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.
This has been a confusing season, with so many unexpected shifts of style, formation and personnel. Perhaps the most bewildering aspect of it has been the fate of Lee Fowler. After last Saturday’s belated yet impressive performance, I’m even more confused.
Fowler’s arrival last Summer was the starting point for a season of befuddlement. The circumstances around his departure from the Racecourse in 2012 made him a high risk signing. Would it be possible for him to settle back into the club? If so, then one thing was clear: he would be an outstanding leader on the pitch. It was a coup to land a player who had been impressing two divisions higher at the end of last season, and we all knew what talent he had. The Non League Paper even singled him out as the best signing made in our division over the Summer.
But the reality was the opposite. Made club captain, Fowler has by all reliable accounts been an exemplary ambassador for the club in every aspect, and yet last Saturday was just the second time he’s started all season. In total he’d spent 196 minutes on the pitch for us before the Bromley game, less than even Adam Smith!
One swallow doesn’t make a Summer, of course, and before we get too carried away with his performance we should remember that Bromley are in hideous form at the moment. Furthermore Paul Rogers, their right back, struggled and Fowler was able to drift over to his flank from the point of the midfield diamond and make hay. These circumstances aren’t likely to occur too often, so we ought to be careful not to draw too many firm conclusions from one match.
Having said that, many of the concerns around Fowler were addressed. There was a sense in pre-season that he didn’t do enough when we didn’t have the ball to suit Mills’ approach. It appeared the turning point was the last friendly at FC United when he and Dom Vose were selected as left midfielder and left winger in a 4-3-3. The outcome was predictable: a brilliant exchange of passes which led to our goal, and a succession of FCUM breaks down that flank when neither player was able to provide cover for the full back (namely, the forgotten man of football, Mason Watkins-Clark).
It seemed Mills made a decision then that two luxury players in a side wasn’t possible, and Vose made the cut. However, Fowler showed on Saturday an ability to do his bit when the ball was lost and an appetite for leadership as he supported Connor Jennings’ haranguing of the referee!
Fowler’s goal epitomises the lesson from last Saturday. That he got into a scoring position was encouraging, but anyone thinking he’ll now be regularly launching into far post headers is seriously mistaken. The same can be said for where he stands now: the signs are highly promising, but we need to see him in a more realistic test than Bromley were able to offer. I suppose that goal was like his season really: the last thing we expected.