Friday night’s game against Burton Albion had looked make-or-break for our play-off hopes, however, results on Saturday have conspired to hand us another roll of the dice in this upcoming home game against Fleetwood Town. With injuries and suspensions starting to pile up, the concern is that Friday’s defeat augurs another of the cold streaks that have dampened our play-off hopes. Bouncing back to winning ways in this game would provide a vital shot in the arm at a crucial stage of the season.
With Maxime Biamou, Jodi Jones, Conor Chaplin, Jordan Ponticelli, Charlie Wakefield and Zain Westbrooke all already out, the loss of Dominic Hyam for the foreseeable future after a car crash last week was compounded on Friday night by Bright Enobakhare picking up a silly red card and one-game suspension, while both Jordan Willis and Brandon Mason were clearly struggling for fitness towards the end of the game.
It leaves Mark Robins potentially with a very thin squad and having to throw in some inexperienced youngsters for an important game. At centre-back, there could well be an opportunity for one of Jordon Thompson, Morgan Williams or Declan Drysdale to stake a claim for a first-team place ahead of next season – although Robins might be tempted to stick with Jordan Willis even if he’s not at 100% fitness. At left-back, Sam McCallum could be given a third league start, although Junior Brown’s return to the bench on Friday night suggests that he’s back in Mark Robins’ plans.
Elsewhere, the attacking rejig to accommodate Bright Enobakhare’s suspension will be of keen interest. David Meyler coming into the side and Tom Bayliss pushing forward is possibly the most logical choice – particularly if we have to play an inexperienced centre-back – however, Bayliss has shown thus far in this career that he’s much less of an influence on the game in a more advanced position. That consideration could well see Jordan Shipley started instead – either as part of a three-man central midfield or on the left with Jordy Hiwula pushed forward to play alongside Amadou Bakayoko up top.
Last Time We Met
Fleetwood taught us something of a footballing lesson in our previous meeting this season, back in November. While they didn’t play off us the park, they were able to ride out a first-half in which we were the better, more dangerous side, before stepping up a gear in the second-half, imposing themselves on the game and punishing some sloppy defending to win comfortably 3-0.
Manager – Joey Barton
Barton’s first season as a manager looks set to be classified as hitting just about par. While he’s been reasonably well-backed in the transfer market relative to most other teams at this level, a comfortable top-half finish appears just about right for the squad at his disposal.
At times, Fleetwood have played some excellent counter-attacking football while allying that with a level of physicality and game-management reminiscent of Barton as a player. However, Fleetwood’s best performances under Barton this season have been slightly too inconsistent, with a fairly meek defeat at the weekend at Walsall seemingly putting paid to their play-off ambitions.
Who To Look Out For?
Joey Barton has implemented a 4-3-3 system over the past few months, imposing his preferred system upon the side rather than the more flexible approach at the start of the season. That has meant that while Fleetwood’s chief attacking threats – strike-pairing Ched Evans and Paddy Madden – have had to be shoehorned slightly into a front three, that key relationship has remained in tact nonetheless.
Evans’ work-rate and physicality is a key method through which Fleetwood look to wear opposition defences down and provide themselves a foothold in the game. Madden – typically an out-and-out goal-poacher – has adapted his game in a wide-right position and is starting to get more involved in creating as well as taking chances.
On the left of Fleetwood’s front three is likely to be Ashley Hunter, one of the division’s leading assist-makers. A pacey winger with excellent delivery, Hunter offers Fleetwood with a threat both on the counter and from set-plays. That set-piece threat is added to via the experienced Ross Wallace in midfield, along with the physical presences of centre-backs Harry Souttar and Ashley Eastham.
A key tactical tweak in recent games has been in shifting the winger Wes Burns to right-back. That natural width and pace that Burns provides on the right wing has helped Paddy Madden be more effective as a right-sided forward, allowing him to play narrower and closer to goal rather than in wider areas where he is less effective.
Areas To Exploit
Although Fleetwood are just a point behind us in the league table, Joey Barton has already described the prospect of achieving promotion this season as ‘impossible’ and has indicated to the press that he will experiment with his side in this game with a view to next season. If we can attack this game with intensity from early on, Fleetwood may lack the motivation to play themselves back in the game, although the flip-side is that there is less pressure on Fleetwood and more pressure on us to find the breakthrough.
Part of why Barton may have chosen to rule out the prospect of promotion and lessen the pressure on his team here is that they are a side that struggles when the onus is on them to attack games. With the joint-worst record at recovering points from losing positions – just one point from 13 occasions – Fleetwood are better suited to sitting back and hitting teams on the counter than they are playing through opponents.