If we went into the Portsmouth game with the focus on attitude in light of injuries and suspensions, and passed the test with flying colours, tonight it was perhaps about attitude in light of the opposition (even though there were no grounds for any complacency given Fleetwood’s current form) and also the prospect of a much-needed rest once tonight was out of the way. We needn’t have worried as another tough night, against a decent team, saw us emerge victorious with the odd goal in five (yes, we conceded goals, but to be fair we only conceded in one minute of the game).
Bowyer’s team selection seemed to be a mix of continuing rotation and bringing back the two suspended for Saturday. So in front of Amos it looked like Gunter back at right-back (with Matthews taking a break), Purrington starting on the left, and Pratley dropping back into central defence to accompany the returning Innis. Watson also returned, seemingly with Shinnie in the centre and Morgan and Maatsen in the wider positions, while Bogle and Washington kept their places up front, with Aneke and Smyth among the subs (along with Maddison, Williams and Levitt). But as indicated on the club site before the game, the choices could point to a 4-4-2, a 3-5-2, or a 4-4-3. It did seem clear that Amos would at least start the game in goal.
It turned out to be a 4-4-2 after all – and in the early period of the game it was very effective, helped by a goal after three minutes. Purrington started it all off by winning a free kick near the corner flag. That one in to the near post was cleared for another corner. Same with the next one in. But the third cross was met on the full by Purrington and in it went. Seemed as though Fleetwood were focused on trying to keep Innis away from the ball. That worked.
It was almost two soon after, with great approach work, Shinnie to Morgan, Gunter on the overlap, low cross blocked. Maatsen found Bogle with a good ball forward but he shot over. Bogle almost got in again, from what looked like an offside position, but it was played behind for another corner, from which a deflection took it to the far post where Purrington came onto it only to volley just over the bar. Morgan played in Maatsen who found Washington with his back to goal, Watson ran onto it but shot just wide. Maatsen curled a shot over the bar, Bogle went down in the box but no penalty given, and from the resulting corner Bogle headed over.
To be fair in the second 15 minutes Fleetwood had come more into it, creating one or two moments of their own. But on the half-hour we extended the lead. Gunter intercepted and played it in to Bogle, who took it on into the box and shot hard. Their keeper parried it but the rebound fell to the inrushing Washington, who buried it.
2-0 up and none of us can remember the last time we conceded a goal. I don’t think we really had time to be complacent, but a couple of minutes later it was all square. There had been what proved to be an ominous moment previously, as Evans had held off two or three Charlton defenders. And when the ball came into him inside the box with only Innis for company he was able to turn and find the far corner. The shock went all around the empty ground. It was probably still going around as the ball was played in again from their left and this time Purrington was left on the ground and Evans met it on his own to score. It looked like a foul but nothing was given.
For the final 10 minutes or so of the first half we were not surprisingly a little fazed and decidedly second-best. It was good to get into the break to regroup. The half-time stats showed Fleetwood having had 64% possession – which was surprising in view of our early dominance - but we had nine attempts on goal (to their three).
With hindsight the game turned on another goal early on, again for us. Morgan collected the ball on the right side and advanced towards the box. Played a one-two and went for the return, only to be bundled over. No dispute about the penalty, or Washington’s conversion of it.
Not long after Fleetwood made a change and that seemed to spark a change of formation for us, with Purrington forming a central defensive three and Gunter and Maatsen becoming wing-backs. That seemed to give us more defensive stability but also saw us sit rather deep, allowing Fleetwood plenty of possession. Amos was called into action to tip one over the bar, and after Matthews had come on for Morgan (with Gunter going back to central defence and Pratley moving into midfield), he pulled off another decent save from a shot from the edge of the area.
We’d been under the cosh for 20 minutes or so, but then there was a period when we created the chances that could have finished off the game (if you can say that against a team which scored twice in about a minute). Washington shot just wide, then Bogle intercepted a back pass only for his first touch to take it too close to their keeper, who managed to get the block in. After that Bogle departed, replaced by Aneke. He was immediately in the thick of it and took one ball on from a throw-in, advanced, and curled a shot which struck the far post and out. Not long after he turned inside the box and shot just wide.
That period in its turn passed and with less than 10 minutes of normal time left it all got rather scrappy, which probably suited us fine. Maatsen got floored by Evans and took a boot in the chest for his troubles, although the action went unpunished. Just after Maatsen put in one of his own at the other end and did collect a yellow, prompting Pratley to have a quiet word in his ear, presumably about staying calm and not risking a second.
In the final stages Fleetwood won more corners, shots were deflected, but we managed to play out the five minutes of stoppage time without alarm. Indeed, looking back on the second half the major change was that not once did we allow Evans to get in a position to be up against just one defender. Amos did make saves, there were some desperate blocks, but not a real clear-cut chance given up. And Fleetwood’s frustration at the death was evident as one of their number dumped Maatsen into the siding boards.
It was another hard-earned victory in which everyone on the pitch played their part (for the record Fleetwood will probably feel hard done by to come away with nothing, but it turned out to be a close game and thems the breaks). Let them enjoy the break now, put the kids out against Plymouth, and let us enjoy the league table.
Amos – 8/10. Dealt with what came his way well enough. Had no chance with the goals.
Gunter – 8/10. Started at right-back, had a short spell as a wing-back, then moved to central defence. And did each job very effectively.
Innis – 7/10. Did allow Evans to get around him to work the space for their first goal. Otherwise solid and dependable.
Pratley – 8/10. Called on to do plenty of work again tonight, in defence and midfield. Didn’t get everything right but boy he seemed to be involved in just about every minute.
Purrington – 7/10. Only question mark had to be over his role in their second goal. Was he fouled or did he slip? Hard to tell. Otherwise scored early on, might have had a second, and played well.
Morgan – 8/10. Very good game. Involved in much of our good first-half work, intelligent use of the ball, and won the penalty which decided the game.
Watson – 8/10. Pretty effective throughout, and for the first time didn’t get a card.
Shinnie – 8/10. Ran the show in the first 30 mins, tougher after that but stayed at it.
Maatsen – 8/10. Not everything worked for him in terms of distribution going forward but he comes away with a lot of credit for the way he handled himself when Fleetwood were getting desperate.
Washington – 7/10. Took both his goals well, worked his socks off again.
Bogle – 7/10. I thought it was his best performance for us, outside the box. Inside it nothing came off, but the goal will come no doubt.
Subs: Matthews (7/10; pretty effective and sound); Aneke (7/10; a real handful for them for the final 20 minutes).