Leadership dilemma for Mellon
Fleetwood appear to have taken to life in the Football League with consummate ease, but Mike Holden explains that Saturday's home defeat to lowly Wycombe has hinted at problems which manager Micky Mellon needs to quickly address if they are to embark on any further success...
Fleetwood Town have made what seems like a positive start to life in the Football League but Saturday's defeat at home to managerless Wycombe should worry anyone who backed them to win the title in pre-season at 7/1 or promotion at 11/8.
The Cod Army sit fourth in League Two with a quarter of the campaign gone, and that's not a bad place to be, but manager Micky Mellon has growing issues to address behind the scenes before his men can truly begin to justify the hype that surrounded their arrival at this level.
It's not so much the result against the Chairboys that raises concerns, rather the limp manner of the performance and the lack of fight that came by way of response to conceding an early goal against a team near the bottom of the table.
It's a situation Mellon summed up best himself when he said: "We don't feel that enough of our players got anywhere near the level we know they can. We tried to get a bit of spark going from somewhere, but it wasn't to be. Nobody got the bull by the horns and gave us that. We never galvanised ourselves, we never got ourselves angry. We waited for someone else to spark us but that never happened."
It's easy to see why Fleetwood were so popular with punters in pre-season. The Lancashire club romped to the Blue Square Bet Premier title with 103 points last term and reinforced their squad with a host of household names in the summer, following the blueprint that has delivered five promotions in the past seven years.
But it's a situation that creates its own set of problems and these problems only become more acute the higher you go. Just because Mellon has managed to seamlessly upgrade his squad in-tune with Fleetwood's ascent up the non-league pyramid, it doesn't mean the trend will continue in the Football League.
Of the 14 players who featured against Wanderers, only six were part of last season's memorable campaign. So one might assume from Mellon's summary on Saturday that the team dynamic has somehow been altered and the spirit within the camp has been diluted. And then there's the issue of leadership.
Who exactly calls the shots in that team now? When things go awry, as they did against Wycombe, who does everyone turn to for motivation and inspiration? The captain's armband is usually sported by one of the longest-serving players, but do they really command total respect from the new arrivals?
Take Steve McNulty, for example. He's the first-choice captain and he was out injured against Wycombe, which provides Mellon with a convenient excuse if he wishes to brush-off this performance as an isolated occurrence, but the fact remains McNulty can only call upon his experience of playing for the likes of Burscough, Vauxhall Motors and Barrow.
In McNulty's absence, Jamie Maguire picked up the armband. His prior experience amounts to stints with Northwich Victoria, Cammell Laird and Droylsden and he was substituted at half-time on Saturday, hardly a ringing endorsement of the authority he commands within the team.
Meanwhile, early in the second half, Mellon turned to Jamie Milligan for only the second time this season. The 32-year-old former Leigh RMI and Hyde United man used to be club captain in the Northern Premier League and Conference North days but he has been marginalised in the past couple of years and his introduction had little apparent effect.
To put the situation into context, you have to understand that the likes of Youl Mawene, Damien Johnson, Barry Nicholson, Rob Edwards, Alex Marrow, Jon Parkin, Steven Gillespie and David Ball have all played in the Championship or higher. Those eight players have arrived since the summer, they all played on Saturday, and all but two of them are 27 or older.
Their ability to perform at this level shouldn't be in any doubt, yet on Saturday they didn't perform, and it's hard to escape the impression that perhaps they are struggling to buy into the cause of younger men with no previous Football League experience. Any hint of naivety from so-called senior members of the squad is likely to generate scorn.
It's a dilemma for Mellon. His desire to show loyalty to his leading lights from the non-league days is understandable, but the club's ambition has crossed a threshold and the dressing room dynamic already appears to have been compromised. How he responds to the 'lack of spark' against Wycombe might well make or break Fleetwood's season.
Read Mike Holden's thoughts on football's bosses every Tuesday in his weekly manager profile column.
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