Accrington Stanley 0 Fleetwood Town 1: Verdict

Harry Souttar nods Town ahead
Harry Souttar nods Town ahead
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The pitch might have been one of the biggest talking points before and after the game but this day was all about Harry Souttar.

The pitch might have been one of the biggest talking points before and after the game but this day was all about Harry Souttar.

I wrote a glowing review of the giant Stoke City loan star for the Stoke Sentinel the other week.

The only criticism I had of the outstanding young defender was that he had yet to make an impact in the opposition box.

Given his stature, he should surely be another goalscoring weapon in Fleetwood’s attacking armoury for the rest of the season.

And he proved himself to be just that with the winning goal at Wham Stadium – his powerful header nearly broke the net as he latched on to Ross Wallace’s corner in the 50th minute.

It was enough to clinch the game, and the way that Souttar wheeled off to celebrate with the 447 Fleetwood Town fans shows that he has settled into life on the Fylde coast.

He is already going on to secure hero status for his role in Town’s defence.

This was Town’s fifth clean sheet in the nine games the Australia Under-23 international has played for the club – a statistic that testifies to the impact he has had.

And that is despite switching positions in the Fleetwood back line.

Souttar moved into the central role of a back three as boss Joey Barton made a shock move to name Ash Eastham on the bench.

After the clean sheet against Plymouth in their previous game a fortnight earlier, a change to the back three was unexpected.

But the Town boss wanted to add balance, with left footer James Husband brought into the left-sided role in the three.

It worked but there was a clear improvement to Town’s defensive play once Eastham entered the fray for Ryan Rydel in the 59th minute.

With Accrington throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Town in a fiery and feisty Lancashire hotpot, the cool and calm demeanour of Eastham was needed to smooth things over and preserve Town’s lead.

He helped Town keep that clean sheet, with Souttar moving to the right side and Lewie Coyle on the left.

It might not have been balanced but it certainly was effective and it earned Town a hard-fought clean sheet.

Young Rydel was the man sacrificed, the threadbare pitch and the physicality of the contest a lesson in men’s football for the 18-year-old.

The tackles flew in from Town and many of them were late.

The visitors mistimed a number of tackles in what was a game with an edge.

Barton says he shared with his players comments from the Accrington camp to fire them up ahead of the game.

It certainly was a battle out there.

But Town’s clean sheet was not just the result of their own defensive strength once Eastham had been introduced – it owed much to Accrington’s tame finishing.

Fleetwood were let off by the offside flag when Billy Kee hit the net just after the half- hour mark.

But Sean McConville and company were guilty of wasting chances.

Accrington’s lack of end product and of quality in the final third explained why they find themselves in a relegation battle.

For Fleetwood it was also rare day of wayward finishing.

Ched Evans should have had a hat-trick and Jack Sowerby should have scored his first Fleetwood goal of the season when he found himself unmarked in the box with the game just 15 minutes old.

Paddy Madden and Ashley Nadesan too could have done better with that came their way

It should have been more than 1-0. It wasn’t but a least that means the goal by Souttar is what the game will be mentioned for .

Now that he has added goals to his game, it looks like there will be no stopping him.

Just as Ben Davies went on to establish himself as a Preston regular after his loan spell at Fleetwood – the 23-year-old having made virtually 70 appearances in the past two seasons – it looks like we are witnessing a future top-level player on the launchpad with Souttar And it is a pleasure to watch.

The downside was the injury to Jason Holt, stretchered off just 15 minutes and his season possibly over.