What has gone wrong at Fleetwood Town? The answer, for me, lies in one of Uwe Rosler’s buzzwords: ‘mentality’.
Last season the team approach, everyone pulling in the same direction, was key to that top-six mentality.
The lack of belief and of luck, along with recruitment, have been key to Town’s downfall.
Last season Rosler’s side were the surprise automatic promotion contenders, but that mantle has passed to Shrewsbury and Fleetwood have switched roles with last season’s Shrews – they face a relegation battle, one that will not be fought by Rosler.
That famed top-six mentality of 2016/17 has not turned up this time.
The secret of that team’s success was a never-say-die spirit an belief fuelled by that 18-game unbeaten run. Town could shut teams out because every player believed they could win. They were a team.
Keep it at 0-0 and then – with the firepower at their disposal, the head of Cian Bolger or the game-changing brilliance of David Ball – Town always found a goal.
This season the rest of the league has figured Bolger and Town out. They have stopped him being a set-piece threat.
The spine remains of the team that somehow came back to beat Gillingham 3-2 last April – Cairns, Bolger (who came off the bench at half-time) and Eastham, match-winner Dempsey and Hunter – but that day they believed they were a special team.
But now, when Doncaster’s second went in, they did not believe they could find a way back and I think many had stopped believing Rosler had the solution.
As he said, the solution is in that dressing room but it can only be found through a restoration of confidence. This is too good a squad to go down but they have to believe it.
We also need to look at recruitment and departures last summer and in January. Last year Fleetwood were far from a one-man band but opponents I spoke to always said how good Conor McLaughlin was. “Too good for this level,” they would say. And he was.
The Achilles heel has been defending set-pieces. McLaughlin was a key part of Town’s defensive set-up and he chipped in on attack.
That wing-back formation was key but has made way for 4-3-3 as Town hunt for a goal.
McLaughlin had leadership qualities lacking recently. With Nathan Pond on the bench, there was nobody at Doncaster to drag the team back. Bobby Grant has always done so but you got the impression even he thought there was no way back.
McLaughlin’s replacement Lewie Coyle has not filled those boots but could anyone have followed Conor?
Other leaders and senior players departed last summer in Jimmy Ryan and David Ball.
Rosler cited inexperience as a reason for Town’s inconsistency. Add injuries to Ball’s replacement Conor McAleny and Grant and you can see what he was saying.
But despite recruiting the experienced Paddy Madden and Toumani Diagouraga, and the return of McAleny and Grant, the defeats and late goals kept coming.
Amari’i Bell’s departure to Blackburn has been a huge loss, his replacement Kevin O’Connor has failed to live up to the billing, like Coyle.
Inexperience is no longer a valid excuse. On paper this squad should be pushing at the right end and ultimately it’s all in the mind.
As always, chairman Pilley has done what he believes is in the best interests of his club. He could not ignore what he saw at Doncaster. The lack of fight, desire and confidence told its own story.
And if you remove all the emotions surrounding Rosler, it’s a decision which will probably be proved right.
Pilley could have pulled the trigger after that dismal display against Gillingham in December but Rosler was given time, and looked to be steadying the ship but now we are where we are.
Uwe, it has been brilliant. Thank you. But now these players need that winning mentality and unfortunately it looks like Rosler was not the man to restore it.