Fleetwood Town’s first season in the dizzy heights of League One was packed with ups and downs.
In the first part of his season review, our man at Highbury Rob Stocks looks back at the season-defining moments for Graham Alexander and his squad...
Of all the phrases used in professional football, expectation management is perhaps the most baffling.
It’s something heard an awful lot in the corridors of power but never with fans within earshot.
The basic premise is not to raise hopes above what the club can actually achieve – a tough call in a game in which hope puts bums on seats.
If there was any talk of managing expectations around Highbury in the summer, nobody had told Town’s squad as they got off to a truly flying start.
The man inspiring it was Jamie Proctor, the summer capture from Crawley Town helping Fleetwood set the early pace in the third tier.
Along with David Ball he was on the mark in the season opener at home to Crewe, bagging another the following weekend in a 1-0 victory at Notts County.
The win at Meadow Lane was the first of many memorable moments on the road for Fleetwood over the course of the campaign.
A Tuesday night win at Scunthorpe might not have been quite so high in the spectacular stakes but was equally rewarding – Proctor making it three in three starts to kick off his Fleetwood career, Gareth Evans also on target.
Hopes among the Fleetwood fans were suddenly elevated – no more talk of mid-table finishes, the gossip on the terraces all about a potential push for the Championship.
Those in the know would have pointed out Town’s squad lacked the experience and depth to sustain a true challenge.
But who wanted to spoil the fun?
Well, the answer, as usual for Fleetwood, was Chesterfield. Paul Cook’s Spireites rattled up at Highbury and deployed the handbrake on the bus to put a halt to Proctor’s antics.
Next up were Leyton Orient. Stephen Dobbie’s equaliser in a 1-1 draw was the first of his four goals for Fleetwood Town –an important equaliser from the Blackpool man whose knack of finding the net may just have justified his sky-high wages, even if his final tally did not.
Town showed throughout the month they were certainly up for the fight, even their League Cup exit at Rotherham was a battling display. The Millers needed 90 minutes plus nearly half an hour of extra-time to find a way through.
September, for Fleetwood, started with a humiliation.
Alexander’s men had made the area final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy the previous season, .
This time around they fell at the first hurdle thanks to a failed experiment which left its mark on the club for months.
Alexander abandoned his diamond system and opened the door to a couple of young guns.
It was a gamble which looked like it might be paying off when Gareth Evans opened the scoring early on.
But Town couldn’t handle Jack Redshaw, the Shrimps battling back to claim a 3-1 victory and a derby day scalp. The simple fact was they wanted it more on the night.
It was the start of a slide for Town, Steven Schumacher conceding a penalty for the only goal in a disjointed display at Oldham.
Then perhaps the most bizarre game of the campaign – Town rampant against Crawley but squandering any number of chances.
The hosts only needed one, their second-half winner ensuring Town took just two points from a possible 12. The shine had suddenly been taken off their stunning start.
A gritty 0-0 draw with Barnsley steadied the ship before the visit of promotion favourites Bristol City.
Surely Town would get nothing against Steve Cotterill’s well-drilled Robins.
It certainly looked that way with half an hour to go, City 3-1 up. Step up Stephen Dobbie, the forward’s late equaliser probably his finest hour in a Fleetwood shirt, Jamie Proctor and Josh Morris also finding the net as Town claimed an unlikely but memorable point.
Alexander’s men had turned the corner after a sticky patch and deserved more from their trip to Peterborough a week later, when a moment’s lapse on the stroke of half-time ensured they left empty-handed, which was far less than the performance deserved.
One significant moment at London Road was the appearance, for the first time, of Nick Haughton’s name on the team sheet – a young player who would go on to define the second half of the campaign and perhaps the future direction of the club.
Performances were coming along but results were still hard to come by.
Dobbie, however, was in a bit of a purple patch, following up his strike against Bristol City with a winner in the 1-0 home victory over Port Vale, a vital three points after a lean month for Town.
Consistency was becoming a big problem, with Town unable to follow up a good result.
That showed on the road at Colchester United, where Fleetwood should have walked away with the points, particularly after loan star Liam McAlinden’s spectacular opener.
Somehow they couldn’t hang on, the Essex strugglers with a second half fightback to leave Fleetwood facing a long, frustrating trek home.
At least they mustered a response – the 3-1 win over Doncaster the most composed and convincing of the campaign as Ball, McAlinden and Dobbie were all on target, the latter with his last goal for Fleetwood.
And it looked like they might follow it up, Ball firing them ahead on a windswept Tuesday night at Stadium MK.
But Ball’s and Fleetwood’s luck wasn’t in, the striker breaking his leg scrambling to try to bag a second before a deflected strike and a late penalty compounded the misery.
That was two leads surrendered on the road in two games, a record Fleetwood continued in spectacular fashion in front of nearly 700 of their own fans at Deepdale.
The Preston game was the most hotly anticipated of the campaign and it looked like Fleetwood were set to pull off a shock when Stephen Jordan’s header and Scott Laird’s own goal gave them a 2-0 lead at the break.
North End were forced to abandon their footballing principles, the introduction of Kevin Davies a key moment as the experienced striker bulllied the hosts back into the game.
And a hat-trick from hotshot Joe Garner was more than Fleetwood could bear – their manager visibly shaken after the final whistle.