Rob Stocks looks back at a memorable 12 months for Fleetwood Town
Town got 2014 off to a flying start, banishing memories of a Boxing Day defeat at Morecambe with a Lancashire derby win over Accrington Stanley. It marked the start of a superb run for Fleetwood, who went through the month unbeaten.
The highlight was a fine 4-2 victory at Burton Albion – a game which had looked unlikely to go ahead thanks to a waterlogged pitch. Kick-off was delayed until 4pm and Fleetwood players scored all six goals on a chaotic but memorable afternoon.
Bump! The manager of the month curse struck as Town began February with back-to-back home defeats.
York began their charge for the play-offs with a fine fightback before Chesterfield planted one foot on the Wembley turf with a convincing Johnstone’s Paint Trophy victory northern final.
The rot was termporarily halted on a frosty night at Wycombe, Chris Maxwell making his long-awaited debut in a 1-1 draw.
Jon Parkin’s goal came too late for Town to turn the tables in the second leg of their JPT showdown with Chesterfield.
And Fleetwood lost their grip on the automatic promotion chase when a severely depleted side lost 1-0 at Mansfield, quickly followed by a Tuesday night horror show and a 4-0 Highbury reverse to Plymouth Argyle.
Fleetwood ended January challenging for the top but entered March battling for a play-off spot.
The month was mainly about consolidation – goal-less draws against Wimbledon and Newport providing stability, a late Jamille Matt goal in a shaky display at Torquay bringing that much-needed win.
But then missed flights, late nights and traffic jams all contributed to an embarassing 3-0 defeat at Exeter – Town’s last until the final day of the regular season.
Automatic promotion had gone from a real possibility to an outside chance as the season reached its climax. But Town kept themselves in the chase as long as they could.
The win at Oxford was one of the most convincing displays of the season, kicking off another unbeaten month as Town found their feet at the right time.
A play-off place was secured with a comeback victory at Cheltenham on Good Friday, a win over Wycombe on Easter Monday keeping the promotion race alive for another week.
A 1-1 draw with Southend ensured Fleetwood would have to fight for their League One place via the play-offs.
An under-strength side losing at Chesterfield, and handing the Spireites the title, was no real shock. What followed showed Town’s resolve.
Fleetwood made history twice in May – first by featuring in the first ever play-off match to be postponed, torrential rain and a waterlogged pitch doing for the first leg at Bootham Crescent.
When everyone returned three days later, it had to be former Minsterman Matty Blair who sealed Town’s vital win.
More than 5,000 packed into Highbury four days later to see Fleetwood battle their way to a 0-0 draw and set up a Wembley showdown with Burton Albion.
What happened in the shadow of the famous arch will forever be remembered on the Fylde coast. Antoni Sarcevic was the hero of the hour, his free-kick, sending Fleetwood into League One, with a little help from a goalkeeping howler.
Two men wouldn’t be joining Town at the higher level – Alan Goodall and Jon Parkin were released.
Town’s transfer business was conducted swiftly – a precision strike to bring in the quality required to compete in the third tier.
Danny Andrew joined from Macclesfield and former Preston striker Jamie Proctor was snapped up, having not been offered a new deal at Crawley.
Josh Morris also returned on a six-month loan from Blackburn, while former Blackpool man Keith Southern brought buckets of experience to central midfield.
The last-minute addition of two more former Seasiders, Stephen Crainey and Stephen Dobbie, saw Town set for the new season.
And despite an injury crisis, including season-ending cruciate damage sustained by Jamille Matt in the last minute of the last pre-season friendly, Graham Alexander’s men made a flying start.
Three goals in three games for Jamie Proctor saw Town reach the dizzy heights of top spot thanks to victories over Crewe, Notts County and Scunthorpe.
There was no shame in Fleetwood’s Capital One Cup exit, in extra-time, at the hands of Championship side Rotherham. Draws with Chesterfield and Leyton Orient ensured Town ended the month unbeaten in the league.
Morecambe then brought Town back down to earth with a convincing Johnstone’s Paint Cup victory at Highbury.
And the going continued to be tricky as narrow defeats at Oldham (where Town were edged out) and Crawley (where they deserved more) brought a reality check.
Home draws against Barnsley and Bristol City were
creditable, the latter performance a clear indication of the fighting spirit in the team.
But the harsh reality of life in League One was brought home at Peterborough, where Town played well but succombing to late pressure. Defender Ryan Cresswell left the club for Northampton.
Another bumper gate and a welcome win over Port Vale heralded a new dawn, the first of three straight home victories.
On the road Town couldn’t buy points. Liam McAlinden’s spectacular lob set Fleetwood on the way to victory at Colchester only for slack defending to cost the visitors.
At MK Dons, Fleetwood again took the lead but lost the game and the services of David Ball, who broke his leg stretching for a vital second.
Two goals up in seven minutes at Preston, Fleetwood looked like breaking their away
hoodoo in spectacular fashion. Fans will curse Joe Garner’s second half hat-trick, which denied Alexander a memorable Deepdale return.
Fleetwood’s FA Cup capitulation at Cambridge was embarassing. But at least the away curse came to an end the following week, Town’s hardy band of supporters rewarded for a long trip to Yeovil.
The winning goal marked the final step in the rehabilitation of Jeff Hughes. But the inconsistency which plagued the early months of 2014 was back with a vengeance. Town simply didn’t turn up as they lost at home to Walsall, rediscovering their spirit a week later at high-flying Swindon but unable to cling on.
The lack of goals was concerning but no real surprise, with Town in an almost constant state of crisis up front.
A hamstring injury to Martin Paterson at the County Ground ending his loan spell before it really got going and forced Fleetwood to look for new options again.
Creditable points against Sheffield United and Coventry kept Fleetwood nicely placed in mid-table but the performances in both 1-1 draws merited more. Town simply couldn’t score, which proved critical in the 2-0 Boxing Day home defeat to Bradford City.Fleetwood dominated for long periods without finding the killer touch.
Mark Roberts came to the rescue two days later, ensuring a happy New Year for Town by scoring one and setting up another in a 2-0 win at Rochdale, leaving Town three points off the play-off places.