Fleetwood Town Season Preview

Key player: Callum Camps

Callum Camps has the ideal mix of having a wealth of League One experience whilst still being young enough to have the potential to go even further. Having been thrust into the Rochdale side as a youngster, Camps went on to make 240 appearances for the Spotland outfit, scoring 30 times from the centre of midfield. He also added a very handy 23 assists to his numbers during his time at the club.

Upon leaving Dale, Camps didn’t need to travel far to his new club, with Fleetwood offering him a two-year deal in the summer of 2020. And he made a flying start. Nobody in the Fleetwood side could better his 14 goal involvements (11G 3A) across the season, and he had the ability at his best to win games on his own.

Admittedly, the stats themselves may make Camps’ season look better than it really was. 10 of his 11 goals were scored by the end of November, and his numbers were helped by two braces in big wins against Bristol Rovers and, yep, Argyle. That woeful 5-1 reverse just can’t seem to escape my memory.

But even if the second half of his season didn’t match the first, Camps is undeniably talented. He offers more than just goals and assists and, still only 25, this has the potential to be a huge season for the Stockport-born player.

See the whole League One Season Preview 2021/22

Manager: Simon Grayson

Simon Grayson, a man much more palatable to write about than Fleetwood’s previous manager, has been around the block a bit. Fleetwood are his seventh club in management; well, we can make that eight if we include the one game at Kendal Town he took charge of in place of the non-league side’s regular manager, Chris Humphrey, who was self-isolating.

Probably most remembered for fairly lengthy spells at Blackpool, Leeds and Preston, but he’s been much more nomadic in recent years. He failed to make it to a year in charge at Bradford, had a much shorter second spell at Blackpool, and starred for a few months in Netflix’s own social experiment ‘Sunderland AFC’. The 51-year-old will be hoping that his time at Fleetwood brings success over a sustained period of time.

And he’s off to a good start. Since joining the ranks at Highbury in January, the Cod Army have experienced a decent run of form. There have been a few dodgy results thrown in, such as a 5-2 loss at Burton and a 2-0 home defeat to relegated Swindon, but the good has outweighed the bad to date at least.

Stopper: Alex Cairns

Few players have made more of an impression at Fleetwood in recent years than goalkeeper Alex Cairns. Having joined from Rotherham in the summer of 2016, he’s gone on to make 196 appearances during his time at Highbury, with the promise of more to come. He was injured for a significant part of the first half of last season, but is back to full fitness now and ready to make an impression again.

It actually took Cairns a little while to find his feet in the game. He began his career at Leeds, but whilst he did manage to make one appearance for the first team at Elland Road, he spent much of his time there out on loan. Non-league Stalybridge Celtic was where he made many of his appearances, but he failed to make a single first team start after signing short-term permanent contracts with Chesterfield and Rotherham. His move to Fleetwood five years ago saw his career take off sharply.

If you recognise his name, it’s probably through numerous social media clips showing unbelievable saves he’s made across numerous games. And now 28, he’s adding a certain maturity to go with his eye-catching shot stopping. He’ll start the season as number one this season, and potentially for many more to come.

Key departure: Wes Burns

Fleetwood have a lot of attacking talent in Camps alone, but the departure of Wes Burns will certainly harm them. The right winger departs Highbury having scored an impressive 28 goals for the club in his 190 appearances primarily from the right wing. In the end, an undisclosed fee from Ipswich Town was considered too good to turn down.

26-year-old Burns started his career at Bristol City, with various loan spells (including one at Fleetwood) defining his time at Ashton Gate. Nonetheless, he still managed to make 54 appearances for the Robins before joining Fleetwood on a permanent deal in 2017. Indeed, his success there has seen him secure a move not necessarily up the Football League ladder, but to a much bigger club nonetheless.

Fleetwood have the talent to replace the creativity Burns provided. Whether they’re able to actually do so remains to be seen.

Target: Top half

Fleetwood escaped their Joey Barton era relatively unscathed (well, at least compared to Bristol Rovers), and are off to a relatively solid start under Grayson. With that in mind, they’ll have every reason to be casting their eyes to the business end of League One, rather than worrying too much about relegation.

However, one wonders whether they have the consistency to mount a real challenge for the top positions. Even when they’re in form, there’s a nagging doubt that a bad result isn’t too far around the corner. And, having never played higher than the third tier, a lack of experience may show during the latter stages of the season, even if Grayson’s appointment may negate that somewhat.

With Burns’ departure providing a challenge, a place in the top half may be the most realistic target for Fleetwood to aim for this season.

 

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League One Season Preview 2021/22

Argyle engulfed by perfect Fleetwood storm

It’s been a while since we experienced the emotions that only a diabolical Argyle away performance can provide. The Greens are yet to win away from Home Park in the league this season, but they’ve often looked good in some of those games despite the results. Think about the first halves against Wigan and Lincoln, the second period against Hull, or the attacking talent on show against Wimbledon.

This, however, was not one of those occasions. Plymouth Argyle’s 5-1 defeat at Fleetwood was just as abysmal as the scoreline suggests. A shambles at the back was combined with a dreadful toothlessness in attack to deliver a most horrific performance. Indeed, it’s probably on par with last season’s trip to Exeter as one of the worst displays since Ryan Lowe took charge at Argyle.

And the manager himself wasn’t blameless – far from it. Lowe’s setup doomed Argyle to defeat right from the start, as all of the issues that have harmed the Greens this season came to the fore in one dismal afternoon.

Set up to fail

Lowe and Argyle’s scouting team really ought to have had a grasp on Fleetwood’s style of play. All season, they’ve been experts at turning over possession and setting up to attack teams on the counter. It’s baffling, therefore, that Lowe’s team selection seemed to play directly into the hosts’ hands.

Argyle ultimately had far too many holes in their spine for the requirements of the fixture. In lining up with Conor Grant in the deep midfield position, they didn’t provide themselves with the defensive solidity and covering required against a team so dangerous when turning over possession. It’s no surprise that Lowe switched things up after just ten minutes, brining on Tyrese Fornah for Panutche Camara, and pushing Grant further upfield. Though as it turns out, it was already too late.

Argyle’s problems were compounded by a leadership void at the back – where have we seen that before? This is perhaps a harsher criticism to throw in Lowe’s direction. After all, Kelland Watts, Will Aimson and Jerome Opoku have been working well together in recent weeks, with the latter scoring his first goal for the club against Portsmouth on Monday. But it was never likely to work here.

With Opoku in the centre of defence, Argyle had no vocal leadership coming from such an important position. He resembled a lost sheep at times, so often caught out of position and not vocal enough to get Watts and Aimson to cover. It all goes back to the idea of selections based on opponents. Opoku is a useful player to have when Argyle are likely to dominate possession; he completed 100% of his passes over 90 minutes against Swindon as Argyle built brilliantly from the back. But Fleetwood away was never going to be his game.

All of this was the perfect setup for Fleetwood to overrun Argyle. The Greens have struggled against the high press all season, and that’s exactly how their hosts tried to hurt them from the first whistle. Argyle coped at first, perhaps unsurprisingly given all the technical players in defensive positions, but it would never last. And as soon as Fleetwood did win it high up the pitch, after four minutes from Camara’s error, they scored. It was always likely to be the way.

It was a problem entirely of Argyle’s own making, and completely foreseeable. The Greens had 59.5% of possession in the first half, with 364 touches to their opponents’ 271. They completed 221 passes in that time, which was 93 more than Fleetwood. But who had the better chances? Fleetwood were more than happy to let Argyle have the ball, press smartly, and tear Lowe’s side apart on the counter.

Straight from kick off, a massacre ensued.

Mistakes still prevalent

Two of Argyle’s major flaws this season have been dealing with the high press and scattered individual errors. We’ve touched on the first, but that’s not a feature of every game. After all, not every side sets up to press from the start – look at Northampton. However, the rate of individual errors has a constant, significant worry.

In truth, the Greens have been partial to the occasional blunder all season. From the first away day at Wimbledon when Aimson dallied on the ball, right up to the draw against Portsmouth on Monday when Watts and Fornah had their own brain fades. Argyle have been plagued by cock-ups, and nothing demonstrated that better than those 90 minutes on Saturday afternoon.

We’ve already touched on Camara’s error for the first, but Argyle made sure they weren’t done there. The second goal in particular saw a catalogue of errors, with Opoku caught in no-mans land defending against nobody in particular, and Mike Cooper letting slip what ought to have been a comfortable take at Callum Camps’ feet. Cooper also slipped to make Wes Burns’ finish easier for the third, but that was more unfortunate than idiotic, and the danger really ought to have been dealt with before Burns went clean through.

We’re not done. Fleetwood’s fourth goal also saw an old problem come to the fore, with Scott Wootton and Frank Nouble beaten so easily in the air. But the fifth was possibly the worst of the lot. Byron Moore, under no pressure at the back post, cleared the ball straight into the path of Camps to slam the ball home. It was honestly the perfect assist, similar to Fornah’s error against Portsmouth but somehow worse in execution. Had it not been so tragic, it would’ve been hilarious.

It’s such a frustrating issue that keeps rearing its ugly head. These players aren’t terrible. In fact, they’ve all shown across their time at Argyle that they have a lot to offer. But if the silly mistakes aren’t cut out, these results will happen.

Reaction needed

Even in games where Argyle’s defence has looked shaky this season, the attack has always looked a threat, but even that was lacking on Saturday. The choice of personnel may have had a role in that too, particularly the persistence with Frank Nouble, who had no shots, won only 17% of his aerial battles and completed just 8 passes across the 90 minutes.

I could go on a little more with Argyle’s toothlessness on Saturday, but I’ve already wasted enough of your time. So instead, I’ll simply say that a reaction to this display is desperately needed. And soon.

Ryan Lowe’s record of having never lost two league games in a row at Argyle is under serious threat. The 5-1 defeat is a big mental setback, and a trip to Peterborough could hardly be coming at a worse time – they’ll be after a reaction too after they relinquished their lead at the top of League One following defeat to Blackpool at the weekend. There’s also the question of selection. One presumes Hardie and Jephcott will be straight back in, but who plays in defence? Canavan for Opoku would be the obvious choice, but the former’s red card on Saturday and subsequent suspension was the cherry on top of a particularly unpalatable cake.

It’ll no doubt be tough, but dealing with adversity has been a staple of Argyle under Lowe. They’ve demonstrated their bouncebackability in the past, and whilst Saturday was awful, the promise of better days to come is enough to keep us enthused.