After the occasion of Saturday’s FA Cup derby with Birmingham City, the unrelenting grind of league action resumes with this midweek trip to Fleetwood Town.
Saturday offered a tantalising sniff of what could be in store for us next season, however, there is still a lot of football to be played before we can turn our minds to such matters. With the league table so tight, the next month or so could really establish ourselves in the promotion places, or it could leave us with a lot of ground to make up during the run-in.
This is the start of three weeks in a row where we’ll be playing both Saturday and midweek games. The challenge for Mark Robins will be how he keeps players fresh at a time we cannot afford to too many slip-ups.
The difficulty level of this fixture means that any changes will be tactical rather than fitness-concerned. With the defence and midfield looking very settled at the moment, the main area of interest is who starts in those three attacking positions left in the side.
Having struggled to create on Saturday until we went with two up top, Mark Robins may be tempted to tweak the shape to incorporate a strike pairing. However, against a Fleetwood side that can overload teams in midfield and down the flanks, such a decision could leave us defensively exposed without a guarantee that a potential attacking three of Callum O’Hare, Matt Godden and Maxime Biamou could get the goals to compensate.
The current 3-4-2-1 configuration seems the likeliest shape for this game, with Callum O’Hare coming in for either Zain Westbrooke or Jordan Shipley to give us a greater counter-attacking threat. While Matt Godden hasn’t had much impact since those back-to-back hat-tricks, he probably still has credit in the bank before his place in the starting XI comes into question.
Last Time We Met
We were comprehensively outplayed in the first-half of our meeting with Fleetwood Town at St Andrew’s earlier in the season, only one down due to our opponent becoming laissez-faire in front of goal due to how one-sided the game looked to be.
Mark Robins made a curious decision in the second-half in introducing additional defensive-minded players in Kyle McFadzean and Liam Kelly to turn the game around. That extra experience and physicality proved to be what was needed to give us a foothold in the game. Despite that, we were fortunate to come away with all three points, scoring with just about our only forays into the Fleetwood penalty area to turn 0-1 into 2-1.
Manager – Joey Barton
Barton had done a solid job at Fleetwood Town but hasn’t quite been able to kick-on whenever his side has found itself around the play-off positions due to poor away form. Given the backing Barton has been given by his chairman, patience might soon begin to wear if what is now a five-game winless run continues much longer.
Fleetwood generally play a possession-based style of football allied with a level of physical aggressiveness that can make them one of the most dangerous teams at this level when on form. Barton has tended to prefer physical and experienced players over younger, more skillful, ones, which has resulted in the side tending to run out of ideas quickly when not on form.
Who To Look Out For?
Fleetwood’s strike duo – although, operating within a front three – of Ched Evans and Paddy Madden represent the core of Barton’s Fleetwood Town. Evans’ aggressiveness ploughs the furrow up top, creating the space for Madden, tending to come in from either flank, to demonstrate his excellent goalscoring instincts.
Joining that strike duo will be either Josh Morris or Wes Burns, who have been consistently rotated for each other by Barton this season. Burns is a quick and direct winger who can defences, while Morris is a more goal-oriented wide player – with a penchant for winning soft free-kicks.
Due to having so many good set-piece takers, Fleetwood are a big threat from dead-ball situations. Paul Coutts, Josh Morris and Danny Andrew can all put in telling deliveries, with Andrew also a big threat shooting directly at goal from free-kicks.
With two attack-minded full-backs who are accurate crossers of the ball in Lewie Coyle and Danny Andrew and the passing ability in midfield of Paul Coutts, Kyle Dempsey and the recently-signed Glenn Whelan, Fleetwood can really pin teams back and stroke the ball around to create opportunities and space for their front-line.
Where This Game Will Be Won or Lost
With both teams looking to control the midfield, the physical and technical battle for superiority in the middle of the pitch looks set to be key. Fleetwood generally play with a midfield three, meaning that whoever is used in the advanced midfield positions for us in this game will have to help out Liam Kelly and Liam Walsh to avoid us getting overloaded in the centre of the park.
Just how Fleetwood look to get around our back three and wing-backs could also influence this game. If they look to go 1v1 with their front three against our three central defenders, the defensive awareness of our wing-backs will be important in preventing them getting in behind us. However, if the wing-backs focus too much attention on defending, it can force us deeper than we would want to be.
Both teams are likely to have extended spells of being on top in this game. As ever in football, the key will be who can best turn pressure into chances and goals.