Say what you like about Joey Barton (go on, you know you want to) he's certainly got our number. After an early goal, his Fleetwood side switched to time-wasting mode and a weak as watter referee, who could have nipped it in the bud, allowed that and the "dark arts" (shirt-pulling, leg across to prevent a run, both arms over Wyke's shoulders...anything dodgy you can think of) ...all of which made Power's late, late leveller feel like a victory…and his post-match moans that we over-watered the pitch to stop Fleetwood playing their natural game – well, mebbe if we’d had a ref with a fully functioning watch and a pair of linemen (sorry, assistants) who’d done anything other than claim their expenses….and don’t let anybody tell you that Fleetwood’s defensive performance was anything like ours at Oxford. We defended with pride and passion at the Kassam, tonight they, well, they put the ball down for long periods and looked at it while wondering which dorty trick to employ next. Mind, they got what they came for and almost got more than they came for, which will raise Mr Barton’s credibility and value in the game, I suppose. With that in mind, he did a great job and will be rightly happy.
Much of the talk in recent weeks has been about our ability to maintain our preferred formation whatever the personnel, and that has to be a good thing, although the changes to our starting eleven have been few, far between, and down to injury alone. When Lynch was injured, in came Oz, and when Wright was injured, in came Oz… and that’s it, really. When you consider our squad now, it has exactly (near enough, anyway) what you need. McLaughlin1 and Burge. O’Nien and McLaughlin 2. Hume and the as yet untried Declan John, Smith, or Flanagan. Central defence has Flanagan, Willis, Lynch, Wright (or it did have), Oz. Central midfield has Power, Dobson, Scowen, and Leadbitter. Out wide or across behind the centre forward there’s Maguire, Watmore, Gooch, and Semenyo, while up front there’s Wyke, Lafferty, and Grigg. That’s at least two for every position, before any consideration is made for those in the U23s, and thus we have cover aplenty. All of this is before we consider what those players have done on the pitch – both the starters and their replacements. They’ve bought in to what the managers wants them to do, they’ve done what he wants them to do, they look a sight fitter than they did before Christmas, and that means we the fans get 90+ minutes of football instead of watching several of them blowing out of their backsides after an hour or less….and that means that patience is much more likely be rewarded.
Of course, today is two things. Pancake Day, allowing any number of jokes including the word “tosser” to be aired at the visiting manager’s expense, and it’s February 25th. That means it’s the 41st anniversary of me ducking under a police horse in Leazes Park to escape the attention of some pretty disgruntled locals….it’s Gary Rowell Day, and should be celebrated this year as every other year - with a piece of lightning quick team football that sees the ball go from our keeper to the back of the opposition net via a handful of passes in the space of about ten seconds. That'd be lovely. Dundee fans whose English club is Fleetwood and had "popped doon b'train fer the neet, but Scottish fitba is better than English fitba." It takes all sorts – if you can understand them.
With home crowds approaching 3,000, their turnout was quite impressive, despite taking up less space than their flag.
Unchanged team and bench…that's the way to do it. Do you really need me to write the next eleven words?
O’Nien Willis Ozturk Flanagan Hume
Maguire Wyke Gooch
I put them in a different formation every game, just to keep you on your toes, but you know what the drill is.
They started the game towards their fans in the North end, where their flag occupied more space than they did, but with home crowds only nudging the 3,000 mark, it was a pretty impressive attendance. They won a quick corner on their left which McLaughlin took comfortably after he’d provided the initial save to put the ball behind. O'Nien's ball down the right saw Maguire pushed over, and his free from near the corner flag was headed over by Flan. After a couple of putative attacks by us, they broke down the right and cut inside to fire beneath McLaughlin for 0-1. Not really against the run of play, as that hadn't been established yet, but disappointing nonetheless, and, despite there being a bit of an unlucky bounce in their move, it was something we should really have dealt with.
Thankfully, unlike previous seasons when this sort of setback has meant a wholesale turning to despair amongst the crowd, we now know that there’s enough life in our team to get something from the remaining eighty-odd minutes. So we set about trying to get that something.
Another free out on the right was taken by Maguire, as it's his job, but it was cut back low to O'Nien in the middle, who skied his shot. Shame, and should have at least given the keeper something to worry about - other than where he was going to place the ball for the goal kick. About which he changed his mind a couple of times, signalling the beginning of the wasting of time.
It took us only a few minutes to get to grips with the game, but when we did, we moved it around nicely and eventually Hume’s cross fell to Maguire on the right-hand side of the box, but their defender got in a vital touch to send it behind for the first of many corners Maguire had to take.
As we grew into the game, Fleetwood’s tactics came under close scrutiny, and as we approached the half hour, we put in a period of pressure that would have burst many a water cylinder. How we didn’t get the ball into the net is something of a mystery, as the visitors threw bodies in the way of the ball, but the closest we came was when it fell to Maguire. From a very narrow angle, his shot from smacked off the face of the bar to fly over to the left. How close can you get? The Lad has scored some smashers in his year and a bit on Wearside, but that would have topped the lot. But it didn’t, and that’s what counts - more’s the pity.
Gooch, who’d been double-marked since the off (they’d obviously been reading the papers) and who consequently kept dragging defenders across to the left into the path of Hume, making it awkward for the Lad to get forward effectively, worked a bit of space to fire low and just wide of the keeper’s right-hand post.
There were a meagre two added minutes, in which we tried to press forward but always came up against a well-organised visiting defence, in which their lanky central defender kept on Wyke’s back. Quite literally.
No changes for the second, before which Max Power had hoyed the Fleetwood training bollards, or whatever they are properly called, off the pitch in protest at how long the visitors had spent in the dressing room. Joey must have been bought the Observer’s Book of Football Psychology at some stage, as he had his team doing everything “non-football” to get something from the game.
Power had a shot saved as we tried to fashion something from the numerous corners we won, but their defence had that git tall bloke in it, and they managed to get the ball away every time.
As the hour passed, Semenyo warmed up and we reckoned that Gooch would probably make way for him, as he’s been battered from pillar to post by his two markers, but then Fleetwood broke down their right and Hume had to put in a tackle near the corner flag, but took a bang on the nose in the process, so off he went and we shifted to basically three defenders with Power dropping a bit deeper. When Dobson was sacrificed to allow Lafferty to double up with Wyke on 75, Maguire dropped more central and deep to allow us to maintain some sort of shape, but by then Fleetwood had reverted to defending deep and trying to hit over the top to their striker – which nearly paid off a couple of times thanks to a combination of some dodgy passing across the back by us and the ref allowing some criminal pulling and pushing on Wyke.
Ozturk received his customary yellow for a less than subtle trip as the visitors threatened to break – I’m fine with that, but when Power was hit on the volley, why was their man not booked? I honestly am tempted to give up moaning about the standard of reffing in this division, but we’ve had this numpty twice before, and he’s stretched the definition of abysmal each time. When he pushed their man towards the touchline to indicate where he should leave the field of play when being subbed, and that player then walked back onto the field, why did he not book him? I give up. Power hit a speculative shot from thirty yards, but it was always s rising and didn’t trouble anyone apart from the fella carrying a late Bovril back to his seat in row Q.
With five to go, we threw caution to the wind and hoyed on Watmore for Willis, which seemed a bit mad as Oz was on a yellow – but then so had been Power when our George was replaced. Fleetwood weren’t bothered about taking advantage of employing an unfamiliar formation by this stage, they were just soaking up whatever we hoyed their way and hitting us on the break whenever possible.
Dunc ran at the defence like he does, then looked on in disbelief as the linesman refused to make a decision on a challenge in the North East corner that people in the South West Corner (of Peterlee) had seen come off the defender. So the ref gave a goal kick, which the keeper picked up and placed in several different spots before hoofing it upfield. That was the cue for first Maguire then O’Nien to pointedly place then move the ball for subsequent goal kicks – which the keeper moved again, drawing no comment from the ref. He eventually produced a yellow for dalliance over a throw in, and six extra minutes were announced – scant recompense for the amount of time the ball had spent inactive. The crowd roared the Lads on to …something. The ref made some more daft decisions, many of the crowd said “let’s go, we’ll get nowt tonight” and we slung the ball forward, won more corners, and watched as their giant centre-half got his head to most of them.
Their final substitution confirmed that ref’s inability - their lad was told where to leave the pitch, an instruction he initially ignored, but then came back onto the pitch to walk towards the dugout. The yellowest card you’ve ever seen, but not given, and a moment of indiscipline and disrespect that should have seen the ref get Barton and his captain together to be slapped around the chops with a copy of the rulebook.
The added minutes were thankfully, and rightfully, only a minimum, and as the clock ticked onto 97, Lafferty matched their giant centre-half for both height and determination to win the header and knock it down to Watmore, who managed to avoid what seemed like a dozen pairs of legs to get the ball to Power – and he smacked it home, causing mayhem amongst the home fans. I turned to celebrate with the Lad behind me and he hit me with a hug so hard – bearing in mind he’s in a higher row of seats – that my nose went all Hume. It’s still dripping now, but apparently not broken, just a little upset and temporarily bent.
By the time it had sort of calmed down, the whistle had gone, and we were smiling like we’d won the cup or summat. Stay to the end, it always helps.
Man of the Match? Well, if either of our wingbacks could cross like Bobby Kerr of Nicky Summerbee, we’d have won at a canter. I thought Dobson had a fine game and I was a bit miffed when he was replaced, as, of our central midfielders, I’d have got shot of Power first. What do I know, eh? Gooch was stifled by having two markers from the off, and couldn’t quite get hi shooting boots straight as a consequence. Power recovered from our dodgy start to rise above most of the nonsense that Fleetwood tried to impose on him, and was quite rightly incensed when a number of challenges by the visitors that were far worse than that which saw our Max incur the ref’s wrath went unpunished.
By a mile, though, it has to be Maguire, who surely has to already be a contender for our player of the season – and the division’s.