Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.
So, has the second coming of Lee Fowler reached a premature conclusion? His return to The Racecourse raised a few eyebrows in the Summer, and it looks like he’s already on his way out. After what happened last time many feared that he’d leave acrimoniously; instead, it’s the success of Dom Vose which has forced him out.
I suspect the pre-season match at FC United was the moment when Mills doubted his apparent plan to build a team around his new skipper. He’d started pre-season with Fowler anchoring a midfield three which featured Vose and Connor Jennings doing the legwork either side of him. However, it didn’t quite sit right. There was a lack of dynamism when we lost the ball and our failure to close opponents down quickly left us open to the counter.
An incident which ultimately came to nothing in the friendly against Everton Under-21s encapsulated the problem. Fowler lost the ball in midfield but only Jennings hared back as the young Toffees swarmed through our static midfield.
Fowler picked up a knock soon afterwards and Mills put a couple of crucial pieces of his jigsaw into place. Adriano Moke recovered from his own injury and looked good in the central role Fowler had vacated, while Vose was shifted up to the left side of the front three with exciting results. So where was Fowler to be accommodated?
At FCUM, in our last game before the season began, Mills looked to find a spot for a newly-fit Fowler. He started on the left side of the midfield three with Vose ahead of him.
It looked like an exciting combination, and indeed they combined brilliantly to set up a goal for Manny Smith. But it didn’t work. Neither player naturally tracks back and having them both on the same flank meant we were dangerously open to the counter attack.
By then Vose was established as a key man, so where was Fowler going to play? Mills simply couldn’t afford to fit two luxury players into his eleven, so his new skipper had to step aside.
We’ve played twenty games this season and Fowler has accumulated just 196 minutes. He’s started just once, and got the hook after 56 minutes. Tellingly, Fowler and Vose have only been on the pitch at the same time for 128 minutes. In three of the six games when they’ve been on simultaneously we’ve been behind and needed to take a gamble to chase the game; against Welling we needed extra creativity because they’d parked the bus; against Lincoln we were under intense pressure and were trying to gain control of possession.
The win at Borehamwood, when Fowler came on with twelve minutes left, was the only game we’ve fielded both players when we haven’t been taking chances to change its course.
So something had to give. It’s a shame a player with Fowler’s ability couldn’t be accommodated in the side. A stint at Tamworth will allow him to regain sharpness, but can it change the circumstances which have kept him out of the side?