Swindon 1-0 Fleetwood: Fleetwood Frustrations
Brendan Hobbs avoids cliches like the plague as he whiffles his way through Town’s 1-0 win over the Cod Army.
I’ve been told once or twice in my lifetime that I don’t like change. This simple accusation often leads to further, more serious charges being levelled at me: I’m grumpy, inflexible, stayed even. I must admit that I do like the status quo, I don’t readily accept any change and if I do, it’s grudgingly accepted – so maybe that’s why I may appear a bit miserable from time to time.
The Football League has seen its fair share of changes since I started watching football in the late seventies. The structure, organisation and governing bodies have changed beyond all recognition. Back in the early eighties the idea of having a league called ‘Premier’ and ‘Championship’ was the stuff of brainstorming lunatics.
The very notion that all-seated grounds would become the norm was crazy, the idea that perimeter fencing and police-free environs would be common place was ridiculous, the suggestion that Oxford would be scrabbling around in the basement division, in a soulless three-sided ruin, was acceptable and in fact the stuff that dreams were made of.
Teams have risen and fallen, have disappeared and phoenixed and its these circumstances that brought Swindon face-to-face with a totally alien team. To a younger version of me, the very thought that Swindon would entertain Fleetwood in a third division game was beyond wild fantasy, the sort of stuff that came up in a feel-good movie that you would enjoy but come away thinking, ‘yeah, like that would ever happen.’
And this is an example of how I struggle with change, I struggle with the concept that Fleetwood are a bona fide league club and I’m not picking on them in particular. The same goes for Crawley, Stevenage and perhaps even Burton Albion. The fact there’s a team called MK Dons is bad enough! If I could go back to the late seventies and chat with my younger self and say ‘lad, in about thirty years’ time there is going to be a team called MK Dons, a heartless, soul-sucking franchise no better than McDonalds.’ I probably would’ve looked mystified, and replied ‘what’s McDonalds?’
I can stretch my illogical and stupid annoyances even further with this statement: Wigan and Reading were in the Premier League and Hull City currently are. Seriously? Wigan Athletic surely are a middling third-tier side at best, Reading averaged about six thousand in their crumbling Elm Park sh*t hole and Hull are basement fodder aren’t they? The football world has moved pretty fast and although I like to think I’m a modern guy my brain simply cannot cope with these perceived powershifts.
However, my mental incompetence does then beg the question – who are going to be the next Hull City or Wigan? Who can we look at in the bottom two divisions to be an established premier league team in about twenty years? (Apart from us obviously)
Anyway, I’m supposed to writing a match report, but let me get grumpy again for a minute, I don’t really like doing match reports, they seem so prosaic and I don’t normally get the opportunity to do lots of silly stuff. If you’re a veteran of my previous match reports you know I give it my best shot, but to be fair, I don’t feel that good today, a bit hungover – I’ve got a banging headache and I’ve been to toilet too many times in 24 hours for comfort. So I might just let you into a secret, I use a match report generator for this sort of thing, trust me, everyone who’s someone in sports reporting uses them, Barclay, Winter, Ronay, Morshead. You simply use the quick reference words below, jumble them up a bit and stick it all on the page. Job done.
So that’s the secret out of the bag, if you want to have a bit of fun, play along at home with the Match Report Generator Bingo game, tick off any the words/phrases that I’ve managed crammed into this match report. Anyhow, don’t let me waste any more of your time with confused ramblings, so after a quick knuckle and finger flex I’ll move into a more agreeable and recognisable style of prose.
Looking like a handsome and craggy hero from a western movie, the evergreen one-time penalty king Graham Alexander breezed into SN1 with his Fleetwood team coming off the back of a rotten run of away games, with only one win on the road since August. (Seriously, we were playing Fleetwood? Surely, this is some sort of TS Eliot poem come to life “And Alexander took his beloved by the hand and down into the fragrant Fleet Wood”).
I’m struggling to write anything about the game, which was a little stodgy at best. The writing was on the wall way before the game actually started, with the Stratton Bank full of fans taking up the Supporters Trust’s great offer of free tickets. The idea was to woo first time fans to the ground and hopefully get them to return, so obviously Town were bound to dish up one of their least impressive displays.
At least some parents now have a new angle to threaten their kids “If you don’t behave I’ll take you to see Swindon Town again!” All joking aside, it was wonderful to see the Stratton Bank full and the Trust should be applauded for all their efforts, if only a fraction come back it certainly will be job done.
Town started the game well, with the recalled Yaser Kasim given an early opportunity with a second-minute free-kick. With most of the ground anticipating a shot on goal, the Iraqi international promptly disappointed with a different routine and played it quickly and short, the opportunity fizzled away.
Yaser was to get the next sight of goal as well, with a rampaging run down the left after being fed by Jon Obika, but his fierce cross-cum-shot just eluded a desperate far-post lunge from Andy Williams. And that, to be fair was pretty much all the first half action that I can be bothered to document, yes there was a good chance for Fleetwood’s Martin Paterson after some good set-up play by Nathan Thompson, but that was their only attempt of note.
Fleetwood came with a plan to frustrate Town, parking the bus and sticking eleven behind the ball, curbing any quick counters with niggling fouls and slowing the game down with faux injuries, lots of faux injuries. It was probably no surprise to Town, who must have had spies watching the Fleetwood players at training, below we see a leaked photo showing the players working hard on certain tactical routines.
More worryingly for me was the fact that Town’s returning midfield duo Kasim and Massimo Luongo looked strangely off the pace. Yas, apart from his early lung-buster looked weirdly immobile, like he was treading water in treacle and Luongo had the turning circle of the QE2. Frustrating as there were the occasional flashes of normal brilliance, but quickly it was snuffed out, either down to player pressure or miscontrol. It proves that international football and its associated travel can certainly take its toll.
Oh, special mention has to go to Fleetwood’s Tom Hitchcock for his consistent comical efforts in trying to get sent off – with some elaborate dives, dissent and a chest-high assault on Nathan Thompson, which finally got him halfway to his target, the pedestrian Keith Hill quickly wafting a yellow card in his direction.
The second half brought a renewed attacking vigour from Fleetwood, as they showed a bit more ambition going forward. It didn’t last long though and they resorted to type by frustrating the Town’s midfield, which by this time, was down to walking pace.
Obika looked more alive, repeatedly turning his man in a deeper position before advancing purposefully towards goal, getting a few shots off on the way, one which fizzed just wide of the post. The pressure certainly appeared to be mounting, Chris Maxwell in the Fleetwood goal pulled off a good save to deny the tiring Luongo.
Beaks’ improvement in play was punished when he made way for Michael Smith and Kasim followed soon after with Ben Gladwin making an entrance. Two such physically imposing characters joining the fray is never a good sight for any opposition and it certainly seemed to unsettle Fleetwood. Gladwin providing a fresh attacking impetus and he promptly fizzed a few rangey efforts in on goal.
The clock slowly ticked towards the 90 minute mark – very frustrating and the annoyance from the stands was building also, the normally high ‘forward’ count was sky-rocketing at a more frantic pace than usual. A guy who sits a couple of rows down from me yelled in exasperation at fellow fans “Keep playing Town, it’s this sort of play that got us to second”. Amen to that brother.
So perhaps then, it was a delicious irony that Town finally broke the brave Fleetwood resistance via another irrationally fan-hated tactic, the short corner, supplemented with a delicious cross from the Gruffalo. He clenched his terrible teeth, in his terrible jaws and with one glorious flick of his turned-out toes he whipped the ball dangerously into the box. And Johnny-on-the-spot was our man Gladders, he rose like a young salmon to slam home a bullet header.
Fleetwood promptly rediscovered their attacking ambitions for a final huff n’ puff in the last couple of minutes but Town stood firm and secured yet another win, through persistence and sticking to their core values, believing in the football instilled by Mark Cooper. Our metronomic passing football brought dividends once again and for the third home game in a row a win was notched in circumstances which I’m convinced last year would only have yielded a point. Dare I say it, sign of a promotion team?
So there you have it, my rambling piece has come to a close, a totally unmemorable game was over, but if there was one massive plus to come from it all then it was this: just picture all those Bristol City fans on Saturday night watching the highlights on the Football League Show, and on spying the packed Stratton Bank, just for a millisecond must’ve thought “Bloody hell, Fleetwood brought more than us!”
Picture credit: FlicWiltshire.