What happened here? Which monster spread its slime over Highbury’s immortal turf? Who exactly slaughtered our merry team? Why the subsidence of a 4-2 reverse?
Was it the peculiar line-up with Victor Nirennold as roving, right wing-back and Conor McLaughlin – its usual incumbent – trusted in central midfield? Was it the physicality of the opposition which left us intimidated and shorn? Or maybe Premier League referee and Wiganer, Paul Tierney who chose to stop/start this match like a Hollywood film set?
None of these really. More the set-piece blunders and gaffs which had us imploding, out of character, weak, separate in our aims and team ethics.
Were Bolton Wanderers good? If you consider “stubborn” good, then yes. If you consider morphing between roughhouse tactics and big baby antics effective, then yes – yes they were.
It was a couple of craggy 30-year-olds that had Fleetwood Town unravelling: Glenville Adam James Le Fondre with his “freak” 17th-minute cross-cum-shot and David James Wheater – free to roam the Cod Army’s penalty area in the 20th minute like an invisible gorilla.
How did such incredulous cruising come about? Through fear? A normally unflappable defence losing its bearings? Wheater hypnotising our rear-guard?
Perhaps now is the time when reality kicks in. When the loss of ‘The Don’ Nathan Pond begins to tell. One can’t help but wonder that had central defender, Pond and recently-departed striker, Aaron Amadi-Holloway been present on Saturday then we would at least have dished out an equal amount of bruises.
But such a game has now gone. C’est la vie. That is life. “We go again,” as the Fleetwood faithful regularly exhort.
The match between the The Trawlermen and The Trotters was the most significant at Highbury for an aeon, however, and so post-mortems must be carried out. We cannot just put this 4-2 loss down to mistakes and playing a team who looked and acted as if they were on weekend release.
The forensics point to lackadaisical defending from, first, Cian Bolger, then Conor McLaughlin, then Victor Nirennold and finally Bolger (again).
From the outset, you could see that Bolger was not his usual relaxed self. He had the air of someone conscious of his ex-employer coming to town – an unwelcome visitor scrutinising his current talents and bringing along 1000+ critics to boot.
Fleetwood fans know who the new Cian Bolger is. They know how he has grown and filled the immense boots of the injured Nathan Pond in terms of leadership. But Bolton fans do not. Just as they do not know what a wonderful shot stopper and flying ace keeper Alex Cairns is.
If anyone is to be forgiven a bad day at the office though, then it is Bolger. For his efforts thus far. For his commanding performances – headers, goals, the whole gamut of centre half assets including his improved distribution.
What went wrong on Saturday?
It would be ungracious – if sorely tempting – to deny that BWFC have any players of esteem in their post-Zach Clough squad. The returning Darren Pratley – regularly vilified during those days when I had an occasional seat at the Reebok Stadium (now Macron) – seemed to offer composure to this team. His football was always misunderstood to the naked eye, to the non-holistic gaze; his diagonal scampering frowned upon for its lack of end product.
But his polish at the weekend plus Josh Vela’s darting silkiness, Gary Madine’s Wolverine-like performance and Filipe Morais’ flair and obvious self-belief suggests that Bolton might have turned the corner at the right time in order to appease their disgruntled fans who seek a better art form.
As for Fleetwood, they needed a couple of pickpockets on Saturday – players capable of defensive penetration. George Glendon and Cameron Brannagan, introduced respectively in the 51st and 71st minute, souped-up the pinball machine that is FTFC’s midfield at its finest.
There was a better sense of stewardship around the centre circle once McLaughlin had reverted back to his recognised position which probably indicated that Uwe Rösler got this game tactically wrong before the whistle.
Sure, Bolton sat back, employed our counter-attacking style together with their unique form of Wimbledon-esque lumping the ball forward, but Fleetwood’s inadequate riposte and inability to cut out Morais’ skilled deposits/assists to Wheater, Mark Beevers and finally Le Fondre dented – for an afternoon – the Cod Army’s invincibility and imperiousness.
Have we been living on luck? Have we conveniently forgotten our hammering at the hands of Bradford City on Tuesday, 14th February which could have ended by the same scoreline but miraculously finished 2-1 in Fleetwood’s favour?
No. Because we have become a team. A team without stars. A gang of cloaked assassins who, together, mostly get it right.
“We have got to show [the] character to get back,” goal-scorer Kyle Dempsey commented in the aftermath of the Bolton fall.
He is right. And just 10 matches remain now. 900 minutes. Fifteen hours. Two full, merciless days to the average working man. Graft, skill, luck and surety. That is usually the way of things.
The coach ride down to Walsall should provide ample opportunity to train the mind once more.