Category Archives: Football

Five Months after the Fleetwood Cull

Everything points to the 6th May when Fleetwood Town released a staggering 14 players. It may not feel like it given the less than stellar performances of some on the list or the inconsequentialness of others, but a mood, a group of players was broken up. Continue reading Five Months after the Fleetwood Cull

Fleetwood Town – Running out of Coke and Crisps?

 

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. Continue reading Fleetwood Town – Running out of Coke and Crisps?

Two Recent Football Articles: McDonald & Ball

Image result for david ball fleetwood

Pieces on Neil McDonald (Blackpool) and David Ball (Fleetwood) for the discerning reader…

Neil McDonald:

http://www.itsroundanditswhite.co.uk/2015/06/17/neil-mcdonald-humble-man/

David Ball:

http://footballleagueworld.co.uk/feature-when-fleetwood-let-their-cantona-go/

Feedback welcome.

Jeff Weston

http://www.thesportswriter1.com

Twitter: @jeffweston1970

 

Surely Not Again!

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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.

The Third Tier

Fleetwood Town 2 Crewe Alexandra 1

Games flicker into life, gas you like an old-fashioned dentist or run on a mediocre generator – their energy and liveliness sufficient yet far from tantalizing.

This third tier feast was always going to disturb the purists, ruffle the expectations of 7-Eleven fantasists and mess with the nerves of those simply grateful for such a mountainous view.

Fleetwood Town, the miracle club, anchored unofficially by the barrel-chested wonder, Antoni Sarcevic was a collection of players on the hour mark somehow already comfortable in its new pond, sophisticated like a wine-quaffing surgeon.

Two-nil up, Jamie Proctor’s influence as subtle as it was devastating, the Cod Army seemed set to dish out a masterclass in composure and interplay: the roving expertise of Josh Morris in particular seismic and surfboard-like.

Play at this level is at times confusing. There appears to be more space than in League Two – less hustle and bustle. The need for a strict 4-4-2 is dampened by the interchangeability of a ‘total football’ personnel.

Graham Alexander’s troops were today certainly re-shaped into an unusual unit: Conor McLaughlin at left back; Sarcevic wide right; Gareth Evans playing in the middle. But underpinning this was Alexander’s faith in his fullback and the need to stiffen midfield when employing two strikers.

Moments elapsed – times when Fleetwood’s susceptibility was bound to show, its backline bound to creak: Pond’s outstretched leg preventing a goal-bound Crewe effort in the 13th minute; McLaughlin’s slip (16) almost inviting a Railwaymen choo choo.

But then came the ramped-up sound from the top of the kop, the Memorial Stand – a back-of-the-throat warbling of ‘O’s: “O…o…o…o…o…oooo…o…o”; meaningless to some, dramatic to others – a carrier of dreams and higher stations.

It cued, prompted, bugled the charge. Sarcevic, his swerving run plagiarized from ballroom floors, crossing from the right (22) for David Ball. Bally sneaking the round piece of leather just left of the post.

Again, Sarcevic though (25) – Crewe’s keeper, Scott Shearer running out like a rampaging mad man. Sarcevic – a tiny dink slightly wide, knowing which shot to employ, moving the ball in the manner of an artiste.

A brief flurry then from the team disciplined in the right kind of football – the ball rarely rocketing up from the Highbury turf: Vadaine Oliver, Crewe’s no.9, firing in from the right (26) of the box only for trusted Chris Maxwell to swallow the ball up in a committed yet clutching and manageable dive to his left post.

Two minutes later the Cod Army crossbar rattled – Ollie Turton’s strike never dipping enough but threatening all the same; a sign of intent in the barren game thus far. Seconds later, Maxwell called on again. Another down to his left – the St Asaph man merely there to watch it go wide, however.

An open game – there to be wrestled under control, bewitched by skilful elements. And what better man than Ball – his haircut replicated in the stands like a Russian doll. A teasing cross, loan signing and new no.9 Stephen Dobbie the receiver (36). A collision though – such weighted brilliance not heralded in the way the packed stands would have liked.

A swing yet again soon after – the to-ing and fro-ing of power back with Crewe: Liam Hogan skinned (42) by Bradden Inman but all to no avail. Ominous – a sign of failings / penalties to come. But after a whack to Hogan’s jaw (44), the coup, the transformation, Fleetwood’s new life fresh from the test tube.

Dobbie off. Proctor on. A brief scare courtesy of the stanchion caressed (47) by Billy Waters, but the riposte – so swift, so precise, from nowhere. A shuffle of the feet…Proctor’s big man poise, Cantona-esque, Dzeko-esque, and Ball is in – goal! Eloquence in the six-yard box (48).

Proctor – hanging around on the left, expending little energy, clever, a quiet ebullience to him, prodigious. Suddenly – bang! The top right corner of the net bulging. Faces amongst the track-suited ranks of Fleetwood’s youth spellbound, pleasantly traumatized.

Where did that come from? A stern rotation of the right leg, a gift from the gods? Questions reverberate. Is this the new Varney? Is the returning Lancashire man set to rip this division apart?

Too many unknowns. Qualities emanate from him like a fine fish dressed up on a plate. He is an individualist. He is impatient. He is mercurial. Can he walk past a centre half though? Can he spark a wily script most weeks?

Sarcevic, the Italian and Serbian conqueror, can have a word in his ear: Have enough bruisers around you. Understand where the walls on the pitch are positioned. Tirelessly strive to invent, nutmeg and humiliate the opposition (77 & 88). But mostly, don’t moan – just believe. Keep at them. Keep going, rolling the ball – finding the red and white shirts.

 

 

Almost Preposterous

League Two Play-Off Final (Wembley)

Burton Albion 0 Fleetwood Town 1

Not the delirious atmosphere I would have expected in the local public house four miles from Fleetwood, five from Blackpool. The Golden Eagle has changed hands recently – been entrusted to a black-T-shirted crew somehow representative of Fleetwood playing away.

And away Wembley indeed is. It is also a fleeting memory from 1985 (the FA Vase Final versus Halesowen) – some twenty nine years ago when Fleetwood were donning their shirts to an altogether different beat in the lowly North West Counties League Division One.

This was the same line up that pillaged York bar Alan Goodall returning for his stand-in, Steven Schumacher. You look at the individuals on paper and know they are capable. Of torment. Of sweeping passes. Of penetrative runs. Of telepathic thought when Conor McLaughlin, Antoni Sarcevic and 24-year-old David Ball are out on the tiles.

Chances rained down early in this match in the manner of a freak storm – attached themselves to Ball’s feet and head. The remnants of a woeful left-foot, dragged shot from Iain Hume rolled in front of Ball who had his back to goal but spun decisively to prompt a clawing save from Burton’s Dean Lyness. Half a minute later, he headed a Josh Morris cross on target only for it too to be bundled out by Lyness.

The omens were good, however. The Cod Army seemed full of ambition and aspiration. The ‘Brewers’ were always going to be a more pliant opposition compared to ‘The Shrimpers’ of Southend.

Burton’s Adam McKurk and Billy Kee clearly had pedigree but there was something in the Fleetwood water cooler on this fine Bank Holiday Monday that stimulated a renewed charge, a fresh impetus of ideas from the red-shirted messiahs.

No one embodies such momentum more than Ball. No one offers more hope for the future than the man who runs sideways, loving the shoulders of the enemy. The 29th minute – Ball again: a left-footed shot after a short pass from McLaughlin (wide). The 31st minute: a Ball header, wide right. The 33rd minute: a Ball shot blocked from the left edge of the box.

Ball. Ball. Ball. Half-chances, but you forgave him. Because he was there. Because he had an Ian Rush-like radar. Because he ghosted into positions that other players couldn’t comprehend.

Then came the 75th minute. Step forward An-ton-i Sar-ce-vic; the 14,007 crowd not entirely perceptive to the copious threat or mighty pillars that are this man’s legs. A swing of the right boot. An accurately aimed missile. Looking like a cross for swarming heads to the right of the area. But, no – Lyness commits close to his 6-yard box, finds himself grappling with a rogue Fleetwood player. A late touch on the ball, but in, in!!! Bottom right.

How do you begin to explain the magnitude of such a goal? How do you begin to wonder what the next fifteen, nay nineteen minutes will hold?

Fleetwood hung on. The earth back home didn’t need the hydraulic fracturing of dark forces in order to move. 27,000 residents scattered between London and the north precipitated such a ripple.

The third tier of English football. Christ – that sounds good. Almost preposterous.

 

 

Napoleon at Aspern-Essling

League Two Play-Off Semi-Final 2nd leg:

Fleetwood Town 0 York City 0  (agg: 1-0)

You either believe in your centre halves or indulge in the folly of Napoleon at Aspern-Essling.

Nathan Pond and Mark Roberts wear the Fleetwood shirt with consummate pride – of that there is no doubt. But it is increasingly evident that both need the protection of not just a water-carrying midfielder, but a man with a shield and quick heels.

This poses an instant problem: one’s midfield metamorphoses into an odd-shaped attacking unit heavily reliant on the full-backs.

The able Matty Blair, for much of the first half, was neither a right winger nor a central midfielder. York were thus thrust into threatening positions by dint of Fleetwood’s over reliance on Steven Schumacher in front of the back line.

A five-man defensive battalion you may think shores up any respectable team. I would suggest that it invites wave after wave of panic and consternation. Unless. Unless your full-backs are utilised.

In the first half Conor McLaughlin and Charlie Taylor were both strangely mute. Perhaps ordered to keep it tight? Perhaps solemn sacrifices in a long-term game of psychological mastery?

It was hard to watch: the talent and guile of Fleetwood’s finest wrapped up in peculiar military vests. Do you wear down the opposition with such unsporting fervour? Do you wish to surprise them with your Jekyll and Hyde bombardiers?

It resembled a dangerous form of pinball at times. And without Antoni Sarcevic’s usual supreme passing, there was little on which to feed the energetic duo of David Ball and Iain Hume bar pathetic, slender morsels.

Cue the second half. Still hard to bear at times, but more controlled; the full-backs occasionally rampaging forward in the manner of wing-backs – both capable knights in iron suits, their feet when crossing the ball like medieval flails. And how York knew that their huff and puff was now close to worthless when faced with such menace.

Matty Blair, the terrier, a perfect foil for the Serbian craftsmanship of Sarcevic, created a gilt-edged cross from the left which begged to be pummeled. No one there. Then came the turn of the barrel-chested wonder himself: Sarcevic woofing a left-footer at goal – saved impressively by York’s very own Pope.

Three Fleetwood substitutions were strewn across the final half hour of play: ‘Big’ Jon Parkin for Hume (63); Alan Goodall for Schumacher (74); Ryan Cresswell for Sarcevic (82). It was the latter that made me sit up after the disappointment of ‘going defensive’.

Three centre halves is never a great idea. History recalls Rio Ferdinand’s disastrous debut for Leeds United at Filbert Street alongside the experienced Jonathon Woodgate and Lucas Radebe. But with eight minutes of normal time remaining the don, Graham Alexander can be forgiven.

And what a full-blooded, all-action 6’4” warrior Cresswell appears to be. Strong. Sharp. Not lacking clout. A ready-made League One player if ever there was one.

The hatches remained battened down. The fans poured onto the pitch. But let us not forget the real hero before we troop off to Wembley: the Welshman from St Asaph – Chris Maxwell; his goalkeeping, at times, like plucking a harp in mid-air.

Finally, spare a thought for two of the York starting XI that were released following this match: 27-year-old striker, Calvin Andrew and 23-year-old midfielder, Adam Reed (not the best birthday present). Football can be a cruel game when you’re not winning.