After last night’s game, I had to rush out to a school reunion, so I didn’t get to do my analysis.
On the way back to the car after the game, I wasn’t full of the joys of spring, but I know that I have a tendency to calm down, so I guessed I’d wake up this morning and feel different about yesterday’s performance and result. As I opened my eyes with a dry mouth and stuffy head this morning, my first thought was ‘nope, not changed my opinion at all’.
You come here for honest analysis, and for me to give you anything other than my truest thoughts would be a disservice. Last season, when I was talking up the team and getting abuse for it, I stayed true to what I felt, and I’m going to do the same today. My truth is this; I’m a little concerned right now. I know there will be those among you who probably read this and call me Mr Negativity, and I’m not prophesying doom and gloom as such, but I truly feel that the squad we put out yesterday, in its entirety, is not good enough to sustain anything other than a season-long battle against sliding into the bottom four. Granted, that’s very different from my feelings of ten days ago and maybe I’m turning a bit reactive. I make no mention of the players who were out injured or who have yet to arrive, but yesterday’s starting XI could not beat a team I felt were comfortably the worst we’ve seen this season, and probably on a par with some of the worst I saw last season. Mark my words, Fleetwood Town will be in the bottom seven this season; I fear unless this week brings transfer luck and injuries ease up, we will be also.
Firstly, we had that horrible sense of deja vu ahead of kick-off; the team gets announced, and the talk is about who isn’t playing. No Jordon Garrick, one player we have with the ability to turn a game, and no Max Sanders, one of our more solid midfielders. That impacted the team massively, but it was tempered by Carl Rushworth’s return and Sean Roughan’s first Football League start since November 2020. Given how well he played, I have to wonder how the hell he hasn’t played more.
To put some perspective on my early negativity, for 25 minutes or so we were excellent. Tashon Oakley-Boothe had his best game in a City shirt, and his link-up with Sean Roughan looked really promising. Six minutes in, and we went 1-0 up with a lovely move, Roughan and Tashan combining perfectly to tee up Ted Bishop. It was an easy finish and utterly appalling defending by the visitors, but that matters not: City led. Eight minutes later it was two, this time Roughan’s pinpoint delivery once again seized upon by Ted Bishop. It was simply sensational stuff, we looked like a team playing with poise, purpose and plenty of confidence. At that point, I wondered if we might turn it into a rout, smash maybe four or five. Their keeper didn’t look comfortable, their defence was all over the place (it has Nsiala in it, so you’d expect that), and frankly we looked like the team Mark Kennedy wants us to look like.
It was around this time that referee Ollie Yates began to confuse me. We benefitted from his first error; he got in the way of the ball during a Fleetwood attack and rather than picking up and starting with a drop ball, as are the rules, he let us play on and turned it into an attack. It was the first decision he made that baffled me, but certainly not the last, not by a long, long way. It’s easy to say the referee didn’t affect the result, but he did, without a doubt. Had he called some of the decisions differently, we’d have comfortably won the game; that’s a fact. For instance, their goal was offside, and whilst he relies on his assistant referee to raise his flag, it’s still the wrong call. Having watched it back, it is closer than I thought at the time, but their scorer is offside when the ball is played. If we stayed at 2-0, then I could see the game running our way. As soon as we conceded, I felt we went to pieces.
Not that Fleetwood hadn’t had chances before that; Rushworth saved with his face, and we handed a couple of chances their way through the half, but in the main we had good control in the game. After their goal, I felt we lost that, and other than a brief period at the start of the second half, we never got it back. Instead, we began to make errant passes, miss headers and tackles and make really poor decisions in key areas. I felt Sean Roughan was the best player for us in the first half, but few others really stood out; Ted got on the ball in some decent areas, and both Lasse and Ben House worked hard, but the midfield just felt a little disjointed at times. Also, we lacked that pace in wide areas that is entirely necessary to transition quickly, proven by our only other chance of the first half, a Scully break. He got into the opposition area, surrounded by players, and nobody had got there with him. Had someone been quicker, we might have made it three and put the game beyond doubt. Ifs and buts – however, at half time there was still positivity around me. People felt Fleetwood were a one-trick pony, lump it towards Roughan, double up on him and pick up the pieces. If we could combat that, and find the rhythm of the first 20 minutes again, we’d be laughing.