Best Blog or Account to Follow: Probably the youngest person on any of these previews, Ben Knapman is a supporter of the Cod Army who, at 15, will have seen their rise and rise through the pyramid, with no fewer than six promotions in his lifetime. He also has his own YouTube channel and has made his own set of predictions for League One.
Record Last Season + Quick Summary:
League One - 4th; W 23 / D 13 / L 10 / F 64 / A 43 / Pts 82 (Lost in the play-off semi-final)
It is reasonable to suggest that low expectations ahead of 2016/2017 sank even further when manager Steven Pressley resigned just 11 days before kick-off. That sort of incident normally sets back a side (even a highly-fancied one) but Uwe Rösler was brought in swiftly by the proactive board at the Highbury Stadium and got the ball rolling right away, suffering a single defeat in the opening seven outings. A couple of small sticky patches in early autumn didn’t hamper progress too much and from the 19th of November onwards, they only lost three league matches in the regular season whilst playing a brand of progressive, attacking football which emphasised teamplay above individual star names. That streak included a sequence of 18 matches without losing, including plenty of clean sheets and impressive results along the way, including handing out defeats to Sheffield United, Scunthorpe United and Bradford City.
The 4-2 home reverse against Bolton Wanderers that ended their glorious form was key in the latter’s slow ascent to second place behind the Blades and the Fishermen had to accept a play-off berth even after putting together another decent run. Try as they might, they came against a Bradford side in no mood to concede in either leg and two underpar outings from Rösler’s men resulted in a narrow aggreggate win for the Bantams. However, to achieve fourth place and be only a handful of points from the automatic places was superb and it represents the club’s highest ever in their history.
Top Goalscorer: David Ball (14 goals in 41 starts/3,717 minutes)
Top Creator: David Ball (7 assists in 41 starts/3,717 minutes)
Manager/Head Coach: Uwe Rösler; an iconic German striker for Manchester City during the nascent years of the Premier League, he turned his hand to management not long before just his 36th birthday, firstly with Lillestrøm, where he had finished his playing career after fully recovering from a battle with lung cancer that forced him into retirement. He had reasonable success with his three clubs in Norway but always maintained close ties to the game in England. His first job back across the North Sea was with Brentford in 2011, where he narrowly missed out on the play-offs in his maiden campaign and in the final itself the following year, losing 2-1 to Yeovil Town. The Bees recovered from a poor start to 2013/2014 and his talents were noticed by then-Championship outfit Wigan Athletic, who approached him in December of that season. Again, he suffered heartbreak in the play-offs with the Latics whilst his former side gained promotion to the second tier and he was credited with some of their success.
The fit at the DW Stadium wasn’t quite right for him and after a poor start to the following term, he was sacked. Several months passed in between his spell at Wigan and his next club, Leeds United. The Whites’ highly unorthodox owner Massimo Cellino had little patience with any manager at Elland Road and he dismissed Rösler just 12 matches into the season. Once more, he had to bide his time for the right project co come along and he seems to have found his niche at Fleetwood, working under a Director of Football as is his preferred structure.
Ins: Conor McAleny (Everton), Lewie Coyle (Leeds United on loan), Luke Higham (Blackpool), Harvey Rodgers (Hull City U23s on loan), Michael Donohue (Everton U23s on loan), Jordi Hiwula-Mayifuila (Huddersfield Town on loan) & Aiden O’Neill (Burnley U23s on loan).
Outs: Akil Wright (Wrexham on loan), Joe Davis (Port Vale), Jimmy Ryan (Blackpool), Declan McManus (Dunfermline Athletic), Conor McLaughlin (Millwall), Dion Charles (Halifax Town on loan), David Ball (Rotherham United) & Martyn Woolford (free agent).
Predicted First XI & Shape:
Tactics: Much like countryman Jürgen Klopp, Rösler employs a style dubbed ‘heavy metal football’, with quick transitions from back to front, pressing passing lanes and also as a team, including the forwards. This is why although the 5-3-2 shape looks defensive on paper, the way in which he instructs his players in reality is actually very attacking. The back three will push up to plug any gaps behind George Glendon and all of the trio are a threat in the opposition penalty area, no-one more so than the powerful figure of Cian Bolger.
Amari’i Bell and Lewie Coyle will be the sum total of the Cod Army’s width; both are blisteringly quick but with Bell in particular, there is an end product to match the pace and technical skill. Glendon will sit deeper than Kyle Dempsey and Bobby Grant when there is a turnover in possession. The permanent signing of Dempsey gives perfect symmetry with Grant and the duo will dovetail into the channels to push high up the pitch.
Both Jordi Hiwula-Mayifuila and Conor McAleny can operate in wider areas and they will look to stretch the opposing defence horizontally to create spaces for the midfield runners to move into. Teams setting up with a high defensive line and/or deploying an offside trap might alter their plans when seeing their names on the teamsheet as they are both experts at timing their runs to have a clear shot on goal. Cutting inside from the channels, they won’t give their markers a moment’s peace and look as much of a handful as any other strikers in the third tier.
Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Play-off chasers. You have to scroll quite far down the betting to see Fleetwood’s name mentioned. Granted, they have lost Conor McLaughlin and David Ball in the close season but in truth, they have brought in real quality to a club that is structured exceptionally for League One and it augurs well for another, slightly more expected, tilt at the top six. The depth in the roster has increased and whilst there are more ‘fashionable’ teams in the division this season, Rösler and his players should not be dismissed lightly. On the contrary, they are a big threat, especially with the addition of Conor McAleny whilst Oxford were scrambling to bring in a new manager. The defence looks as tight as it did in 2016/2017, the attack is even more exciting and the youthful looking Cod Army will be on the march from the get-go to try to go at least one better than last term.