Cheltenham 2-2 Fleetwood
By Liz Owen
Fleetwood Town earned a solid 2-2 draw with Cheltenham Town at Whaddon Road to pick up an impressive four points away from home in one week.
100 members of the travelling Cod Army witnessed their side turn in another composed and mature performance to maintain third place in League Two after a last-gasp Junior Brown effort winning his side a point following David Ball’s early strike.
Manager Micky Mellon made two alterations to the side which beat York City 2-0 on Tuesday. Alan Goodall, who replaced the injured Dean Howell halfway through the game at Bootham Crescent, made his first start of the season, while Barry Nicholson took Tom Barkhuizen’s place in midfield.
However, the loss of McNulty caused a reshuffle amongst Town’s back-four. He was replaced by Conor McLaughlin, who came on to make only his third appearance of the season, after just 15 minutes of play, and the versatile midfielder slotted into right-back. Shaun Beeley was sent to occupy the full-back position on the opposite side of the pitch and Alan Goodall, standing in for injured left-back Dean Howell, moved alongside Youl Mawene in central defence.
A huge part of Town’s success has been their failure to give up and continue to push their opponents even if they found themselves on the back foot. This was certainly the case today as Brown scrambled home with mere minutes remaining on the clock following Nicholson’s corner in front of the away fans, which led to the sending-off of Cheltenham’s Alan Bennett.
Fleetwood had taken the lead shortly after the half-hour mark through Ball, after excellent work from the in-form Junior Brown on the left-hand side. Town’s top scorer ventured his way into the area and evaded Cheltenham right-back Sido Jombati with some clever footwork to send a low and dangerous ball across the byline. Ball was perfectly placed to score his second goal in three games, although it took more than one attempt and a small goalmouth scramble to finally send the ball over the line.
Cheltenham equalised through Jeff Goulding on the 63rd minute, only two minutes after coming on as part of a double substitution which saw leading goalscorer Shaun Harrad replace of Marlon Pack as well as swapping Kaid Mohamed for the forward. Goodall cleared Chris Zebroski’s attempted cross and Cheltenham left-back Billy Jones took the subsequent corner which, after a game of pinball and a goalmouth scramble, found the back of the net through Goulding’s close-range effort.
And it was the same set-piece which dealt Town another blow after Cheltenham gained the advantage with 16 minutes to go. Jones again swung in a corner, from the opposite side this time, and Jombati leapt highest to head home his first goal of the season.
Much like Tuesday’s game, Fleetwood’s opponents were busier going forward during the first half but the visitors expertly soaked up the pressure while simultaneously looking threatening in attack, with Brown, McGuire and Nicholson assisting Ball from midfield.
However, Robins boss Mark Yates’ second-half double substitution injected new life into his Cheltenham side and Davies, donning a cap at one point to shield his eyes from the Gloucestershire sunshine, had plenty to keep him and his defence occupied during the final 45 minutes.
McNulty, Brown and McGuire were re-acquainted with Mohamed, who had fired four past Town as an AFC Wimbledon player over both legs of the Conference play-off semi-finals in May 2011, and the striker had almost levelled for Cheltenham just before the interval, his low attempt at the far post trickling inches wide after Darren Carter’s through ball.
The Robins created the game’s first real attempt on goal after 26 minutes. Russell Penn surged forward and cut inside from midfield to unleash a shot on goal which was well-saved by Scott Davies but the rebound fell to Jermaine McGlashan, who should have done better from close range and instead sent his effort wide. Previously, both Jombati and Marlon Pack had fired shots over while Chris Zebroski, who scored the only goal for Cheltenham in their 1-0 win away at Bristol Rovers midweek, sent a free header wide.
Brown continued to trouble Cheltenham’s defence, forcing a save from his namesake between the posts before recreating almost perfectly the move which led to Town’s opener, sneaking alongside the byline after Damien Johnson won possession in midfield, but Jones was quick to clear the danger for the home side.
In the midst of both of the home side’s goals, however, Cheltenham really began to turn up the pressure and almost ended the game with an extended lead. McGlashan excelled down the right thanks to a burst of pace which took him past Beeley and found Harrad in the middle. Davies dived onto the ball to halt the move but failed to take the ball with him. It was a worrying moment for the Cod Army as the ball trickled away from Town’s keeper but he quickly redeemed himself to scoop it back up.
Steven Gillespie and Jon Parkin were introduced in place of Ball and Johnson respectively late in the second half, with the former receiving a warm reception from the home crowd as he prepared to face his former club. Both had chances to sneak an equaliser and Fleetwood should have been level with 10 minutes to go as Parkin was denied at the post after the ball was cleared off the line, while Gillespie ‘s curled strike inside the area from the rebound sailed narrowly over the crossbar. A Nicholson strike from outside the area went over before a late spell of pressure sealed a point for Town.