Tony Mowbray has asked us to judge this side once the transfer window had closed and now that moment has come. The second-youngest squad in the division and already the most players used, it casts the decisions over the summer to let experienced proven League One performers in Jim O’Brien, Aaron Martin and Romain Vincelot leave the club in a different light to when there was hope that we might find better elsewhere.
This group of players could well go on to match or surpass what was achieved last season, but it’s hard to argue that the recruitment has been part of any kind of plan. The sense that this squad is just been chucked together in the hope that something comes together was capped off by the late loan signing of Andre Wright, an unproven, inexperienced player who comes into the one area of the side where we have ample cover.
No matter how good or bad your signings are, it’s all about how the manager can get the best out of them through time on the training pitch and coming up with a tactical plan that suits the players. Even though it seems like we have done rather poorly in the transfer market, it will only be the next few games – where Mowbray will have the benefit of week-long breaks between games – where we’ll have a much better idea of what we’re in store for this season.
After a slow start, it’s imperative that we find our first win of the season in this trip to a Fleetwood side who have started the season strongly. The 4-2 win over West Ham under-23s will hopefully count for something, even if most of our goals came from set-pieces against a youth-side. This team desperately needs a defining moment to kick-start the season.
In terms of the team, Jamie Sterry is likely to make his first start for the club after signing on Wednesday. Jodi Jones is clearly our biggest attacking threat and will hopefully be fit enough now to start after two impactful substitute appearances. Elsewhere, the main calls are whether to start Gael Bigirimana ahead of Vladimir Gadzhev and which left wing-back to pick.
Last Time We Met
It was Steven Pressley’s return to the Ricoh Arena when we last played Fleetwood earlier in the year. We had just beaten Bury 6-0 and had the benefit of a week off due to Shrewsbury’s progress in the FA Cup, there were no real excuses for not picking up where we had left off. Fleetwood though were disciplined and energetic in a counter-attacking performance that caught a Sky Blues side expecting to win cold.
An undercooked performance was only spiced up by Fleetwood taking the lead which forced us to realise there was actually a game on. Marcus Tudgay and Marc-Antoine Fortuné did a good job of dragging us back into the contest, with Tudgay scoring an equaliser from a well-worked move to give hope that we could go on and win the game. A stunning goal from David Ball though ensued that we weren’t let off for a bizarrely off-colour performance, a defeat that soon gave way to a run that ended our play-off hopes.
How Are They Doing?
Steven Pressley is no longer Fleetwood manager after he left just 11 days before the start of the season. Pressley’s departure proved to be more opportunity than crisis with the former Sky Blues manager replaced by Uwe Rosler and the Cod Army starting the season surprisingly well given pre-season expectations that they would struggle.
Rosler has taken a Fleetwood side full of some fairly young and unreliable talents and moulded them into a useful, well-organised outfit that can play some fast-paced counter-attacking football while also getting the ball down and passing it around when required. Forward David Ball has encapsulated Fleetwood’s strong start to the season. One those ‘scorers of great goals…’ type of strikers, Ball has been a dynamo up front under Rosler, not only scoring on a consistent basis but creating goals too.
Ball will be the more central player in a front three likely to contain Devante (son of Andy) Cole and Ashley Hunter either side of him. Devante is an ungainly, gangly forward and a fairly unreliable finisher but he’s someone who’ll be a big player at this level once he develops a killer instinct in front of goal. Hunter has quietly developed into a decent player after signing from non-league a few years ago, a mini-Jamie Vardy, Hunter is whippet quick and seems to have added consistency to his threat this season.
Jimmy Ryan in midfield keeps things ticking over with his excellent range of passing, but more than that, he’s one of those players that dominate the centre of the pitch with their presence. Also in the creativity stakes is Bobby Grant, who is a great shooter from long-range and has an excellent set-piece delivery on him. Additionally, Rosler has loaned in the talented Kyle Dempsey from Huddersfield who is a vaguely reminiscent of James Maddison in his style of play and stature.
Defence seems like the weak area for Fleetwood, although they do have two of the better full-backs at this level in the form of Northern Ireland international Conor McLaughlin on the right and former Nuneaton loanee Amari’i Bell on the left. The rest of their backline is made up of decent players at this level but if we can close them down and isolate them, that is where we’ll find some joy.
I have been impressed by Fleetwood from what I’ve seen of them this season and I think their front three is well set-up to cause our back three problems. From what I’ve seen of us this season, I’m not that optimistic that we have the attacking threat to make up for any potential defensive ropiness. If you put Fleetwood’s squad in a Coventry City shirt for this game, and vice versa, you would probably be calling this as a fairly comfortable victory.
Part of me still believes that we can raise our game and really kick-start our season but a cold analysis of the factors heading into this game suggests to me that we’ll lose this. As for a scoreline, let’s say 2-1 to Fleetwood.