Fleetwood Town 2 AFC Wimbledon 3: Verdict
If you could sum up Fleetwood's season so far in one game, this would probably be it.
If you could sum up Fleetwood’s season so far in one game, this would probably be it.
Inconsistent has been the buzzword of the season and this FA Cup tie showed why Town sit 11th in League One.
There was thrilling forward play, tame misses, a vacuum in midfield, sloppy defending and forgetting the basics in a game that Town should have won comfortably.
Ched Evans and Paddy Madden again hit the target. With two forwards already in double figures you would expect Town to knocking on the door of the top six.
Why aren’t they? Because they keep making mistakes and don’t their chances. The Dons were clinical – six chances, four efforts on target, three goals. Fleetwood created 18. only half on target and two goals.
Fleetwood have failed to get a point all term after conceding first. Bottom of the table AFC Wimbledon did just that.
They had done so on the opening da and won at Highbury.
Just five of the Town side that started that day started the FA Cup clash: Alex Cairns, Lewie Coyle, Craig Morgan, Wes Burns and Evans
Madden, who now has 14 goals, was on the bench that day as was Ash Hunter, since involved in 18 Town goals.
Of the six others who started that day, Bobby Grant has left the club, Jack Sowerby is on loan at Carlisle, Tommy Spurr has returned to Preston, Cian Bolger and Kyle Dempsey are currently not in Barton’s plans and Conor McAleny cannot yet be fitted into this side.
Before Town did find the net, the game was crying out for some of his intelligence to pick the ball up outside the box and show a midfield devoid of attacking intent what he can do.
Are the six who have replaced them better? Ash Eastham, Hunter and Madden have shown their class and deserve their places. But Ross Wallace was unimpressive at left-back and are Dean Marney and James Wallace really a better midfield option? Is it time to give Sowerby a chance when he returns?
It was no fluke that Town got back into the game when Harrison Biggins entered the fray for Marney.
Town have a front two anyone in the division would envy.
Wing wizards Burns and Hunter too would fit into any other League One team, while Coyle, Eastham and keeper Cairns would all be coveted.
But that middle section needs solving this month and if the cup exit means cash is not available mid-table mediocrity beckons.
Barton made two changes from the goalless draw at Shrewsbury four days earlier. Ross Wallace replaced James Husband at left-back, while Harrison Biggins made way for Marney, back from suspension after his needless second yellow against Portsmouth.
Biggins did not deserve to miss out, Barton choosing to protect him and Husband from the quick turnaround.
No surprise that Town’s left flank was hit early but Andy Barcham’s finish was sublime.
But how the ball got to him in the box was the problem. Ross Wallace was pulled out of position as a throw deep in Town’s half by Mitchell Pinnock eventually fell to Barcham.
Town’s defence was static, skipper Craig Morgan second to the ball as Barcham smashed it past Cairns. It was the Dons’ first chance
With that lead they sat back and Fleetwood pushed forward. Hunter was back on set-piece duties and showed his quality.
His first effort from the left flew agonisingly past the top corner. A near carbon copy saw Morgan hit the bar, though the defender was offside.
Evans, Madden and Hunter lit the pitch up at times, though Burns was quiet on the right in the first 45.
Evans was thwarted by on-loan Bournemouth keeper Aaron Ramsdale, then turned provider to slide the ball to Hunter, who blasted over from six yards.
It seemed like it was going to be one of those days, especially when Anthony Hartigan looked to have put the game to bed after half-time.
A long ball saw Eastham dragged out of position as Appiah slid the ball to Hartigan.
Morgan and Marney were not quick enough to close him down and Hartigan beat the diving Cairns.
The Dons then defended in numbers as Town practically camped outside their box.
Biggins’ introduction just before the hour mark gave Town more attacking bite.
Ross Wallace also moved into a midfield role, Hunter reverting to wing-back along with Coyle
Fleetwood got the breakthrough their endeavour deserved. It was not pretty – Ross Wallace’s set-piece from the right bundled home by Madden. Game on.
Two minutes later, Evans was ruled to have been fouled by Reading loanee Tennai Watson in the box. The striker dusted himself down to hit 10 for the season.
Hunter’s effort skimmed the post and Burns nodded straight at the keeper as Town looked the only winners.
But the tide turned and the Dons fought back. Appiah picked up the ball with three Town men in front of him in the 89th minute. None closed him down quickly enough and his effort flew home.
Town are out of the cup and the season looks to be fading out. I can’t foresee a relegation battle nor one for the top six.
Instead it will be a battle for consistency as we watch Barton’s project unfold.