Fleetwood Frazzled: Town 0 Burnley 2
There was something of the office world in this performance – bland, mechanical, without real invention. Meeting a team two divisions above you (based on 2014/15) is clearly a hard proposition but Fleetwood offered little by way of hunger, impromptu football and penetrative guile.
The worry with just eleven days to go until the blustery, promoted Southend United rock into town is that the Cod Army has been purified too much. No longer do beautiful contaminants like Jon Parkin roam the Dale Frith turf, but rather a collection of automatons – imitation players short on heavy-duty ardour and gusto.
There is still a spine. Chris Maxwell, Stevie Jordan (as he is now known) and new signing, Jimmy Ryan offer permanent comfort, but beyond them – particularly under the guise and formation of Fleetwood’s occasional 3-5-2 (or is it 5-3-2?) – things look out of whack…screwy and confused. Players, housed by such a system, generally feel lost. Are centre halves centre halves or full-backs? Are full-backs full-backs or wing-backs?
There is the definite sense that on-field lodgings are being provided for Tyler Forbes. A natural winger – albeit with the rustlings of someone still learning his craft – Forbes has jostled Conor McLaughlin from his preferred right-back birth (whether in a 4-4-2 or 5-3-2). Such uncomfortable switches let one conclude that the squad – the real muscly squad – has become threadbare, inadequate and short on experienced players.
If you do not have a centre half then do not wreck two positions (and consequently the fluidity of the team) – just get a makeshift centre half from the squad or buy one. McLaughlin – it is clear – will suffer in that position over the course of the season. He will be physically grappled with and lose heart and lose faith – even when re-housed in his full-back role. And his international place may well be compromised.
There are other gripes – musings as to what is going on underneath that Graham Alexander beard. You see the face of a man, you see a little of his soul. When such skin is covered up thoughts and facial twitches stay protected. That is OK for a midfield force like Jimmy Ryan – better even – but for a manager wishing to communicate with fans, the full deal, the beef, the tortured picture does not get disclosed.
Fleetwood’s pre-season is a harbinger of League One trouble, a waving in of bigger and more skilful teams. Anyone watching the run outs, the recent parades, will have noticed an absence not just of goals, but of a spark – that Frankenstein essence so crucial to performance. The bald facts do not make good reading: AFC Fylde 1 Fleetwood 0; Dortmund ‘B’ 1 Fleetwood 0; Alemania Aachen 2 Fleetwood 1; Kilmarnock 3 Fleetwood 1; Fleetwood 0 Burnley 2. Five matches – five defeats (goals for 2, goals against 9).
If this was meant to be an exercise in parity, then it has failed. If these were meant to be mere run-outs, stamina sessions, discovering one’s best XI, then there is a whiff of bankruptcy about the place. The feeling around Highbury on Tuesday, 28th July was of gloom – an invisible rupture. And as such, the atmosphere – noted by chairman, Andy Pilley (“Generally I’ve been disappointed”) – has tailed off even further.
In matches like this versus Burnley one would expect a ‘cup minnows against giants’ mentality, a ‘This is what we’ve got!!’ and ‘You’re in our paddock now!!’; a stand basically against General Custer. None of it. There were moments – Sarcevic magical turns, Ryan being a yard ahead of his teammates, quality Maxwell saves – but elsewhere (like a disease across the park) there were too many passengers; belted-up individuals perhaps over-managed or under-skilled.
Fleetwood’s journey has been enormous. They were bound to run out of crisps and coke in the car. League One is a dangerous division – four teams falling through the trap door each season, more than any other tier. When fans have witnessed great strides they get greedy, they want more – reality sometimes becomes clouded. The frustrations here though are justified. Jogging across the Highbury turf and at away grounds are mostly red and white jerseyed players of promise only. Substance is lacking.
Vamara Sanogo. Amari’i Bell. Jamille Matt. Lyle Della-Verde. Bobby Grant. Declan McManus. Dark warriors followed by pale hopefuls. But Josh Morris (now of Bradford City) and David Ball (that polished artisan) they are not. You lose players of this ilk and you struggle. No amount of youth or blueprint or Pilley whooping can compensate for the hard, merciless arena that is football. The drizzly, echoey chants that barely made it out of the necks of Fleetwood fans on Tuesday were symbolic of this.
Something is amiss and it needs fixing. Even the rough-and-tumble raggedness of the modern day Micky Quinn, Jon Parkin (now of Forest Green Rovers) would be welcomed right now. Pretty football becomes weary if not doled out with equal portions of invention and grit. And not testing the opposition keeper or scoring in such a miserly fashion leaves you with nowhere to go.
Will Alexander sort out his nest or be forced into emergency signings in January despite Pilley’s insistence that Financial Fair Play is now king? I’m not sure, but the club’s new-style, slim-line match programme which hopes that “the Cod Army faithful will find the new experience pleasing” is perhaps indicative of language being torn apart and shafted. And if language is ruined, if there is a creeping corporatisation when engaging with fans, then something dies, something begins to rot the core of a place.
The message for the FTFC top brass must be: keep personalities in the game, do not strive to homogenise every corner of this wonderful place. And get a bloody goal scorer – it doesn’t matter if he breathes fire or wears a dress. Just get him!