Despite being in the minority, I tend to find trips to the coastal never regions of the county rather joyous and Fleetwood is no exception; a town that’s had its fair share of misfortune in industry, trade, tourism and in recent years been at the forefront of a fracking scandal.
Blackpool’s neighbour on the Lancashire coast is not-well-known for its stately homes, noble arts and its contribution to opera but all are true, in a roundabout way. (Speaking of Roundabouts – expect roadworks on in the A5 as you enter; the roundabout there has a replica statue of Piccadilly Circus’ Eros funded by the family that own Fisherman’s Friends – the minty lozenge that blows your head off).
Onward – the towns motto, which is displayed on a huge floral display way into the centre – is rather disingenuous of the place; As the only way through Fleetwood is to turn around and come back on yourself. At least that’s the spiel from the Tourism website out the way; now onto the football.
Last season finished with Fleetwood stumbling to safety, more by luck than talent, after managing to stay in League One with a lowly 40 points – a sum that would have seen them relegated in every season since 1980-81.
With a host of clubs being far worse to thank, namely Gillingham, Doncaster, Wimbledon and Crewe all of whom dropped in to the lowest tier of the Football League.
Over the summer they’ve looked to react, owner Andy Pilley moving quick to bring in Celtic legend Scott Brown for his first managerial role post-Aberdeen exit. Pilley has a habit in offering roles to relatively big names in comparison to the size of the club; what with Joey Barton alongside Clint Hill leading the Cod Army into the play-offs not so long ago, both also in their first management roles.
One of those offered a new role is former Argyle full-back Joe Riley who hung up his boots after a series of injuries and is now leading the club’s recruitment drive after several key players, namely Callum Camps (Stockport), Jordan Rossiter (Bristol Rovers) and Anthony Pilkington (Released). Those bought in by the 30 year old include Callum Morton (who sank Exeter City hearts at Wembley winning promotion to this level with Northampton Town) and exciting prospect Promise Omochere, signing from Irish Prem side Bohemians; alongside two others from Northern Ireland in Centre-Forward Sam Glenfield and ‘keeper Stephen McMullan from Portadown and Warrenpoint respectively.
Pre-Season under Brown appears positive, with wins over Barrow, FC Halifax Town and European-bound Dundee United. A tour of Croatia saw the Cod Army lose 2-0 to Rotherham in Pula and beat HNK Orijent 1919 3-0 in Rijeka.
Back to league action and a trip to Vale Park was up first, with the newly promoted Port Vale side still buoyant from last season’s successes – and some weird good-luck haircutting ritual in the Wembley dressing room.
Further summer signings Jay Lynch, Josh Vela, Brendan Wiredu and the aforementioned Omochere thrust straight into the starting line up as new manager Brown attempts to stamp his mark on his first managerial appointment with a fluid front three in a 4-3-3.
The fresh start looked promising as early as the 6th minute; Omochere showing promise by squaring to Daniel Barry who fired Fleetwood to a short-lived rise to the top of the table.
Vale then began to wrestle back control by scoring twice with both goals from set piece situations – the first, following some outrageous skill with a back heel, from centre-back Connor Hall setting up defensive partner Nathan Smith to level the deficit.
Vale continued in the same vein of form that saw them lift the play-off final trophy; when just two minutes later they found themselves in front, this time through Hall himself. 2-1 up with 13 minutes still to go before the half-time break.
Despite the quick capitulation, it would be incredibly foolish to pre-judge Brown after just one game in management. According to reports ‘Broony’ felt his side were bullied and accused his players of allowing themselves to be bossed around during the ninety, admitting they “lost control” of the game despite their good start.
Known for his tenacity in the challenge above all else – we’re yet to see how much of this he’ll bring to the Cod Army’s midfield during his tenure, although I expect rockets up some arses in the build up to this weekend fixture.
Looking at our opening run of fixtures you’d have bookmarked this one as our best chance of grabbing all three points, even despite recent frustrating trips to Highbury, our last outing saw us throw away a 3-1 lead with only 2 minutes left of the 90 and in turn kick-start our decline towards missing out on the play-offs.
A few featured that night that have since departed; Critchlow-Noble’s failure to not-only jump from the late corner but to instead duck lead to the equaliser in the dying moments. Alfie Lewis – Argyle’s strangest signing under the current recruitment team – featured too. His only other appearance coming against Birmingham City in the FA Cup as a late sub. (I’m not counting his goal in pre-season against Europa Point as any form of highlight). Both have taken backwards steps in order to progress with Bradford and Dundalk the recipients of their talents respectively.
Our opening day win gives me cause for optimism ahead of this weekend.
It appears we’ve switched to a 3-4-2-1, opposed to last-season’s 5-3-2, with the wing-backs pushed up even further and two 10s tucked in behind a main vocal point, in this case Ryan Hardie. I feel this will be outrageously successful for us this season and while I’m making predictions; Azaz already feels to me like our key asset; I’m tipping him (in August) to take home the Player of the Season award.
I have form after tipping Joe Edwards after that barn-storming win against Crewe on the opening day in 2019.
New season and same Argyle in many respects; fantastic recruitment thus far, keeping home-grown talents Randell and Cooper is excellent business in itself and a new system implemented that already makes Mayor look closer to the claims Lowe made upon his arrival.
The final word must go to the outrageous depth we’re starting to build at the club too; Camara, Houghton, Ennis and Whittaker all assigned to the bench, Grant and Miller to come back, Galloway to get back up and running. Other clubs are starting to believe in us and allowing us to improve some of their best talents – that in itself is huge for both parties, but predominantly us.
Try telling me we’re not going to be challenging for a play-off place this season? If so, I won’t be listening.