Fleetwood Town 1-0 Northampton
By David Mitchell
Fleetwood Town left it late to secure a fourth successive league win after Northampton Town had battled with ten men for over an hour.
Andy Mangan, in his 50th start for the club, headed home to the delight of the Cod Army in the 3027 crowd at Highbury. Town’s win took them to third place in League 2.
Micky Mellon’s side remained unchanged for the first time this season, following successive four-goal victories in the npower League 2. Northampton’s squad bore little resemblance to the team who met Town three years ago in the FA Cup, the only survivor being Luke Gutteridge who scored both goals in the Cobblers narrow 2-1 victory. Gutteridge started on the bench.
The league’s best defence conceded early ground to the visitors but Fleetwood retaliated in style in the fourth minute, moving the ball from defence to attack. Full back, Shaun Beeley, found Jamie McGuire’s head and the midfielder spectacularly beat goalkeeper, Lee Nicholls, only for the Cod Army’s joy to be punctuated by a raised flag from the official under the large screen, indicating offside. Play quickly moved back to the opposite end where Scott Davies dived to his right to stop a close-range effort from Alex Nicholls from a Ben Harding free kick.
After 12 minutes, in-form Junior Brown cleverly released Andy Mangan down the inside-left channel. Lee Nicholls raced out of goal but the striker could not get a shot on target. Clive Platt and Lewis Moult linked well for the Cobblers on the quarter hour mark, a move ending with Steve McNulty fortuitously turning a deflection straight at Davies.
Each side received a booking within a minute of each other, the guilty parties being Northampton right-back, Daniel East, and Fleetwood’s Jon Parkin. The hat-trick hero from last week then wasted an opportunity after 21 minutes after Dean Howell had made good ground down the left. The low cross came into range but the striker turned the ball clear of the crossbar off his left foot.
There was controversy in the 23rd minute as East went up for a challenge with McGuire. The midfielder fell to the ground clutching his face. Referee Rushton showed yellow, followed by red and the full-back left the field past an animated Cobblers manager, Aidy Boothroyd. The temperature rose on a cloudy afternoon with Harding booked for tripping Damien Johnson and complaints from the visitors defence about a Parkin challenge which went unpunished. Reluctantly, but wisely, Mellon removed the ex-Preston striker on the half hour. He was replaced by Steven Gillespie.
Lee Fowler was next in the book after felling Alex Nicholls on the centre spot. Cobblers skipper, Kelvin Langmead, fouled McGuire on 35 minutes, the midfielder recovering to nod a Mangan free kick straight at Nicholls. Town pursued their quest to make number-advantage count and the away defence came under intense pressure in the ten minutes before the break. Brown hit the crossbar from a Mangan cross, Gillespie nodding home the rebound only for his side to suffer at the hands of the official’s flag again. McGuire headed narrowly wide, by which time the flag had already been raised! Fowler and Mangan shot from distance but Nicholls remained secure.
Lewis Wilson replaced Moult at the start of the second half. As expected, Fleetwood continued to press. Brown darted in on to the end of a Fowler pass, his shot agonisingly wide of the far post. Mangan tried again from distance, straight into Lee Nicholls hands. The two number 18s then came together, McGuire unsuccessfully appealing for a penalty from David Artell. Northampton countered at pace but Youl Mawéné kept them out. Play swung back towards the Memorial Stand, Gillespie heading straight at the keeper.
Tom Barkhuizen came on for McGuire just before the hour, the Fleetwood management looking to his pace and creative ability as an option. Boothroyd urged his valiant troops on and Fleetwood fell foul of the offside flag again as Barkhuizen was left in space. Tempers flared again, Northampton complaining bitterly about a foul by Fowler. Fleetwood’s midfielder almost put his side in trouble as play was waved on. Chris Hackett and Alex Nicholls moved quickly up the field but the finish was weak, Nicholls shot driven straight at Davies.
Fleetwood continued to press with Beeley the latest to try his hand, a left foot shot directed at the keeper. Barkhuizen showed fleet of foot to send Gillespie in, the striker earning a corner before which Langmead saw yellow. Mawéné pressed up from a free kick, heading narrowly wide. Fowler struck a left foot shot on target. The ten-men held firm and a third disallowed goal resulted from Brown allowing the ball to trickle over for a goal kick. They were frustrating times for the Cod Army. With seven minutes left Ortell handled a Johnson drive just outside his area and was booked. The Mangan free kick was unsuccessful as was Gillespie’s effort to get on the end of a Beeley cross soon after.
It was added time before Fleetwood broke the deadlock. Beeley capped a wonderful display with yet another cross. The ball hung in the air from a deflection and Mangan headed home from the back post.
TEAM : Davies, Beeley, McNulty (c), Mawéné, Howell, McGuire (Barkhuizen 59), Fowler, Johnson, Brown, Parkin (Gillespie 30), Mangan
Booked : Fowler