Unusual for Graham Alexander to employ such a system: 3-5-2 (inevitably becoming 5-3-2); Alan Goodall, the old pro, sat between the centre halves rather than in front of the back four. But the wingbacks – were they conversant in the silky skills required to penetrate deep into opposition territory? Alas – not today. And the three man midfield – Murdoch, Sarcevic and new boy, Bobby Grant. Did they live by the psychic code of all great midfields? Were they each aware of the others’ movement and concession of space? Did they… gel? Not particularly.
I sat next to the grumbler of all grumblers today or rather an old man kitted out in sarcasm and negativity. It wasn’t pleasant. “£300,000 for Matt. £150,000 for Cresswell. What for?!” I am a team’s biggest critic but I at least know that players mostly feed off a crowd’s enthusiasm. To not expect anything from these “lumpen cart horses” in front of him or have one word of belief – it astounded me. Why had he been coming for 6 years?
He had been trussed up in the dangerous designs of having a ‘divine right’ to win. He had been spoilt. Was Fleetwood’s miraculous rise from the tenth tier to the fourth in a matter of fifteen years not there to be celebrated by the spectacle of each and every opponent to grace Highbury’s pitch? Wasn’t the visiting might of old giants like Portsmouth, Plymouth and Oxford enough? What did the old bugger expect? An easy stroll to the Championship?
From 100 fans to 3000. It was a fairy tale. The stands. The community. The set up. The brazen red letters on each programme – CODARMY. Not ‘Fleetwood’ made large font but a sign, a message to the opposition that we are together and prepared to graft and utilise every last ounce of sweat.
Expectation levels sometimes enter a realm which doesn’t entirely inhabit the real world. The young become impatient. The old offset their physical difficulties by moaning at able-bodied men. Some fans – most notably the proud, singing and bobbing unit in the centre of the Memorial Stand (accompanied by the beating of a war drum) – truly act as the 12th man. They understand that where we are is special. They do not take league status lightly. To be in one of the top four divisions of English football – by Christ, that is something for a town of this size.
Promotion to League One? Let us dream – yes. Let us try to sustain this momentum. Let us exploit whatever bricks have fallen into place. But booing if things go wrong, an attempt at humour with the dried-husk words of a menacing cynic? Leave them at home.
The team is trying. There are twenty-three different flavours, tastes and styles to contend with. Sometimes we’ll balls it up. Sometimes it will look bloody awful. But this was never meant to be choreography or theatre. It is blood and thunder, luck, random ideas, attrition – organised chaos with a circular piece of leather being thrust around the turf.
Did I curse Alexander for his tactics today? A little. Did I wonder why the hell he persists with two big men up front? Absolutely. Was I aware that the team void of Jeff Hughes and David Ball looks decidedly mediocre and without sufficient drive? You bloody betcha. Did I have my head down at the final whistle or rejoice in the contribution of our terrier and no.22 spark, Matty Hughes? Without doubt, the latter.
I applauded the team off the field despite my disappointment at only gaining a draw. I trumpeted individual performances which offered hope irrespective of the dip in form.
Can this team still gain automatic promotion? Yes. What if it’s only the play-offs or worse given the charge of Plymouth? We’ll live with it, regroup, understand just how far we’ve come, fully comprehend the privilege of playing in League Two.
And The Grumbler? A man I will have to sit next to for the Portsmouth and Rochdale games having pre-booked the tickets.
I will get my son to smear a hotdog in his face accidentally if he doesn’t see something in Fleetwood’s play – a blessed chunk of what I see every week; the player desperately working towards a cohesive unit; the slick passing of Big Jon Parkin (on a good day); the threat of Charlie Taylor when he smells a lack of speed; the bursting and compensatory runs of Gareth Evans in the knowledge that we do not possess any traditional wingers.
If he doesn’t see this, then feed him to the Kop. Cod Army! Cod Army! Cod Army!