Fleetwood Town seek stability after a turbulent 2021 at Highbury
A turbulent 2021 comes to an end for Fleetwood Town, though unfortunately in a worse position than they started it.
Town have had four different first-team bosses during 2021 and rarely troubled the top half of League One.
Under-18s boss Simon Wiles assumed the temporary stewardship after the sacking of Joey Barton on January 4.
Wiles was backed for the job and those at the club willed him to do well to give owner Andy Pilley no choice but to make the appointment permanent.
Unfortunately the necessary results did not follow.
Wiles lost four and drew two of his six games in charge, and on the final day of January Simon Grayson was appointed head coach until the end of the season.
That left the former Blackpool and Preston North End manager with just one day of the transfer window to bring in reinforcements, with Dan Batty signed on a free transfer from eventual champions Hull City.
The main objective for Grayson was to steady the ship at Highbury.
Barton, soon to take charge at Bristol Rovers, had of course ruffled some feathers and wins had been elusive under the well-liked Wiles.
Grayson’s calming influence and experience were beneficial. It took him just two games to record Town’s first win for two months, 3-1 over in-form Doncaster Rovers.
He made Fleetwood hard to beat and they began keeping clean sheets.
By the end of the season they had one of the best defensive records in the league and finished 15th but were 20 goals better off than clubs around them.
Grayson won seven and drew five of his 20 games in charge last season and his impact was rewarded with a new deal.
His new contract covered the 2021-22 campaign and enabled him to bring in his own players over the summer.
That was another story! Fleetwood were among the clubs to take a loan from the EFL to cover for Covid losses.
They were yet to pay it back, so were placed under a transfer embargo.
This did not mean Town could not sign players, though they could not pay fees for any of them and could not pay wages of more than £2,500 a week.
The club insisted that did not affect their dealings, though Fleetwood have generally had one or two high-profile coups among their summer recruits.
That did not stop them attracting talent, however, with no fewer than 11 new faces arriving.
Some proved ill-fated, as Brad Halliday and Darnell Johnson suffered season-ending injuries early in the campaign.
Anthony Pilkington and Joe Garner provided much-needed experience to strengthen a youthful group but were late arrivals from overseas and would require time to get up to speed.
Forward reinforcements came in the form of young loanees Callum Morton and Ryan Edmondson, while Max Clark and Tom Clarke provided more depth at the back.
Those to leave the club had been regulars in recent times.
The main departure was Wes Burns, a stalwart of four-and-a-half years at the club, plus an earlier loan spell from Bristol City.
The versatile wideman, who had also begun to find his shooting boots, moved to Ipswich Town.
Mark Duffy, Josh Morris, captain Paul Coutts, Glenn Whelan and Sam Finley all left on free transfers with plenty of League One games under their belts.
The new season brought an increasing emphasis on young players, many of them graduates from the club’s academy.
These included defender James Hill, who became the first Fleetwood player to be selected for England Under-21s only for injury to deny him his dream opportunity.
Five wins in the first 22 games of the season brought an end to Grayson’s time at the club, his exit coming on November 24 following a fifth straight defeat.
Stephen Crainey was put in interim charge and a month later was given the role until the end of the season, after winning, drawing and losing twice.
The Cod Army are looking over their shoulder and have it all to do to make sure they stay in League One.
Crainey inherited a team in the relegation zone but starts 2022 with Town two points and two places above it, though far from being clear of danger.
The second half of the season is all about maintaining their status and Crainey would welcome a little help in January.
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