Fleetwood Town fans, aged 10, 20 and 80 – squeals, the anger of youth and croaks, but rare to hear 40 and 50-year-old voices serenading the team. The bespectacled red head in front of me (Highbury block B) tried, to her credit, but those eyes and lips were destined for better things; the silver, ornamental hair clip offsetting her young son’s attempts to join the rowdy, expletive-laden, blasphemy crowd.
Rebuked immediately. Sign of a good mum. But how those players needed rebuking too late on.
A good start. A quizzical formation (4-2-3-1). Yet Fleetwood slapped Wednesday down after just eight minutes.
Now we know why Carl Johnston got that left-back berth ahead of Danny Andrew. Because he’s quick, gutsy, takes chances and roams around like a miniature emperor. Past George Byers, one-two with Callum Morton around Alex Mighten, and then ball across the edge of the 18-yard box. Johnston made it look easy. But football is easy. Just ask Bill Shankly.
Daniel Batty assist. Shaun Rooney thunderbolt bottom left. It’s becoming common, familiar, like watching Die Hard and muttering the lines,
Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs.
Rooney may as well start each game head cocked, dirty vest, left eye busted up, bare feet, with nothing but an air vent and lighter for company. Because he’ll always find a way through. He’ll always rough up the opposition (legally or illegally) and then remember he has class in abundance too – scintillating feet and the stride of a menacing Robocop.
This was a team missing our Great Gatsby centre half, Josh Earl, but one that initially looked settled, buoyant, fluid, optimistic and ready to flick aside or compete with another top club as we had with Plymouth, Wycombe, Peterborough and Ipswich. And playing Brendan Wiredu, a central midfielder, at centre half was a stroke of desperate genius or a high-risk manoeuvre from 37-year-old head coach, Scott Brown.
Wiredu, clearly good on the deck, but not commanding in the air, brought what he could to the back line. The whole team alas were stood idle in the 16th minute when Marvin Johnson’s feeble, misdirected half-volley made it to the feet of Byers to glide the ball home and undo some of the hurt from earlier.
Cods, still good though, still in this – the blue, white and black of Sheffield not looking like a team who had lost only three. Because Fleetwood surprise you. They rip up the template. Appear from over the horizon like an impoverished, yet hungry horde. Well, some of the time – when the back line is solid, when Carlos Mendes Gomes is motoring, when Ged Garner has on his shooting boots, when Josh Vela – still only 29 – is pumped up, not willing to accept that his best days are past him.
Doesn’t like it out there – Gomes. Wide right as part of the three behind the front man. Prefers to be central – as the main man himself or on his shoulder. This is Stefan Scougall all over again – former manager Steven Pressley Driving a Lamborghini on the Pavement. Either that or he’s still injured. But those yellow boots were carrying a different soul on Boxing Day.
Think this through, Brown. Can’t have our Rolls Royce with gear problems. Everything comes through Carlos. Push Batty to the right. Give Carlos his sweets. Give Carlos two butlers, a free Mercedes, cigars during training and Poolfoot college kids guarding his house at night.
This is more than that though. The game ran away from us. We lacked dogs. Show the players Last Chance U – Season 2, but not episode 8. East Los Angeles College (ELAC) on a good day – that’s who we need to be. The last half hour of this game was a hoof fest. And we can’t have that. Not using our skill, not knocking it around, just desperate rather than building something tangible.
Fleetwood’s home record now – following the tragedy of that 73rd minute Johnson goal – stands at W2, D5, L4. Two wins in eleven. What do such stats say? They say ‘Come and take our safe, our money, our jewels’. Oh, and while you’re at it ‘Take our fridge freezer contents, our fresh fish, because we don’t need sustenance no more’. Oh, and here ‘Take out the Mrs too. I’ve even booked the restaurant for you’.
When Rooney stomped his way across the turf in the 83rd minute – seemingly intent on attacking the away bench or in reality confronting the fourth official – after receiving a somewhat soft second yellow card, it wasn’t because he’s deranged, crazy, a loose cannon, a liability or a loser. It was because he cares.
His very presence is etched into the club. He fights, moans, manhandles people, storms down the right, has an uncanny touch for a man so big and finishes oh, so elegantly. But such gilded brilliance is wasted when there are no dogs around him – men of equal stature willing to give everything.
Brown can bring on 7000 strikers with 13 minutes to go in a desperate attempt to salvage something. He can then stare in dismay alongside assistant Steven Whittaker as Rooney crosses yet another ethical line. But what he really needs to do is lock the safe, lock the freezer, tell the Mrs to get into her scruffs, and discover the fighters and dogs in this squad ready to sunder the opposition, run and press and have no regrets when they hit 30.