How do you define success at Fleetwood Town?
The cautious might say the first half season has seen Town establish themselves well as a League Two side – well placed to mount a second half push for the playoffs.
But ambitions both on the terraces and in the boardroom at Fleetwood surely go beyond mere survival – a fact highlighted by the sacking of Micky Mellon with his side just one place outside the playoffs following a run of three straight defeats back in November.
The summer was not just about preparing for life in The Football League but also about preparing for life without Jamie Vardy.
The striker, who swapped Fleetwood for Championship Leicester City, was the driving force of Town’s Conference promotion campaign – the signing of Jon Parkin, Steven Gillespie and David Ball showing how seriously then-manager Mellon took filling the gaping goal threat up front.
The success of those summer dealings is still an item open for debate.
Fleetwood failed to score in their first 230 minutes of league football, a home draw against Torquay and defeat at Bradford City providing a tough introduction.
When the first goal came, in victory at Burton, it was not a striker, but a left back, Dean Howell (a summer capture from Crawley Town).
It was a goal which kick started Town’s season – the beginning of a run which would see Fleetwood challenging for the automatic promotion spots.
The emphatic 4-1 victory over Aldershot and Jon Parkin’s impressive hat-trick at Morecambe heralded Fleetwood’s arrival in League Two and quickly drew comparisons between Micky Mellon’s side and the successes of previous Conference champions Crawley and Stevenage.
Both achieved promotion to League One at the first time of asking and, after another victory over Northampton, Fleetwood seemed well positioned to do the same.
Victory over Port Vale would have taken Town top – in the end the game provided a reality check, Fleetwood run ragged as Vale slammed in five at Highbury.
It was the end of a solid run for Town and a turning point, victories harder to come by, particularly at home where Town suffered a surprise defeat to Wycombe.
On the road too Fleetwood were finding life harder, unable to hold onto winning positions at Cheltenham and Exeter.
Defeat at home to Accrington on a dismal November night set in motion a sequence of events which would eventually end the successful partnership between manager and chairman which had take Fleetwood from part-timers in the Blue Square North all the way to the Football League.
The lack of a response, or indeed any sign of improvement at Dagenham and Redbridge the following Saturday – a last minute penalty condemning Fleetwood to a second consecutive defeat – left Mellon under huge pressure.
A round one exit from the FA Cup, on a day Aldershot took revenge for their early season drubbing was the final straw – Mellon sacked within an hour of the final whistle, Andy Pilley revealing his decision to fans in Jim’s Bar.
And it took less than a week to appoint a surprise successor.
Not the experienced man everyone expected but a man new to management – despite unmatched experience in the game.
Graham Alexander played more than 1,000 professional games in his career – his first as manager a 0-0 draw against Southend.
Not the immediate turn around some had hoped for but Alexander’s arrival did bring big changes on and off the pitch.
Perhaps the most significant, bar the arrival of Chris Lucketi on the coaching side, was the return of Rob Atkinson –from loan exile to captain in a fortnight.
There was a chance too for young striker Alex Titchiner, while Alan Goodall found himself back in the side playing as a centre half in the new look Town defence.
Two early goals at Gillingham, in perhaps Fleetwood’s best half hour of the season, saw confidence restored, even if the league leaders did battle back in the second half to earn themselves a draw.
Boxing Day brought a first win for Alexander, Morecambe outplayed as the fans at Highbury enjoyed a long-awaited win – the first in more than a month.
But the inconsistency, so prevalent under Mellon, was soon to return, York City holding Town in a festive stalemate.
If that performance was disappointing, the one which followed at Port Vale was nothing short of magnificent – new hope for a new year, particularly with the news of three new signings, winger Gareth Evans a boost for a side who had so often lacked genuine width and David Lucas, for the first time, bringing a full time goalkeeping coach to Highbury.
The optimism was short lived, even Jamie Allen’s debut and first league goal unable to lift the spirits as Town were thrashed at Northampton – the home side simply too strong for Alexander’s men.
Fleetwood needed more strength, particularly in front of goal and broke their own transfer record to make it happen.
Jamille Matt arrived from Kidderminster with an impressive scoring record but made little impact on his debut as Fleetwood were turned over at home by bottom of the table Bristol Rovers.
It was the last poor performance in a season where inconsistency has cost Fleetwood dear. Town’s all to frequent off days have been typified by a lack of desire, a feeling the side simply didn’t want to compete.
It is a trait slammed this week as ‘unacceptable’ by Alexander and one Fleetwood must eradicate quickly if they are to stop merely flirting with the playoffs and cement themselves as genuine promotion contenders.
Given the levels of investment at Highbury and the ambition of the man himself that must surely be Graham Alexander’s goal over the coming months.
It’s still all to play for, but Fleetwood need to find consistency if they are to continue on their upward trajectory.