A run of four games without a goal feels more concerning than the run of five games without a win that we are simultaneously on. Saturday’s game against an MK Dons side that didn’t have a striker on the pitch for 84 minutes and that we had the benefit of a penalty in couldn’t have been a more golden opportunity to break our recent goalscoring and winning duck. but composure where it mattered was absent once again.
It seems like the worst possible time to be taking on two of the three top-scoring sides in the division in the space of four days. Although football rarely pans out as expected, it feels like the very least we’ll have to do over these next two games is score at least one goal in each of them. It’s hard at the moment to identify just where the goals we need will be coming from, starting with this upcoming game against Fleetwood Town, we’ll have to hope they come from somewhere.
Not that there was much room for change, but with Gervane Kastaneer and Maxime Biamou involved in the under-23 game on Monday afternoon – along with fringe players Will Bapaga and Josh Eccles – there is a strong indication that there won’t be any changes to the starting line-up from Saturday.
It feels like it may be time to bring Liam Kelly back into the starting XI for a league game given the quality of the opposition. While Liam Walsh’s lack of defensive skills is overstated, having that extra authority and composure that Kelly provides seems the pragmatic decision – possibly involving switching to a 4-2-3-1 and thus freeing Callum O’Hare to play in a central role. However, the indication from recent games is that Robins he is unwilling to deviate from this season’s 4-3-3 shape and possibly sees Kelly and Walsh as incompatible in the same midfield.
The other key selection decision looks to be at left-back, where Sam McCallum has been starting in recent games ahead of a fully-fit Brandon Mason. While McCallum possibly adds a little more width from left-back than Mason does, the latter is clearly the more well-rounded player at this moment in time, which is what is probably required for a game of this nature.
In attack, there is clearly a big issue at the moment due to Wesley Jobello’s injury, Jordy Hiwula’s loss of composure, Matt Godden possibly being out for an extended spell and the back-ups to the front three that started this season being massively unreliable, forcing Callum O’Hare to be shoehorned into the right of attack. In theory, this is a big opportunity until the January transfer window for Amadou Bakayoko, Maxime Biamou or Gervane Kastaneer to make a starting spot in the side their own, but it’s hard to see any one of those three taking that opportunity.
Last Time We Met
The clash with Fleetwood Town back in March (also ahead of an away trip to Peterborough United the following Saturday) will go down in memory as being ‘Peak Bakayoko’. In what was a terrible all-round team performance against a dominant Fleetwood Town side, Bakayoko set off on a classic I’m-actually-quicker-than-I-look back-pass chase, slide tackling the keeper and somehow getting the ball to deflect into the net from a mind-bending angle.
A Fleetwood equaliser and then a Jordy Hiwula wonder-goal just before half-time set the second-half up to be a nerve-jangling affair as we attempted to hold onto the points for dear life. Early into that second-half, Bakayoko had a golden opportunity to seal the win, being played clean through by Tom Bayliss, only to fall over the ball, leaving it down to Fleetwood’s profligate finishing to allow the game to finish at 2-1 to the Sky Blues.
Manager – Joey Barton
Whether Joey Barton is a good manager who has gradually built up his Fleetwood Town side into play-off/automatic promotion contenders since taking over last summer or is simply performing around par given the financial backing at the club is a debate to be had. However, what can’t be questioned is that Fleetwood are one of the division’s best teams this season, especially going forward.
Having learned the ropes during a fairly inconsistent first season in the job dogged by poor away results and an inability to salvage points from losing positions, this season has seen Barton and Fleetwood step it up a gear and become a more reliable and well-oiled team unit. Operating in a 4-3-3 system focused on controlling possession and building overloads in wide areas, Fleetwood have been a dominant and free-scoring side this campaign.
Who To Look Out For?
Being perceived as a small club has perhaps allowed the strength and depth of Fleetwood Town’s squad to fly under the radar slightly. If you took this collection of players and gave them to Ipswich Town or Sunderland, this would be a team considered to be one of the favourites for the division.
With two strikers in the powerful and aggressive Ched Evans and the goal poacher Paddy Madden who each virtually guarantee 20 goals a season at this level is strong place to start in building any promotion-winning side. With Madden operating off the flanks of a front three and Evans central, it leaves Barton in the position of having to choose one from Josh Morris, Wes Burns and Ashley Hunter, who would all be regulars in most other teams at this level.
In midfield, Barton has found a nice balance between the energy of Jordan Rossiter, the nimble feet of Kyle Dempsey and the passing range of Paul Coutts, with Rossiter’s arrival on loan from Rangers this summer probably being the key element in making that midfield unit work. However, with Coutts suspended for this game, Barton will have to choose between bringing in Nathan Sheron, more naturally a central defender, into the midfield unit or going for a 4-4-2 and possibly losing a level of control in the centre of the back.
At the back, the central defensive pairing of Jimmy Dunne and the dominant Harry Souttar has settled down very well since being put together this summer. Fleetwood’s full-backs, Danny Andrew and Lewie Coyle, are excellent going forward and have seven assists between them this season, with Andrew also being a big threat taking direct free-kicks.
Areas To Exploit
The one area where Fleetwood are lacking this season is in goal, where they have two excellent shot-stoppers in Alex Cairns or Matt Gilks but neither are particularly dominant in claiming crosses. This has seen Fleetwood leak a few goals from set-pieces and crossing situations, the question is whether we are a side that is capable of exploiting that.
In the wake of the Rotherham United result – i.e. the last time we played one of the division’s better teams – it will be interesting to see whether Mark Robins sticks to the possession-based, 4-3-3 blueprint that we have followed this season or changes this up based on the quality of the opposition.