It illustrates the bizarre times that we’re living in that while writing this preview, with less than 24 hours to go before this match, I’m not entirely sure if it will go ahead. At the time of writing, six of the twelve Skybet League One games have been lost due to the outbreak of the Omicrom variant of COVID-19. There’s been no indication from either Fleetwood Town or Morecambe that either camp has been affected. For that reason, we will review both sides with the information that we currently have to hand.
Somewhat ironically – for the film buffs – this fixture takes place ‘28 days later’ than the Shrimps´ victory in the final seconds of their visit to Highbury.
Memorably, the first fixture was won by Cole Stockton’s breathtaking 94th minute strike from the halfway line. Do you want to see it again? Fleetwood fans look away!
In the following game, Fleetwood lost 3-1 away to Oxford United and Simon Grayson was relieved of his managerial duties by chairman Andy Piley. Grayson’s side had lost seven out of eight games and he left with The Cod Army languishing in 22nd position.
Fleetwood’s Under 23 manager, Stephen Crainey, has been placed as caretaker manager and so far so good! They’ve picked up 7 points from 12 having won the last 2 games.
Once again, I’m pleased to have the knowledge of Cod Army fanatic and Vlogger, Knappers to help bring the Fleetwood Town perspective.
What is he expecting from the game?
¨I expect a really tough game. Morecambe are dogs, they go to the end, and have been unlucky in recent matches. They have played sides at the top end of the table and in their next four games I can see them picking up at least seven points.¨
In this preview – with the help of Knappers – we’ll review Fleetwood’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities against and threats from them will be analysed.
However, first of all we will review the selection decisions required by both managers.
Since the win against Fleetwood, Robbo’s side have picked up just 1 point in 12, conceding thirteen and scoring just two. The temptation could be to make many wholesale changes again, but in the last game against Portsmouth – with an experimental 3-4-1-2 formation – it was, despite the result, a slightly more positive performance.
For that reason, I envisage Robbo will stick with this formation, with the only changes made being due to injuries picked up at Fratton Park.
In the pre-game interview, the Gaffa stated that centre back Scott Wootton will be out for 4-6 weeks, whilst Ryan Delaney is a doubt with a calf injury.
If Delaney is unfit, then he may look to draft in Jacob Mensah for his EFL debut.
One positive bit of news was the long-awaited debut of centre forward Jonathan Obika, six months after signing for The Shrimps. Robbo will be delighted that Obika – who he mentions as one of his star summer signings – managed 60 minutes and came through unscathed.
Without looking particularly threatening he showed glimpses of the experience he will bring to the side and he should offer a foil for Cole Stockton. With more match fitness, i’m hopeful he can start chipping in with some goals
Adam Phillips played his first full League One game since Plymouth back on the 23rd October and looked livelier in the number 10 position.
According to Wyscout, he managed 2 shots on target, completed 3 from 3 dribbles successfully and had six touches in the Pompey box. To put the last stat into perspective, he’s averaged 2.31 touches in the penalty area this season and looked eager to make an impact on the game.
One of Adam´s shots produced a world class save from Man City loanee Gavin Bazuna. I don´t think that´s an exaggeration to describe the Irish international´s save.
It hasn’t quite clicked into place for Adam yet in this loan spell, but in my opinion he offers us something different in our midfield to all the other options. When it works, he has the ability to create a bit of magic to open up a defence or dart into the box to finish a chance. We need to see that on a regular basis for him to hold down a place in our first XI.
¨Steven Crainey just has to send the team out with the same confidence we did against Gills, I’d probably stick with the same team. ¨
¨Fleetwood have endeavoured and have picked up lots of points from behind, that’s our best quality.¨
According to Transfermarkt, Fleetwood have gained the 5th most points in League One from losing positions – 12.
At the opposite end of the scale Morecambe have been behind 14 times this season and picked up just two points. Going on the evidence of the season so far, it shows that the first goal is vital if The Shrimps are to get a victory.
Before I delve into more general team stats for The Cod Army, it’s worth putting them in context of the fact that they have now had a new manager in charge for four games. Therefore I am wary of putting too much weight on the overall season stats when there’s a new voice leading the dressing room – albeit potentially only on a short term basis.
One of the most obvious strengths of Fleetwood Town is their goals for. Despite their 19th position, they have scored the joint 6th most goals in the division with 36. The goals are spread right through the side too, with eight players having two or more League One goals.
According to Wyscout, their expected goals are 23.38 which would put them in 20th position, so their clinical finishing is helping accumulate points.
The Shrimps – who have the second lowest expected goals 19.32 – have scored 29 league goals. Cole Stockton’s 13 goals from all angles have helped!
If you put Fleetwood’s 5-1 loss to Accrington largely down to the straight red midfielder Daniel Batty received at 0-0 on 23 minutes, the other three results have been extremely positive.
In the three nil and two-one victories against Bolton and Gillingham respectively at Highbury, Fleetwood showed a swagger and confidence which had been lost under the previous regime.
In an interview this week, chairman Andy Piley emphasised clearly how he wanted Fleetwood to be the number one club when it came to giving young players an opportunity to get experience to then move onto the Premier League or Championship. According to him, seven players who played in the victory against Bolton, originated from their academy.
Caretaker boss Stephen Crainey has only tweaked the formation and the underlying stats look fairly similar. However, watching the games now compared to before our game in November and Fleetwood under Crainey look more relaxed on the ball, yet dogged in defence.
¨Our weakness is the fact we can’t defend, and have conceded too many goals, (40) the second worst in League 1. And the fact we have so many injuries so we are running on empty. ¨
Under Crainey, Fleetwood have looked full of confidence in their recent outings. Against Gillingham, they knocked the ball around from the back-line comfortably and used their in-form number 6 Jay Matete to work the ball out from the back.
According to Wyscout, against Gillingham Matete received the ball 10 times from centre back Tom Clarke and passed the ball onto Paddy Lane 11 times.
I mentioned in my last preview that whilst he is technically very strong, on occasions he can overplay the ball.
I found an instance of this again in their penultimate game against Bolton.
In the action below, Matete intercepts the ball and decides to bring it forward.
He holds onto the ball too long and Wanderers’ midfielder, George Andrew Thomason, is able to win the ball from him.
Dapo Afolayan grabs the chance and runs directly at the Town defence.
The ball is laid into the path of Eoin Doyle in the box.
Doyle’s effort is weak and easily saved.
In essence, Fleetwood’s recent confidence could also be a weakness if they overplay the ball in midfield and allow the opposition to run directly onto a defence which has shipped forty League One goals so far this season.
Opportunities Against Fleetwood
¨Probably just getting it to Cole Stockton. He gets the ball, he can score goals, even in his own half. You’re never safe. As I think we’ve seen.¨
It’s understandable why a Fleetwood Town fan would feel like that after witnessing Cole’s ridiculous goal! Cole is by far our most obvious goal threat having scored 44.8% of our League One goals.
His thirteen goals have come from just 7.7 expected goals, according to Wyscout. He’s taken just 60 shots and thirteen of them have been goals.
As mentioned in the weaknesses, Fleetwood have sometimes got a tendency to overplay the ball. With Shane McLoughlin back in the side – who averages 4.85 interceptions and has won 59.9% of his defensive duels – I foresee him leading the press and looking to exploit any lapses in concentration.
Adam Phillips has intercepted the ball four times each in his last two outings, despite only playing 29 minutes at Sunderland.
If we win the ball back high from Matete or one of the other Fleetwood defenders, in our 3-4-1-2 formation, the midfielders have two forwards to thread balls into.
As mentioned often in my previews, I would prefer for us to play the balls behind the defenders into the channels as opposed to playing high aerial balls which the opposition centre backs enjoy. We have forwards who are more threatening with balls into feet in pockets of space, than in the air.
Threats from Fleetwood
¨Probably Lane and Morris, 2 young hungry, pacey attacking players, Lane has 7 assists this season, ( joint 1st in LG1 with Scott Twine).¨
We covered Shayden Morris in the preview for the first game and he proved to be a tricky player with three completed dribbles from three and he put in five crosses. Two of his crosses were successful. According to Wyscout, he has averaged 7.76 dribbles this season with 63.9% successful and you can see from his heatmap this season that he’ll likely attack wide right against our defensive left.
Paddy Lane provided both assists in their last win against Gillingham.
The first was a curved ball into the box deep inside the Gills half to the right hand side.
The beautifully weighted pass looped over the stationary Gillingham defence to be met by midfielder Harrison Biggins who scored past Aarron Chapman.
His second assist was worked from a corner and he found himself outside the box to the right hand side.
Again his accuracy was perfect and this time he found the head of centre back Tom Clake. The former Preston defender smashed his header past Chapman.
He’s averaging a staggering 0.51 assists per 90 minutes of League One football.
Another player who we will have to pay close attention to is Harrison Biggins who has found a new lease of life under Crainey.
Having not scored all season, he’s now scored four in his last three games – all of which have come from inside the box. He’s taken just 16 shots in League One this season so 25% of his shots are currently leading to goals, albeit a very small sample size.
LET THE BATTLE COMMENCE!
As I said at the beginning, we are back into some strange times. I do think that we need football to remain as part of our everyday; without being overly-dramatic, it does give a sense of ‘normality’ to us all.
Should this game go ahead, bringing the sides together who have conceded a combined 88 goals, it would be surprising if there aren’t goals involved. Fleetwood come into this game in a mini run of form – winning their last two games – so I believe momentum is key.
Fleetwood have yet to win on their travels, whilst The Shrimps have yet to register a win from behind. It’s difficult to predict the outcome of this scrap at the bottom of League One, but you can’t help but feel who sets scores the first goal has a significant chance of grabbing three crucial points.
I would like to say huge thanks to Knappers for his contribution.
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