Fleetwood Town 4 Yeovil Town 0
Still loitering. Still messing around on the fringes of the play-offs, like a regional hairdresser who suddenly finds herself working in Vidal Sassoon. Utilising players seemingly lost, pushed down the pecking order. In the words of manager, Graham Alexander though: “We take the opposition into account when we choose the starting side. It’s not a case of rotation but knowing what different players can bring us in different games.”
Certainly, this was a bold selection: Proctor, Ball, Morris, Haughton and Sarcevic, with Steven Schumacher expected to mop up, expected to clean the bibs – replacement captain for the day as well; the armband prominent on the bulge of his left arm.
Fleetwood shouldn’t be here. They shouldn’t be teasing the faithful once again. Expectations, the higher you climb, have a habit of crashing down – doing a Fred Dibnah on you. Walking to the toilet pre-3pm when Jim’s Bar is off limits gets your ears attuned to the noise from the Memorial Stand. It is a different kind of noise to the seated warmth of the Parkside and Highbury areas. Raw mutterings offer a decree of sorts here. This is the vortex, the hub, the nucleus – where collective judgement is encrypted before being spurt out. You look at the faces of the standing hordes and immediately know they are different – a wilder, more ferocious type of fan.
Vociferous in voice and manner – every Kop needs such credentials. Even when opposite them today are not away fans but merely a scintilla of banners. Nine of them in fact. Not quite dancing, but rocking a tad amidst the non-existent wind. The 152 Yeovil fans from the 3086 crowd are seated in the corner of The Parkside Stand. Some stood on the back row affecting the view of the exec box patrons. Some singing more than self-deprecating words in what has been a torrid season for the 2013/14 Championship side.
No wonder Alexander has gambled. Bottom sides invite the full wrath of clubs playing on home turf. And Fleetwood, accustomed to quashing the spark in opposing teams for the first 45 minutes as opposed to unleashing their own flair, have at last put some petrol in the Formula 1 car. From the outset. From the whistle. A charge or onslaught anticipated.
Good to see the best sweets in the pack together: Proctor – not to be bullied and with a deadly right peg; Ball – the most unique player to wear the red and white jersey; Morris – a flying gem, with the touch of a jeweller; Haughton – now getting the games, perhaps the next Harry Kewell; and ‘old man’ Sarcevic – the swivelling genius, peppering his play with a dash of Italian.
Yeovil don’t obviously have the look of an imperilled and impoverished side. Early on they knock the ball around confidently enough. They have two giant trees at the back in the form of Byron Webster and Stephen Arthurworrey. And three Swansea loanees (Liam Shephard, Josh Sheehan and Stephen Kingsley) cannot harm the cause. Add to that the tenacity and grit of long-haired midfield man, Sam Foley and you wonder if there are dice-throwing witches behind the scenes plaguing their form.
It does not take long for full-back, Ofori-Twumasi to threaten Chris Maxwell’s goal with a low, drilled edge-of the-area shot that is maybe three feet wide. Such intent Yeovil do not hide. They have the experience of old pro, James Hayter – generally speaking a one-goal-every-four-games man and surely a lighthouse to which support can flow. But on 7 minutes and then 16, a familiar tear in the Yeovil game plan seems to emerge. Two goals from Highbury favourite David Ball unsettle the green and yellow Glovers who, up until that point, had been industrious – gallant almost.
The Huish Park faithful clearly know something judging from their unashamedly mocking songs. Yeovil’s form has been dire since early February – the month after they beat Bradford and took a point off Preston at Deepdale. But why? An outsider’s examination can only go so far. It can merely observe and speculate rather than pinpoint the inherent trouble courtesy of hours and hours of painful viewing. This writer will guess at many things: a lack of leadership, general disharmony within the camp, little teamwork once things go wrong and a chugging profligacy when in possession.
Yeovil lack a cutting edge, a talisman. What began in this game as unsolicited adventure became a staid and sorry path. The faces of the players took on a horror-induced shudder after the boot of Jamie Proctor – the returning northern man – stroked home Fleetwood’s third (33). Proctor’s goal ratio is uncannily similar to Yeovil’s Hayter, yet perhaps his involvement is greater, his presence more alarming to defenders. Substitute Ashley Hunter – some would say a new Matty Hughes – finished proceedings with a simple slotting home of the ball thanks to an assist from the big Prestonian.
Fleetwood were always in the market for a new target man following the departure of Jon Parkin in the close season and injuries to the largely untested Jamille Matt, but if Proctor is to hang around at this aspiring, if ridiculously small club, then he must know that such a ratio needs to become 1 in 3 whatever his contribution outside the box (something he clearly is capable of).
He is not the only man that needs to improve if Championship blood is to run through the veins of this preposterous and improbable squad. Today’s performance showed that a collection of flair rarely lasts 90 minutes. The 2nd half was unrecognisable from the first. This was in part due to the kick-up-the-jacksie that Yeovil will have felt in the away dressing room at the break, but it also illustrates that Fleetwood’s dogs of war (Gareth Evans, Stewart Murdoch and Jeff Hughes) are needed at times to steady the ship. And in this regard Alexander’s first substitution in the 72nd minute (the rabbit catcher Hunter for the ballerina Haughton) was too late, as was his second in the 78th (the powerful Evans for the graceful Ball).
Grafters have their place. They are as much a part of the Fleetwood fabric as the pretty 50/50 lady who attunes herself to the odd rogue and generally bedazzles the crowd with her red hair and remarkable teeth. Knowing when to use them is hard for fear of being too defensive, inviting bombardment and generally being pelted by silkier players. But five matches remain now (Walsall, MK Dons, Doncaster, Colchester and Port Vale) and it will be the manager’s astute use of this tireless squad that will determine its fate in May.
One senses that 71pts – four out of five wins – might be enough. Too much too soon? You can never wish away fortune. If it fails? You build again using similar bricks.