By Liz Owen
A last-gasp goal from Anthony Stewart earned Wycombe Wanderers a narrow win over Fleetwood Town, who were desperately unfortunate to leave Adams Park empty-handed.
In a dramatic final few minutes, Stewart headed home from one of many dangerous Wanderers deliveries to send the home support into raptures and the 74 members of the travelling Cod Army into misery.
Substitute Junior Morais then almost doubled his side’s advantage after getting the better of Alan Goodall, although his low effort rolled just wide of the post.
The influential Jon Parkin had saved the day just seconds before Stewart’s goal, heading off the line as Scott Davies had sprang from his goal to try and clear a cross, while he hurled himself at a Ryan Crowther cross just seconds before the whistle in an effort to rescue the game for Town.
Fleetwood should have taken at least a point from the encounter but their winless run continues, as they sit in 9th, 6 points behind the play-off spots.
A variety of players came back into contention for a starting berth to provide manager Graham Alexander with somewhat of a selection headache.
Upon first inspection, the most interesting observation on the teamsheet was that Rob Atkinson, captain and ever-present since his return from a loan spell at Accrington Stanley, had to settle for a place on the bench.
Goodall, back from suspension following his red card against Aldershot Town, replaced him in central defence, while goalkeeper Davies took charge of the armband.
After featuring in Town’s Lancashire Senior Cup tie on Wednesday, Shaun Beeley and Gareth Evans also earned a place in the starting line-up at the expense of Conor McLaughlin and Barry Nicholson, with Nathan Pond reappearing on the bench.
Junior Brown was preferred over Crowther following his goalscoring cameo midweek against Cheltenham Town, Jon Parkin came in for Jean-Michel Fontaine.
Wycombe player-manager Gareth Ainsworth made two alterations to the side that beat Torquay United 2-1 on Wednesday.
Ainsworth selected himself after setting up both goals from the bench against the Gulls and also started Anthony Stewart in place of Bruno Andrade and Joel Grant.
Neither side particularly dominated throughout but it was Fleetwood who appeared most likely to score, carving out three clear opportunities to take the lead towards the end of the opening 45 minutes.
Evans forged Fleetwood’s best chance of the half on 33 minutes, making a swift charge down the centre past various blue shirts to finish the move with a fiery shot on target, as ‘keeper Jordan Archer was forced off his line to make an important stop for Wycombe.
Brown also came close for Town after the ball was nodded on by defender Ryan Edwards and, much like his goal on Tuesday, the midfielder leapt high in the air to direct a header at goal, forcing Archer to jump acrobatically himself in order to catch it.
And substitute David Ball fired over the crossbar in injury time from an Anthony Barry cross, spurning a glorious opportunity to break the deadlock for Town.
Parkin was at the centre of the majority of Fleetwood’s attacking moves and he also helped out in defence, chesting a threatening loose ball into Davies’ arms from a Josh Scowen free-kick.
Meanwhile, Steven Gillespie looked bright, sharp and hard-working – which made it all the more disappointing for the striker when he was forced to leave the field four minutes before the interval.
A strong tackle from Scowen on the halfway line, for which the Chairboys defender was booked, meant Gillespie’s game was over and Ball was entered into the fray.
An exciting start had seen chances for both sides, with both Sam Wood and Parkin scuffing shots after pouncing from corner kicks, but aside from set-pieces there were few stand-out opportunities created early on.
Town penned Wanderers back for a good period at the beginning of the game but the tempo slowed somewhat after a pause in play for referee Roger East to receive treatment after being struck by the ball.
Ainsworth provided the first on-target test with a strike from distance on the 19th, and the Town skipper responded by skilfully pushing the ball clear.
The player-manager was forced off in added time after failing to recover from an injury which floored him 15 minutes earlier, and Andrade, who scored the winner when Wycombe visited Highbury, was summoned to replace him.
Both sides were full of pace and quick to break when possible. A Wanderers counter-attack led to a cross-cum-shot from Matt McClure, whose curling effort fell wide but had Davies well-beaten, while Beeley and Dean Howell worked well on both flanks.
On his first appearance since the 2-2 draw at home to Bradford City, Evans was making up for lost time by covering every corner of the field, and almost capitalised on a lack of communication between Archer and left-back Charles Dunne on the 68th minute.
The midfielder had earlier been hassled out of possession on the byline by Michael Harriman following a well-weighted cross by Paul McKenna, while he was also called into action at the back, both he and Goodall making important clearances from Wycombe’s aerial threat.
Both Town and Wanderers had made attacking starts to the second half; Evans unleashing a header on-target and Scowen firing wide, while Brown failed to trouble Archer with an angled effort from a promising position following good work from Ball.
As the game entered the final half hour, Fleetwood were becoming increasingly frustrated.
Wycombe’s danger man Scowen sent a header over the crossbar after 70 minutes – the very fact that he was allowed to do so infuriating Davies – while Parkin turned and shot wide at an angle just minutes later.
They remained wary of the Chairboys, too, who were quick to sweep forward when Town lost possession and continued to threaten in the air.
As Barry continued to deliver dangerous balls from the centre, the industrious Evans made way for Crowther 14 minutes before the end while Ball was withdrawn from the action after not even completing a full half, Fontaine coming on for the final five.
And it was Crowther who carved out the best chance for Town late on, finding Parkin at the far post whose header left Archer in a flap, while Fontaine obstructed a Brown shot from close-range.
As the game drew to a close, the drama began and Wycombe snatched the points from Fleetwood’s grasp.
Fleetwood Town: Davies (c), Beeley, Goodall, Edwards, Howell, Evans (Crowther 76), Barry, McKenna, Brown, Gillespie (Ball 41, for Fontaine 85), Parkin. Unused subs: Lucas, Pond, McLaughlin, Atkinson.
Wycombe Wanderers: Archer, Harriman, Stewart, Winfield (c), Dunne, Ainsworth (Andrade 46), Lewis, Scowen, Wood, Morgan (Hause 90), McClure
(Morias 82). Unused subs: Harrison, Spring, Oli, Kuffour.