Tonight we tackle the final of the four-game run against bottom-of-the-table teams, writes Tom Morton.
A few weeks ago I called these games “critical” in securing our place in league one. So far so good, having taken six of the nine points on offer. We’re heading in the right direction but you feel like tonight is still a really key game. Another three points, and some fortunate results elsewhere, would leave those below us having to win every game to escape the drop zone. A good place to be.
By contrast, Fleetwood’s form is heading in the wrong direction, and they are without a win at home since mid January. Barring Saturday’s positive result against Crewe (who are two losses away from relegation and I assume have basically given up at this point) they haven’t won away either. Only one place separates our teams, but there is a gulf of eight points making this a six-pointer of real value.
So what can we expect at Highbury tonight? To be honest (and I hope I don’t speak too soon) the Cods also feel like a team with the fight going out of them. For example, in the early part of the season their form wasn’t great but they did consistently net the ball (giving them one of the highest Both-teams-to-score statistics in the league). Since January, though, that is slipping and they seem unable to put any away. I’ve watched quite a few highlights that come across as players a half a yard slower than the early season, the weariness settling in?
Fleetwood mix up their formations, so it’s hard to predict how they will line up. The Cods like a headed goal and do have a decent repertoire of corners and crosses to supply them. I’d describe their play style as “tenacious”. In clips I can see some nice positivity from the attacking players, if they lose the ball they press for it back straight away. Quite a number of goals come from this so our defenders will need to be sharp.
At the back you can see some real weak spots. The defensive formation is quite loose and they do sit off from challenges, allowing for shots from the edge of the box (much like Whittakers goal at the weekend). I’d like to see Scully play again because his quick 1-2’s on the edge of the box will be quite challenging for Fleetwood to cope with.
It sounds like Fleetwood have limited injuries to worry about other than midfielder Jordan Rossiter. So should field their full squad. Their top scorer is Gerard Garner, on seven for the season, and he looks like a tough solid center-forward. I’ve watched several of his goals and he is the sort to muscle the ball off a defender and convert. Definitely a handful.
We may or may not see Harvey Macadam. The youngster signed in the January window and has only played three times – but I like what I see. After working with Fleetwood’s development squad, recently he has been getting first team appearances. He’s moved up from the seventh tier of the English pyramid but doesn’t look out of place. Some real pace in midfield and some nice hunger for the ball – he feels somewhat like our own signing Charlie Kendall. Although Fleetwood have brought him onboard sooner rather than later.
We have little history with Fleetwood. Recent games have all been in league one where you can’t really see much of a trend. We won our home fixture this time out, it was the second game of the season (and our first home game) and it felt like a real kickstart game where we dominated and won the second half. Oh how long ago that feels….
Prior to the recent engagements, we last met Fleetwood in 2011/12 season down in the National League when we drew and lost to them (to be fair, they stormed to promotion that season and sold Jamie Vardy to Leicester City).
(P.S. we’re a little late with the preview this week due to illness – normal service will resume for the weekend, enjoy the game!)