Fleetwood 5-1 Swindon: WARNING Contains prolonged periods of dejection

Alex Hays reports on an abject 5-1 defeat at Fleetwood Town that sends Swindon back into the League One relegation zone.

Those of us who live in the north of England make it to far fewer Town games than we’d like. We rely on match reports, online highlights, forums – pretty much anything but Fanzai – for information on what’s going on at the club.

The last game I made it to was Bury away. Since, I hear that Anton Rodgers has become unworthy of a place in the starting XI; the new loanees who just needed time to bed in to the system have failed to do so; the manager has been replaced; 3-5-2 has been and gone and come back again; and the player whose only memorable contribution to last season was an arm in Aden Flint’s face has become captain fantastic.

So I found myself heading to Highbury, Fleetwodd wondering what I would see. Would Martin Ling instil belief in the players? Would we see signs of a return to the confident, free-flowing football of last season?

In a word, no…

In fact, it’s no exaggeration to describe this performance as shambolic.

The early minutes were a mixed bag. We played with width, we pressed high, and Fleetwood’s defensive frailty was evident. Wes Thomas and Nicky Ajose found gaps to run into and routes into the box. But that frailty existed at the other end also. Not five minutes had passed before David Ball tip-toed away from his marker to run through on goal, forcing a smart save from the onrushing Vigouroux.

Such defensive weakness was the story of the half, but Fleetwood attacked far more frequently than Town, and the away side only had themselves to blame.

I don’t mind short goal kicks and attempts to play out from the back. But there must come a point when you accept it isn’t working and try something else. Instead, Fleetwood gained possession time after time inside the final third, mostly through misplaced passes by defenders left stranded by their team mates. Were it not for smart tackles by Adam El-Abd and Jordan Turnbull, and some poor finishing from the home side, Town would have been in early trouble.

That said, the hosts did eventually take the lead. A throw was taken on the Fleetwood right, before Yaser Kasim limply allowed his man to wriggle goalwards. The resulting low cross deflected into the net via an unfortunate El-Abd.

Swindon had chances to equalise on occasional forays forward, with the Fleetwood defence always threatening to crumble under pressure. But such pressure was sporadic with Town failing to get the ball forward. Raphael Rossi-Branco, Vigouroux and Turnbull struggled to move play up to the half way line, due in large part to the absence of support from a central midfield of Kasim, Rodgers and Ben Gladwin, all three alarmingly absent throughout.

Half-time discussions revolved around which subs could make a difference, whether a defensive four would help, and how on earth we could establish some presence in the middle of the park. Our greatest hope laid more in a fragile home defence than in any attacking threat of our own, with Ajose and Thomas starved of service.

Sadly, things just got worse, with Town going on to capitulate in ugly fashion. First, Vigouroux brought down Ball, Sarcevic converting the penalty. Henen then added a third, before Fosu made it four. It was a hopeless period of play, in which Town conceded possession from centre kicks, goal kicks, throw ins, the lot. Coupled with an inability to track markers and a reluctance to put tackles in, it was a recipe for disaster.

By now, Jon Obika and Fabien Robert had been introduced. The former worked hard to hold the ball up and run the channels, offering an outlet, and the latter’s first involvement was a clever dummy to launch a Town break. But Robert’s endeavours tailed off, and he eventually proved as ineffective and fruitless as the rest.

There was a glimmer of hope with 10 minutes remaining. The ball was played out from the back, worked from left to right with simple passing to men in space, and crossed from the right. Ajose lost his marker to apply the finish. It was simple stuff, and you had to question why this kind of passing had been so absent from Town’s game.

The reprieve was short, however. Town once again backed off, allowing Grant the space to pick out the far corner from outside the box. A great finish, under no pressure at all.

A depressing day all round, losing 5-1 to a team who rarely displayed any real quality yet thoroughly deserved their win. Our midfield were absent, our strikers stranded, our defence nervy and porous.

I wanted to write about a return to confident football, but this was more of a throwback to Malpas than to Hoddle. Where do we go from here? League Two if things don’t change.

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