Fleetwood Town’s Johnson finally getting the hang of things as Blackpool reels and Kidderminster burns

Wednesday. The players’ tunnel like a Dutch red light district. No special tarts here though with the exception of the Cod Army’s Jack Marriott, Promise Omochere and Bosun Lawal. And for The Tangerines, Sonny Carey, Shayne Lavery and Karamoko Dembele.

Slaughter. A local derby. Fleetwood – the area sedate, slow, away from the “brashness of Blackpool”. Not tonight though. Come on in, you b*stards. See if you’re comfortable now. See if you can even feel your slippers or boots.

2-0. How? Why? Because of our wild stallion, Promise. Beginning to realise his own strength. Beginning to understand that his thighs could crush an opposing XI and his unpredictability could bring down ten Las Vegas casinos. 

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Shaun Rooney, Fleetwood’s right back – built for war, unlucky with injuries and referees’ ire – scampering forward past the complacent Carey, the defensively deficient no.10. On to Promise who shrugs off Blackpool’s midfield dynamo Kenny Dougall and then makes Marvin Ekpiteta and Matt Pennington look like the front and back end of a pantomime horse.

On their knees. As Blackpool should be. Begging. Appreciative. No longer in League Two. Pleased to be here. At Highbury. Playing high end football. And when Promise thuds it in on 13 minutes and slides in front of their black-coated fans, they should bow, understand the majestic nature of what they’ve just seen.

17 minutes now. A long Phoenix Patterson free kick from the left swung in in classic Phoenix style. Ben Heneghan, the recipient – our Godzilla – heads it down. Who to? Who else, but Omochere. Never cheerless when he’s around. Steam rising from him in the manner of Christmas vegetables on the hob.

Not this time. Promise’s shot too soft. But Super Jack Marriott picking up the pieces. The eminent no.14 becoming Fleetwood’s poacher, saviour and all-round attacking gadget. 

Look at their wounded faces as Marriott slides towards the corner flag. Sunk. Shocked. They thought this would be an easy night! They thought the Indian sign would continue. Not with characters and hardened players beginning to emerge from the Fleetwood shadows.

Maybe Lee Johnson was right when he arrived and bemoaned their stamina, their staying power, the very saliva in their mouths. Something was drying up. But now there are examples for all to follow: the absent, injured Carl Johnston who gives everything; Ryan Broom, Mr Versatile, busting a gut; Brendan Wiredu – back, thank god – his tackles like spring-loaded mouse traps; and Marriott, of course, always sniffing the air, always sensing something – the demise of the opposition.

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In at half-time. 2-0 to the Cods. Don’t change the damn script now. Don’t wallow in arrogance. Keep the Tower hordes at bay. Keep their smudged faces gloomy and beholden to the real Fylde fjords.

Marriott chats to Phoenix just before they kick off. Do this. Do that. I want the ball there. And there. I’ll run in between the clowns. Batter them again. Show them who the finest striker in this division is.

But wait…what are you doing, Sonny? Should you be out at this time of night? 48th minute. 51st minute. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu*k. What is going on? Are the hordes dancing, celebrating, bouncing around? Let out of Ma Kelly’s – no longer hostage to alcohol, ciggies and vapes – intoxicated instead by the football before them. Not the first half show readily booed, but this one – after the interval – full of swagger, simplicity, Karamoko Dembele and Shayne Lavery (both 45-minute substitutes).

If you got one thing wrong, LJ, then it was waiting eight minutes to change the formation, to bring on Connor Teale and Kabongo Tshimanga, bolstering our defence (Teale part of a central three alongside Heneghan and Lawal; Rooney and Josh Earl now wing backs in a 5-3-2) and coping better with the sassy upstart, Sonny Carey and his mates, Dembele and Lavery.

Should you have known? Would any sane Blackpool manager not start with his best XI? The crowd knew. They worship Lavery and treat Dembele like a miniature god. At least you corrected it at 2-2 after the floodgates opened. At least you recognised that even the highly-regarded Neil Critchley occasionally gets it wrong and changes his personnel, thus warding off humiliation.

Damn those wonder goals! Damn Rooney for not getting control of the ball (easy to look like a fool with silk around you). Damn Sonny for coolly slotting it into the bottom right of the goal as if warming up, as if on the training ground, as if still in his dressing gown just horsing around with his nephews.

And then damn him again, for making it look so easy. From further out. Same angle. Same shot. A smooth rotation of the leg and…bang! Sonny, Sonny – shouldn’t you be in bed?

Fleetwood – what the hell happened? We were smiling at half time. And now … Christ, we can’t go home with those Tango-chested morons grinning from ear to ear. Give us something, something. No – not that! Not another sucker punch. Not another celebration chorus from the away fans, from the ‘city’ folk whose lives are never calm. Noooooooooooooooooo!

How easy was that for them? From the feebly-won header on the halfway line by the smaller man, Lavery, to then not watching him run through after the lovely, weighted pass from Jordan Rhodes. Teale – you’re young. I’ll forgive you. Tonight you’ll have learnt a lot. Two mistakes in a row and Lavery doing what comes naturally. His turn to slide towards the corner flag now. Their no.19. His turn to love the evening, to feel the exhilaration of a comeback – that hallowed land that all pros adore.

2-3. Did we really blow it? Did we really get excited and then let the hordes from nine miles away trash the party? Just watch it now. Hope. Pray. You’ve had some good days and good nights. Don’t get greedy. Give them their derby spoils…

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No. F*ck that. Bosun to Danny Mayor, to our golden chariot, our connecting train – JACK MARRIOTT!! Did you see that, Seasiders? Did you see our slick play through the middle? The gentle ball from Bosun Lawal – Carey and CJ Hamilton in pursuit of Danny Mayor. And then Tshimanga the foil – drag those defenders away, Kabongo! Ekpiteta and Pennington not knowing who to pick up. Not knowing who Mayor will deliver the ball to.

Well, Marriott, folks! Shouldn’t you have known? Just like we should have kept tabs on Carey and Lavery and Dembele? We’re all suckers tonight! But what a spectacle. What a game. One now etched in the minds of us all. Jack – sweet left foot, sir. Not even your strongest side.

Thank you for that dipping beauty from 20 yards. 3-3. Walk to the car and take the draw. Love the fact that VAR hasn’t infiltrated lower league football and that League One players are still human. They’re us. And they know that fight, tenacity and flair get crowds fired up.

Sunday. FA Cup 1st Round. Kidderminster. Nearly a disaster. 1-0 down. But enough. “Very professional,” as LJ said. A 2-1 win and on to Cambridge before the possibility of a big draw in the Third Round. Special mention to Josh Earl. Solid. Skilful. And now having a pop at goal. It’s the old Earl we know.

The Author

Jeff Weston

Author of Wagenknecht (ALL MEN crack up at 40) and Pitchside, Ringside and Down in the Table Tennis Dens.

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