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Nov 30, 2011

Fleetwood attack

Who motivates the motivator? It is a pertinent question for many a manager. However demoralised a defeat leaves them, they have to infuse others with optimism. The often exuberant Ian Holloway was down in the dumps after a 3-1 defeat to Burnley last month. Four days later, his Blackpool side won 5-0 at Leeds. The key, he said, was a pep talk from a non-league counterpart, Fleetwood manager Micky Mellon.

"I have known Ian Holloway since I was 17 and he was the captain of Bristol Rovers," Mellon said. "When he came to Blackpool, we got chatting and got to know each other well. He has been great for me and there was a fella that needed a little bit of a lift. It was a conversation between two friends. He needed a kick up the backside and now he is back to his old self, but I don't want to overplay it."

Perhaps not, but it was a sign of Mellon's motivational prowess. There are plenty of others. His Fleetwood team host Yeovil in Friday's FA Cup tie, looking to claim a second League One scalp after eliminating Wycombe in the first round. Three years at Fleetwood have been notable for non-stop progress.

"After ten games they were bottom," he said of his 2008 appointment. "The chairman decided it was time for a change. We finished just outside the play-offs, got some momentum and, the next season, we went into the play-offs and won them. We were promoted to the Conference and then we got to the play-offs [last season] but we lost to AFC Wimbledon." Now they are three points clear at the top of the Conference, seemingly heading for the Football League.

Coupled with Blackpool's exploits over the past few years, there seems to be something in the air on the Fylde Coast. Yet Fleetwood's roots are sufficiently lowly that neighbours are not rivals. "A lot of people in Fleetwood might support Blackpool and a lot of people in Blackpool support Fleetwood," Mellon explained. "There are diehards of both clubs but we share a good proportion of fans as we play away when they are at home."

If Blackpool's struck some as a rise from obscurity, Fleetwood's is more dramatic. The current club was only established in 1997, beginning in the tenth tier. Five promotions have followed, with a sixth on the agenda this year. Their ambition has become evident: the new Parkside Stand was opened earlier this year, expanding their capacity and with corporate facilities to generate more revenue, while the players turned professional at the start of last season.

"It was a big transformation," Mellon added. "I've got a chairman [Andy Pilley] who is trying to build a football club. He asked me what the next stage in our development would be. I said, 'We need to be full time. We can get better players in and we can get players in on loan from better clubs'."

They can afford to buy, too. Striker Jamie Vardy, scorer of the second against Wycombe, cost a reported six-figure sum and is averaging almost a goal a game since moving from Halifax. Andy Mangan, who volleyed in a delightful first against Gary Waddock's side, is one of several with Football League experience. Mellon himself has a surfeit from a 15-year playing career in the leagues now known as the Championship and League One. It exposed the Scot to the ideas of many distinguished footballing folk.

He explained: "I have had so many managers - Joe Jordan, Ossie Ardiles, Gary Megson, Stan Ternent, Brian Little, John Aldridge, Sam Allardyce - a real wide range of footballing philosophies. Every one of them has influenced me, and I have also had some fantastic coaches. I like to think I have taken the best bits from each and I moulded them into the way I want the game played."

As Fleetwood are the Conference's top scorers, that blueprint includes an emphasis on the attack. One of several strikers at Mellon's disposal is the much-travelled Brazilian Magno Viera. It is a surname that, although spelt one letter differently, when coupled with a ground called Highbury, brings arguably Arsenal's greatest side and their last trophy, the 2005 FA Cup, to mind.

"We play in the Nike kit and in red, and the only difference between us is the badge," Mellon remarked. "I don't know why there are so many coincidences - there was talk at one point that Arsenal would come and open the new stand." Beat Yeovil and get a favourable draw and they just might.


Fleetwood Town vs Yeovil Town is live on ESPN UK on Friday December 2. For information about FA Cup coverage and to sign up, click here

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