick winger/full-back) are the most promising. The challenge for Pressley is to ensure that these players see enough game-time to flourish whilst also protecting them from the pressures of a relegation battle.
It’s not a preferable situation for Pressley to be walking into and he perhaps could have been more patient in selecting his next job. There isn’t a great deal of leeway to bring in new additions to bolster a squad very thin on quality, particularly in attack. Where it went wrong for Pressley here was when the team was low on morale and he needed to get the team on a consistent run of results. That’s exactly what he needs to do now at Fleetwood, getting off to a good start will be crucial for him.
Whilst we would ordinarily be feeling confident about getting a result against a Fleetwood team currently second bottom of the division, there is perhaps a perfect storm brewing against us. Not only will the opposition by looking to enjoy the ‘new manager bounce’ but they have the immutable of the ex on their side, especially so as Pressley’s assistant Neil MacFarlane only left the club in the summer and will thus have some compelling insider knowledge of our team. We’ve also got to factor in our poor recent run of form on the road, our profligacy in front of goal and the lack of Adam Armstrong to call upon.
Still though, you would have to peg us as favourites to win this game but we have to assert ourselves on the game and actually capitalise on the opportunities we create. All things considered, I’m predicting a 1-1 draw.