Fleetwood Town at crossroads ... but which way to turn?

The 2021/22 League One season certainly did not go as planned for Fleetwood Town. Being one game from Wembley two years ago to surviving in the division on goal difference is close to disastrous.

By Tom Sandells
Monday, 9th May 2022, 8:00 am

Read More

Read More
Fleetwood Town offer new contracts and announce retained list in full after end ...

Fleetwood were not going to be in the top six every season - it was not a realistic expectation for a club of its size to continue challenging with the big hitters in the third tier year after year

The relegation of Sheffield Wednesday last season added another into the mix. If you were to include AFC Wimbledon, there are eight teams in this season's League One who have been in the Premier League.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Fleetwood celebrate their League One survival with supporters at Bolton but it was a close run thing Picture: SAM FIELDING / PRiME MEDIA IMAGES

Fleetwood had an excellent 2019/20 season and could well have finished in an automatic promotion spot but for the curtailment of the season due to Covid, and then they got the play-offs wrong.

That seemed to be the moment for Fleetwood, when it was all coming together - the right mix of youth and experience, the loan market used excellently and the talent to stitch it all together.

It wasn't to be then but that near miss led the club to where they are now.

That season's spending was not sustainable and could only last for so long.

Couple with that the fireworks that having Barton as your manager brings – in his first such job and with a TV documentary crew in tow – and you had the makings of boom or bust.

In the end, the high earners had to be shipped out and the club's cloth cut accordingly.

In doing that, Town lost quality but also a little bit of know-how. Highbury is a venue players need time to get used to and there have been too many moving in and out of late.

It was hoped Simon Grayson could continue his previously impressive record in League One on a more modest budget, but on the whole he did not bring in players who were up to the job.

So expect investment in the squad, though perhaps not to the level of three summers ago.

Pilley will not be content to prop up the rest of the division, and now the EFL embargo has been lifted Town have more room to manoeuvre in terms of paying higher wages or stumping up a transfer fee.

Eyes will continue to be cast towards Poolfoot Farm and the growing academy population.

Many of those young talents have been given important game time this season, which will benefit them in the long run.

The quality of this youth set-up is a big boost for Fleetwood but doesn't solve all the problems when it comes to competing in League One.

The likes of Paddy Lane, a real star in the making, don't turn up too often. The aim is to sell on more of the talent they produce, which happened with James Hill and Jay Matete this season.

Town are again on the search for a new manager after Stephen Crainey was restored to his Under-23s role after five months as head coach.

Like Simon Wiles who stepped up before him, Crainey was well liked by all around Fleetwood but could not produce the results to be given the role long-term.

With former Celtic captain Scott Brown, Chris Beech and Kenny Jackett among the early favourites, it is another crossroads for Pilley, who faces a very important appointment.

Like Barton, Brown is young, new to coaching and would probably be a strong voice.

Beech, linked with the role when Grayson exited in November, is also relatively young for a manager at 47 and has more of a coaching background. Jackett is tried and tested in the EFL, like Grayson.

Town have not had much money to invest of late and that has shown. Recruitment over the next couple of transfer windows is key, and so is having the right man at the helm to take on the project and steer them through those windows.

This season was always about consolidation, though surviving on goal difference was a shock to the system and one which might just kick the club into gear this summer.