Cook: Jumping in the Play-Offs is Great But a Lot of Work to Be Done
Tuesday, 16th Mar 2021 06:00
Blues boss Paul Cook says breaking back into the top six on Saturday was great for everyone at Town but knows there’s a lot of hard work to be done in the 13 fixtures which remain, starting at Fleetwood Town this evening (KO 7.45pm).
The 1-0 home victory over Plymouth saw the Blues up to sixth in the table and Tuesday’s game gives an opportunity for Town to cement their place in the play-off places.
This week is the sixth in a row in which the Blues have had a midweek game, however, Cook points out that matches coming thick and fast has been the case for other sides too.
“For everyone,” Cook said following Saturday’s match before turning his attention to the Cod Army. “Simon [Grayson]’s in there now. I’ve seen bits of them previously under Joey [Barton], the previous manager. I haven’t seen a lot of them under Simon.
“We’ll now watch them, look at all the data we can get and I’m sure Simon will tell you the same, it’s just about getting the lads fresh to go again.”
The long trip to Fleetwood is the first of three games on the road for the Blues with Portsmouth the destination on Saturday and then Wigan the following weekend.
“We’ve got three away games now and the travel and the rest is massively important,” he said “Because I think we’re down to 13 games now and there’s plenty of clubs in with a good shout, and we’re one of them, and that’s why we've got to stay strong.”
It’s been notable in the last couple of games that Cook has sought to rest his attacking players in the second half. On Saturday, front pairing Kayden Jackson and Troy Parrott were replaced after 64 minutes and widemen Gwion Edwards and Alan Judge on 81.
Against Lincoln, Edwards, Jack Lankester and Teddy Bishop were all withdrawn just after the hour mark.
Cook says those players are the ones who are most affected by playing so many games: “I think in general going forward, I think it’s the flair players who have the toughest jobs.
“Full-backs in the modern day are up and down, we all know that. My two central midfielders are normally the solidity of the team, which I like.
“Those flair players have to work really hard in and out of possession, so normally, as I’ve said to the guys, 60, 70, 80 minutes, you come off, you high-five your team-mates and you encourage them to go on because we win as a team and we lose as a team. We won as a team on Saturday, which was delightful.”
Cook, who was named Town boss a fortnight ago today, admits he hasn’t had too much time to work with his squad at Playford Road with games having come so frequently.
“Management is tough nowadays because we get judged so quickly,” he reflected. “We haven’t really been training with the lads, it’s more been video analysis and technical stuff.
“I’ve seen some really good stuff in the first 20 or 30 minutes [against Plymouth], I was really pleased with us. I thought we looked so much better going forward.
“I think when you want to be better going forward, you’re going to leave more gaps at the back, so it’s something that going over, if we can get the balances right on the run-in, 13 games left to go, why haven’t we got a good chance?”
Looking ahead to that first full week on the training pitch, which will come following the Portsmouth match, he joked: “I’ll give everyone four days off, [owner] Marcus [Evans] will go mad, won’t he? He’d say I’d been promising him we were going to work hard!
“I think everyone’s delighted with jumping in the play-offs on Saturday, I think that’s great for our supporters, great for the players, for confidence, but there’s a lot of hard work to be done and we’re going try and do it.”
Cook, who has said he likes to stick with a settled side, may make one or two tweaks to his team, but largely seems set to continue with the team which won on Saturday.
Tomas Holy will be in goal with skipper Luke Chambers and Myles Kenlock the full-backs and James Wilson and Toto Nsiala the centre-halves, the Blues boss having praised his backline at the weekend.
In midfield, Cook will be forced into one change with Flynn Downes having limped off on Saturday with a hamstring problem. That’s likely to see Teddy Bishop return to the XI alongside Andre Dozzell unless Cole Skuse is deemed ready to make a start having played 30 minutes on Saturday after being out since pre-season with a knee injury which required surgery.
In the wide roles, Keanan Bennetts could come into the side for Gwion Edwards on the right with Alan Judge continuing on the left.
Up front, Kayden Jackson will be the lone central striker with Troy Parrott again set to play behind him.
James Norwood is unavailable as he is in court today and in any case has been suffering with back spasms.
Fleetwood, along with AFC Wimbledon one of only two League One sides the Blues are still to play this season, go into tonight’s match 14th in the table and unbeaten in five, three wins sandwiched by two draws, including Saturday’s 0-0 stalemate at manager Grayson’s old club Blackpool.
Eleven-goal top scorer Callum Camps could return having missed the Seasiders game with a hamstring injury, while former Blues loanee Callum Connolly is a concern having suffered a knock at Bloomfield Road. Charlie Mulgrew has been out with an achilles problem.
Striker Paddy Madden, the club's record EFL goalscorer with 43 goals, joined Stockport County on a permanent deal yesterday.
Manager Grayson is anticipating a difficult match against the Blues, who believes ought to be in the division’s upper reaches.
“Paul Cook has gone in there and it will be another tough game for us,” he told the Blackpool Gazette.
“They have good players and should be in and around the top three or four without a shadow of a doubt – that’s why they have changed their manager.
“But as we’ve said over the last few weeks, other teams will be looking at us and thinking Fleetwood are a team on a good run, who have some good players, are very competitive and have an edge to them. So again we’ll prepare properly and hopefully will win the game.”
The teams’ meetings last season were the first in their histories with each game ending in an away win.
In March last year at Portman Road, sub Ched Evans’s goal five minutes before half-time saw Fleetwood Town to a 1-0 victory over dismal Town.
The Blues were woeful in the first half but improved a little after the break but still rarely looked like equalising on a bleak and fractious night.
At the Highbury Stadium in October 2019, Jackson’s sixth goal of the season saw Town to a 1-0 win which stretched the Blues’ lead at the top of League One to four points.
Jackson, who later missed a penalty, slammed home the rebound after a Luke Garbutt free-kick had been saved in the 58th minute.
Town were reduced to 10 men in injury time when Wilson was dismissed for a second bookable offence but the Blues were able to hang on for their fifth away win of the season.
Blues right-back Janoi Donacien is on loan with the Cod Army but is ineligible against his parent club. The 27-year-old has made 10 starts and two sub appearances since making the move in January.
Ex-Town loanee Connolly is on loan at Fleetwood from Everton having rejoined them in the summer having spent the second half of last season at Highbury.
Tonight’s referee is Gavin Ward from Surrey, who has shown 77 yellow cards and three red in 24 games so far this season.
Ward’s most recent Town match was the 3-2 home victory over Leeds in the final Championship game prior to relegation in May 2019 in which he booked Nsiala, Jackson and one White, and showed Blues captain Chambers a straight red card for a foul which he also awarded the visitors a penalty.
Prior to that he was in charge of the 6-1 pre-season thrashing at Charlton ahead of the start of the 2017/18 campaign.
He also refereed the 1-0 away victory over the MK Dons in December 2015 in which he yellow-carded Chambers, Jonathan Douglas and Freddie Sears.
A month earlier he had taken charge of the 2-2 draw at home to Wolves in which he again booked the Blues skipper and two visiting players.
Ward was also the man in the middle for the 3-1 home victory over Cardiff in April of the same year in which he booked Skuse, Tyrone Mings and Christophe Berra and two visiting players. Prior to that he was in charge of the 2-0 defeat at Rotherham that February.
Squad from: Holy, Cornell, Kenlock, Chambers (c), Matheson, Ward, Wilson, Nsiala, McGuinness, Woolfenden, Dozzell, Skuse, Judge, Huws, Harrop, Bishop, Edwards, Lankester, Thomas, Sears, Parrott, Jackson, Drinan.
Photo: Matchday Images
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