Gillingham 3 Fleetwood Town 0: Verdict

Paddy Madden wastes a chance
Paddy Madden wastes a chance

It might be Bonfire Night but watching inconsistent Fleetwood Town is more like riding a rollercoaster than witnessing a firework spectacular.

It might be Bonfire Night but watching inconsistent Fleetwood Town is more like riding a rollercoaster than witnessing a firework spectacular.

Town have the firepower in their ranks and a side full of sparkle. They did show flashes at Gillingham and lit up the start of the second half.

But it was just like lighting a rocket, then watching the fuse burn out – lots of expectation only for nothing to happen.

Town launched an onslaught at the start of the second half to raise hopes of an explosion but it happened at the other end as the visitors shot themselves in the foot again.

Joey Barton’s side is like a Catherine wheel that starts to whirl magically but keeps juddering to a halt.

Town were so capable of beating Gillingham but were their own worst enemy.

Defensive errors and a lack of bang up top were the problem.

For one of the first times this season Barton was able to name an unchanged side but would a back three have made a difference? With hindsight, yes, though the recall of Cian Bolger would have been key to its success.

Barton had previously stressed his dislike of the system but he admitted he had been tempted to adopt it at Priestfield.

Up against the Gills’ Tom Eaves, a physical 6ft 3” forward who had already netted nine times this season, it seemed risky to leave out the tallest and best aerial battler among Town’s four senior centre-halves.

This division is all about adaptability, and while Fleetwood do have the forwards to have caused problems for a Gillingham defence that is not the most durable, Town should have done more to keep Eaves quiet.

Instead they were up against it from the off. It was a surprise error from the normally consistent Ash Eastham that undid them early doors.

Eastham was put under pressure from Eaves and tried to play the ball back to Alex Cairns but Brandon Hanlan was too alert and scored.

Too pleased to have snuffed out the threat of Eaves, Town forgot about the others but the Gills proved they are f ar from just a one-man show.

The second goal showed exactly why Barton pondered shifting ideology to three centre-halves.

A long ball from deep was hopeful but was aimed at Eaves, who had latched on to Town’s smallest defender in Lewie Coyle. The right-back is not famed for his aerial prowess and Eaves pounced.

Barton claimed he handled before firing past Cairns. Replays are inconclusive, though there was a lack of protest from Town’s back line.

After Eastham recovered to make a huge block from Eaves, a shellshocked Town regained some composure. Credit has to go to Eastham for his response to that rare error, though his central defensive partner Morgan has not been the same player since injury.

Barton reacted with an early substitution, taking off James Husband and throwing on Passy Madden.

Town then started asking questions. Ash Hunter had an effort blocked but Town only really started to look like scoring once striker Madden had entered the fray.

Still they could only muster one effort off-target before the break, Evans’ deflected strike flying wide after fine play by Nathan Sheron.

Whatever was said at half-time worked and Fleetwood went for the jugular in the opening 10 minutes.

On another day Madden would have had a hat-trick. but this was not another day.

The key to doing well in this division is avoiding sloppy mistakes at the back and taking your chances. Ched Evans, Jason Holt, Hunter and Madden all had chances after the break.

Evans was the closest, his header rattling the inside of the bar and just missing the run of Madden.

The Gills have been notoriously rocky at Priestfield Stadium and an early goal would have sent rumbles round the ground.

Madden also glanced the ball just wide but Town were to pay the price for not taking those chances.

Eaves showed them how it is done with the aid of some weak defending by Morgan.

The ball was floated in and Town’s centre-half was ahead of his man, but Eaves made it look too easy as he just breezed in and nodded home.

It came against the run of play, the wind knocked out of Town’s sails.

Town kept trying to get that goal. Madden volleyed against the bar and then fired over from six yards after great play by Evans and Chris Long. Madden ignited Town’s attack but should be finishing such a chance.

Town’s attack had whimpered against Portsmouth, but in each of this season’s other defeats they have had chances they did not take.

Most worryingly, all six defeats have come after Town conceded first. They have not scored after conceding first, let alone avoided defeat.

And at the venue of their most memorable comeback – the 3-2 win which sent hopes of promotion down to the final day in 2017 – this Town side again showed an inability to fight back.

There can be no blaming injuries and Barton held his hands up afterwards to take blame for the loss.

Town have played mindblowing front-foot football at times this season but too many players have followed a great game with a below-average showing. As Shrewsbury showed last term, consistency is key.

Next up is a banana skin of an FA Cup tie at non-league Alfreton – perhaps a chance for some who did not start at Gillingham to prove a point.