Fan’s View 2021/22 – No.47 – Fleetwood away

Article by Paul Beasley Monday, April 18th, 2022  

FAN’S VIEW 21/22 – NO.47 – FLEETWOOD AWAY

Get there early???

I know I do go on but once again I have to absolutely go into wtf mode. This from the official OUFC site under Fleetwood away tickets – “Supporters should enter the stadium via the turnstiles indicated on their ticket approximately 90 minutes before kick-off”.  Firstly thanks because I usually look at my ticket and try to get into a ground by anything but the entrance specified on it. I’ll now head straight for the Percy Ronson stand on Friday – but not at approximately 13:30. Who in their right mind wants to enter any ground that long before kick-off to be restricted to buying over-priced beer (if you’re lucky) and food where the choice is very limited? Fleetwood may not be the most salubrious or vibrant place we visit during a season but I’d take what it has to offer many times over that of having my movement severely restricted an hour and a half before the match starts. I can’t see anything on my ticket which specifies this arbitrary time so I’m curious to know who came up with it and why? Again a complete lack of understanding of what makes many football fans tick if you ask me.

Fleetwood’s plight

We may have all but blown our play-off chances but the home side very much have everything to play for. Crewe already know that they are returning to L2 after just one season but that still leaves three others for the drop and Fleetwood are very much in that desperate mix trying not to be one of them. Going in to this game they’re on 38 points, the same as Morecambe in 20th position and Gillingham in 21st although they do have a game in hand on those two.

Their form is utterly abysmal. In their last 16 games they’ve won one (against Crewe), drawn seven and lost eight. Those draws have included matches against Plymouth, MK Dons and Pompey but if we don’t return home with all three points with the pressure supposedly off there’s something more wrong than I’d hitherto thought.

Finances

Something I used to do a few years back was compare our finances with those of our opponents in a very amateurish way. For the professionals on football finance there’s no need look much further than Kieran Maguire on “The Price of Football.”

As the “we’re punching above our weight, there’s loads of bigger teams with much bigger budgets than us in this league so we can’t expect to go up” kind of debate has resurfaced I thought I’d take a cursory glance again. We’re closer to the top than the bottom; Fleetwood are not.

As ever the latest accounts only tell the story of the previous season not the current one.

To year ended 30 June 2021:

Turnover: OUFC £5,962,767 / Fleetwood £4,815,966

Loss for the financial year: OUFC £3,738,341 / Fleetwood £2,921,299

Net Liabilities: OUFC £17,357,378 / Fleetwood £23,205,748

Fleetwood spent a total of £6,244,525 on remuneration. As for us I can’t find those figures. They don’t seem to be laid out in the accounts. If anyone with a keener eye than mine could help out.

That financial year was of course far from normal with Covid rather restricting match day income although some of us blind loyalists did still pay for our season tickets to do nowt but keep our club ticking along and for that we got to follow on iFollow.

FLEETWOOD TOWN 2 OXFORD UNITED 3

It has to be said we had a very pleasant pre-match outside the confines of the Highbury Stadium. Despite the challenges of the roadworks on the M6 we were parked up outside the Mount Hotel on the Esplanade around 1 o’clock. A spacious pub with terrific views over Morecambe Bay towards the Lakeland Fells in the distance. All very pleasant with my companions observing that they didn’t know Fleetwood had this to offer.

Not your usual pub-goer.  In the Royal Oak

Next it was on to the Strawberry Gardens Pub and Bistro which was packed with Oxford supporters in the bar area and finally the Royal Oak Hotel which is also known locally as Dean’Uns. It was a bit ironic that I had my first bad pint in the latter as it is the only one of the three currently listed in the Good Beer Guide. Not a problem though as the pump clip was turned around, barrel changed immediately and I was given another beer of my choice. Excellent and friendly service as it was everywhere in Fleetwood actually.

Given that the place is so small (latest estimates puts the population of the town at a bit over 25,000) it doesn’t take long to walk to the ground from any of the pubs and I was soon on the terracing ready for kick-off.

I was totally convinced that we would win this game. My family and those I travelled with can vouch for that but even this rare outbreak of optimism from me no way went as far as predicting what took place in the first 15 minutes.

One nil up in two minutes. It was all about our PASSING game. We played it around from the first second. There had been seven or eight passes in this move before Billy Bodin got the ball into the box. It went just behind Matty Taylor and although Cameron Brannagan wasn’t able to control it, Nathan Holland took advantage, getting on to it in a flash. He side-footed home through a defenders outstretched legs and just out of reach of the despairing outstretched hand of keeper Kieran O’Hara.

What a start but we knew not to get carried away because going a goal up as the result of some superb, pleasing on the eye, football guarantees nothing as we knew from our visit just a bit further up the coast only ten days earlier. Nevertheless the football had to be marvelled at. We’d already played it short, played it long, laid it off and beaten opponents and the game had hardly got underway.

More PASSING and with just a further five minutes on the clock it was 2-0. Luke McNally brought the ball unchallenged from his own half. He moved it on to Taylor who managed, under pressure from Harvey Macadam, to keep the ball with a black shirt. That shirt was worn by Brannagan and he turned almost full circle using the outside of his right foot then played a 1-2 with Holland before setting off goalwards. Having manoeuvred the ball into the perfect position to his right for a shot, he did just that to great effect putting it past O’Hara. This was another wonderful team goal.

The third took a little longer coming. We had to wait a whole nine minutes more before the third went in. Yes again we were PASSING, PASSING, PASSING. But it wasn’t just that, we were winning battles too and that hasn’t always been the case in recent defeats. Sam Long won a loose ball which was then latched on to by Holland with it then being moved around. Mark Sykes to Long, Long to Elliott Moore. He beat Ellis Harrison as if he wasn’t there. It was like a training ground exercise. The Cods were applying no pressure on us as we strolled about. Next it went to Ciaran Brown then to Holland. Holland to Brannagan. Have we ever been this comfortable this early on in a game? So in command? Bodin headed CB’s cross back the way it came past a flat-footed O’Hara.

The home side being given another opportunity to practice their kick-off routine.

At this point there was still five sixths of the match to go. Up to this point the home side had scarcely touched the ball. All we now had to do was continue with our PASSING. Keep the ball. We didn’t need to force anything. The opposite in fact. Surely it should have been a bit of a doddle from here on in.

So how the **** did the final stats end up like this?

Possession: Fleetwood 52%

Passes: Fleetwood 379. Oxford 353.

Passing accuracy: Both teams 55%.

Passing accuracy in opponents half: Fleetwood 44%. Oxford 42%.

Shots: Fleetwood 19. Oxford 11.

Shots on target: Fleetwood 6. Oxford 5.

From about 20 minutes on our utter dominance disappeared. Obviously there was no way we’d continue to score a goal about every five minutes or that the opposition would remain so inept but no way should we have allowed this to turn into a nail-bitter.

Before Fleetwood got the first of their two goals there had been a warning sign when Callum Camps smacked a free-kick against our cross-bar from a couple of feet outside the area. If the argument that we were unlucky in the last game when Bodin’s free-kick hit the bar against Sunderland, one has to say that we were lucky here.

The penalty we conceded in the 39th minute also came after a free-kick which we couldn’t clear. Long seemed to let the ball hit him instead of setting his mind on smacking it clear. His attempt to block the shot which then came, hit his arm and in this day and age that’s a penalty. Jack Stevens was sent the wrong way and we were now only two up.

The lead though should have gone back to three before the interval when Taylor was right in front of goal with only O’Hara to beat. The keeper made a good block by making his body big (if that’s a thing) but our no.9 really should have scored. If that had gone in I suspect the second half would have been quite different to what it was.

That period had only just begun when Stevens was required to fly to his right to divert a Harrison header for a corner. This was worrying. The total relaxation I’d felt at 3-0 was turning into anger.

Soon after we got back to doing what we’d done in the first half, PASSING the ball about entertainingly and tellingly. And like in the first half it ended up in the back of the net only this time the man who put it there, Taylor, was marginally offside. A tight call but I think the assistant got it right.

With well over a third of the encounter to go our lead was reduced to the bare minimum. Now it was Fleetwood picking up the loose balls. A pass pushed through for the always involved Harrison wasn’t cut out by Moore who couldn’t sort his legs out. Stevens came out to gather but couldn’t hold on to the ball and Cian Hayes had an unguarded net in which to score.

That’s the third game in a row we’d let in two and there was potential for it to get worse here.

In another home attack our custodian was once more found wanting when coming out to grab the ball. The commentator on the extended highlights observed that our keeper “didn’t know whether to come or go”. Worth pointing out that a goal line clearance by Brown saved us and me from exploding with outrage.

As good a time as any to talk about goal-keepers now I suppose. I’ve been told that I’ve been unfair to JS recently and I have been giving that some thought. If I was convinced by him would I be saying great attempt when he gets close to stopping a shot instead of “he should have saved that”?

In many games this season I’ve come away thinking that I’d like to see our opponents keeper on our books which probably tells a lot about what I think of what we’ve got now. It though is not really possible to fully judge without seeing them play lots of times. How consistent are they? I’ve seen our no.13 play for us over 60 times now.

I must add that O’Hara wasn’t one I’d ever likely be shouting should be joining the Yellows. For at least one of our goals I’d be asking should he have done better if I was a Fleetwood fan. O’Hara of course is their second choice custodian with this being just his fourth game for the club. The reason he was playing was because no.1 Alex Cairns went crazy in the previous game coming way out of his area and catching the ball to be shown the inevitable red card.  What is it they say about goal-keepers? It’s not the easiest of jobs around and when mistakes are made they’re pounced on.

Anyway, we did hang on to take all three points at a venue we have never before won at so something to be positive about.

But those other bloody results. Sunderland again in added time to gain a win when it looked like they would drop points to Shrewsbury at the Stadium of Light. Wednesday winning at MK Dons, didn’t want that. On reflection not sure about Wycombe beating Plymouth. Initially it was a Plymouth win all the way but taking the Pilgrims final three fixtures into consideration I’m not so sure. Home to Sunderland and Mk Dons and away to Wigan. Lose those three and we win our three and we overtake them. Yes, I know I’ve gone nuts. We’re 12/1 to get into the play-offs and 40/1 to win them.

Finally, a get well wish for James Henry. It sounds like a very nasty injury. Once more, perspective and all that.

Crickey, by the time I get round to publishing this there will only be a day to go to MK coming to the Kassam. Hardly time to take a breath. I could do for the season to end to take a rest so what the players of all football clubs that are involved at both ends of the table feel like I can’t imagine.

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