There’s an obvious warning to put out before this scout report: you never know how high up a manager’s list of priorities a cup tie will be. Therefore, looking at how Fylde have been setting themselves out might prove to be irrelevant if Dave Challinor decides to experiment or rotate his squad on Saturday. Furthermore, Challinor has tended to make alterations to his starting shape on a game-to-game basis, and is lining up two defensive loan signings in the run-up to the match, so anticipating his plans is not easy!
It’d be fascinating to see him retain the same approach as he did against Sutton on Saturday though, as Fylde’s unorthodox shape would be interesting to watch. They started that match with an unusually lop-sided formation. Perhaps the best way to describe it would be a 4-2-3-1 with the two wide attackers tucked in. Wrexham fans will recognise the nature of those players as the right-sided player was ex-Dragon Sam Finlay, certainly more of a combative midfielder than a winger. On the other flank, James Hardy drifted inside and looked to get the ball on his right foot to create.
This gave Fylde a solid look, but meant that they lacked penetration on the flanks, with the full backs asked to push on. Faced with Sutton’s direct style, they found their midfield getting pushed deep, and as a result their target man, Danny Rowe, was often isolated up front. Andy Bond, playing ostensibly in the hole, was often unable to get close enough to Rowe to support him as he dropped back to help his midfield.
Also, the narrow starting positions of the wide men often meant that when Fylde were able to get midfield possession, it became congested through the middle of the pitch and it was difficult to pick a way through. Their two most promising positions in the first twenty minutes came not from finding space, but from winning the ball back in the Sutton half.
Lewis Montrose and Brendon Daniels were the two holding midfielders, and were very disciplined in maintaining their position in front of the back four. Obviously, that meant that they gave good protection to their defenders, but lacked the opportunity to drive play forwards from the middle of the pitch; their deep positions allowed Sutton to push onto them. However, Fylde will have to make a change in that position as Montrose picked up a red card against Sutton, which was his first game back after being suspended for a red card at Orient. Both were for accumulating two yellow cards, and reflected an eagerness to jump into tackles. Against Gateshead, while Montrose was serving his first suspension, Finlay slotted into the central midfield position and looked more at home, his energy levels, combative style and solid passing allowing him to win the ball back and get it moving more quickly.
Should Challinor pull Finlay back into midfield, he has options to replace him on the flank which would allow him to give this shape a more open look. Henry Jones and another ex-Dragon, Jonathan Smith, are pacy attacking options who both look to get into shooting positions around the box. However, against Gateshead he replaced him with a more defensive option, using Jordan Richards on the right. Richards is more defensive-minded than Jones and Smith, and works hard to cover his full back. He was used as a half time substitute to protect their lead at Orient in a similar manner.
At Orient they played a 4-1-4-1, with Montrose holding until his late red card, and emerged with an impressive 2-1 win. Their formation allowed them to smother Orient when they came forwards, and they snatched goals from a free kick and a superb long range goal.
Both those goals illustrated the powerful shooting of Rowe when he gets the ball on his right foot: he also smashed a well-struck free kick into the wall in their next game, a goalless draw against Gateshead. In fact, a feature of Fylde’s play is how regularly Rowe gets shots off from outside the area; he is good at working space to find a shot, and consistently strikes the ball cleanly. Furthermore, Rowe’s physical strength makes his an aerial target, and he holds the ball up well, making him a potent threat up front.
It should also be said that, while Rowe favours his right foot, a shot in the early minutes against Orient showed that he can also shoot with power from distance with his left.
Fylde have had some problems with high balls into the box in recent games, although it should be said that Sutton are always likely to ask aerial questions from long balls from their own half and set pieces. Having said that, Fylde have struggled with crosses in other matches, and have also surrendered more chances than they would have liked from long balls over the top which have turned their central defenders when their line is too high.
At the other end, both centre backs, Jordan Tunnicliffe and Simon Grand, have scored in their last four games, and Grand also went close at Orient. They each have two goals already this season, and Grand, in particular, tends to get on the end of set pieces: a corner against Woking gave a good view of his movemen (below)t. Tunnicliffe had to come off after half an hour of the Sutton game, but is expected to be fit.
Fylde are a side who might try a surprise set piece from the training ground. Against Woking they worked a deep free kick into a shooting position when Zaine Francis-Angol ran over the ball, touching it to make it active, so Harry Jones could carry it forwards and shoot while the Woking defence was waiting for a ball into the box. They’ve also put some thought into their kick-offs: they tried to surprise Sutton last Saturday by feeding the ball wide immediately to Luke Burke, who looked to charge at the underpopulated left flank of the visitors, although he overran the ball and it ultimately came to nothing.