VERDICT: Fleetwood Town 0 AFC Wimbledon 1
The Joey Barton circus rolled in to Fleetwood Town but after all the talk, the real place to do the talking '“ on the pitch '“ left many in Highbury underwhelmed at times.
There are more things to work on than expected but I am not going to sit here and tear apart this team because it is, after all, the first game of the season.
There was so much hope and optimism ahead of the clash given Barton’s build-up, his talk of the division, his clear knowledge and the work he has done on this team.
The recruitment and the shift to experience has made many in League One sit up and think there might be something special going on at Highbury – but some controversy started as soon as that team sheet hit the desk.
The line-up was not what many of the Cod Army expected after those seven wins in pre-season.
Switching from 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 to allow room for Kyle Dempsey to be in a left-sided attacking role with Conor McAleny just behind Ched Evans and Wes Burns on the right made for a mouth-watering front line.
But it was one that ultimately produced no goals.
In the middle of the park Jack Sowerby failed to light up the pitch but Bobby Grant was left to rue the post after his left footed screamer smashed into it.
That ability to pull a goal from nowhere is why he is in the side but Grant and Sowerby will be looking over their shoulders after Dean Marney came off the bench and looked slick, while the suspended Jason Holt will be back for Saturday’s trip to Oxford United.
The big news was in the back four where new skipper Craig Morgan made his first start since 2017 alongside Cian Bolger, a surprise inclusion given his lacklustre showing in Town’s final pre-season 2-1 win at Chorley last week.
Right-back was never going to be anyone other than Leeds loanee Lewie Coyle but, having seen Joe Maguire and Eddie Clarke battle it out over the summer for the left-back role, it was Tommy Spurr who got that nod.
The left-back role was a problem last term after Amari’i Bell’s departure, and despite Barton’s work in the transfer window to bring in Clarke and Spurr, it seems that may be a thorn in Town’s side again.
Spurr’s selection and the new EFL ruling that requires one homegrown player on the bench – Nathan Sheron in this instance – it meant Barton left vice-captain Ash Eastham out of the squad.
It caused a fair few grumbles on the terraces as, despite not impressing at Chorley, last season’s player of the year would have been expected to figure alongside Morgan.
As it transpired Town’s new, highly experienced defence, did not look like one littered with EFL experience.
They looked nervous especially at the start, still seem vulnerable on crosses into the box and it was a case of wasteful finishing from the Dons, especially Kwesi Appiah, that kept it at 1-0.
In fact it was Bolger who looked the sturdier of the backline as more leadership, organisation and confidence in their own abilities is required – not to mention fewer sloppy passes and nerves.
Last year we cursed a lack of experience, this time that excuse cannot be used.
There were too many times when Appiah and company saw Town fail to answer their probing questions, and though Barton was left cursing the lack of a flag in the build-up to the only goal, it was a case of simple defending.
Ben Purrington’s cross was blocked by Coyle but that only served to inadvertently help Andy Barcham who out jumped Burns.
Joe Pigott was the most alert player and pounced with Town flummoxed by the loop of the cross.
Losing 1-0 is not often a scoreline to throw scorn on a defence; instead it’s more the lack of goals that lead to defeat.
But the lack of creativity is perhaps more concerning and a case of .work up top that needs to be done.
That forward line is electric, and towards the end of the game, it was good to see that the kitchen sink mentality is not lost on Barton with Paddy Madden and Ash Hunter thrown into the mix with McAleny and Coyle making way.
However, Town will be left kicking themselves by some of the chances they wasted.
Yes they did not create as many as you would expect given the names on that team sheet but Evans’ performance was a big positive.
It was one of those days where the ball just would not fall for Town was one McAleny effort palmed away beyonf Evans and Dempsey.
Evans has already enamoured himself to the home faithful with some of his play and so nearly maintained his record of scoring in every league start with a chip from inside his own half.
It would have caught Tom King off guard but the ball dropped just wide.
That ingenuity a sign of things to come but a lot more was expected from Town’s attack.
Spurr was guilty of wasting two big chances and Grant’s screamer nearly rescued them.
Sometimes, you have to hold your hands up to the opposition and say, well done.
Neal Ardley’s men have revelled in being under the radar and they showed Town how an organised and slick defensive performance should be.
For Barton it is back to the drawing board; this Town team is a work in progress but the priority now this week is keeping hold of the key men before the window closes.