Fleetwood Town began their second season in the Sky Bet League Two in style, with a 3-1 comprehensive victory over Dagenham & Redbridge at Highbury. Two early goals gave Town the cutting edge when Mark Roberts scored the first League Two goal of the 2013-14 season on five minutes, and Jeff Hughes struck in the second before even ten minutes were up. The away side pulled one back, until Ryan Cresswell put three points beyond doubt with his second half header. All three goal scorers were players signed in the current transfer window, and the result shows promise for this eagerly awaited campaign.
The Town starting XI was unrecognisable from the previous season. Seven players were making their official debuts in a red shirt after being acquired recently. Newly signed Mark Roberts captained the side from the heart of defence having been announced as club captain earlier in the week. Graham Alexander selected a 4-4-1-1 formation with David Ball lining up as the lone striker. Jon Parkin was the only man who missed out due to injury.
Dagenham & Redbridge had narrowly avoided relegation in the 2012-13 season. In fact, it was only goal difference that kept them in the Football League. Like Town, their squad had been amended over the summer. Changes have equally been made to the management staff. In early May, Wayne Burnett was appointed as their new Head Coach, and he spoke out recently to say his team could “surprise people”.
Medy Elito began the game as he did in this fixture a year ago. He menaced the Town defence down the right wing and fired a low cross into the box. Roberts failed to clear it and was fortunate that his centre back partner Ryan Cresswell got to the ball first to put it out of play. It was an early scare, but Town responded well. Ball won a corner when Chris Lewington denied him in the Dagenham net from close range, and seconds later the Cod Army went one better. Junior Brown drilled the corner in and Roberts nonchalantly thumped the ball home. It was a great way for the new skipper to begin his Fleetwood career and stated Town’s intent for the season. Remarkably, a second was added four minutes later. A hoof forward caused problems and the ball bobbled down to Jeff Hughes on the edge of the box. He took his time before sweetly half-volleying the ball past Lewington in the right hand corner. It was in complete contrast to last season’s opening game where Fleetwood couldn’t find a way past Torquay through 90 minutes. On that occasion, it ended a 0-0 stalemate. This time round, the final result was destined to be far different.
Home fans were delighted by the start and things didn’t stop there. Sarcevic made good ground up the pitch and offloaded to Hughes. He took on Scott Doe with flair and drove the ball hard and low at goal. The ‘keeper managed a foot to knock the shot away but was nonetheless furious with his defence for letting the opposition through for the third time. Elito remained the Daggers only threat, and other than that they had little to throw back at Town.
This appeared the case until Dagenham broke away against the run of play. Elito was the key, reaching the by-line and passing across the face of goal to Rhys Murphy who slid it into the back of the net at the far post. It was a setback for Alexander’s men, and an unexpected one at that. Murphy could have then doubled his tally for the day and levelled the score from a dangerously positioned freekick. Pleasingly, the wall did its job, but the away side were beginning to grow into the game and enjoy more possession. Murphy took over the role as lead protagonist from Elito when he turned Cresswell and almost curled the ball past Scott Davies in-between the Fleetwood posts. He was persistently hassling Roberts and co.
Fleetwood’s only reply was through corner kicks. Brown firstly caused havoc in Lewington’s area when his cross created a goal line scramble. The next one somehow travelled across the six-yard-line and went untouched. As the half-time whistle was blown, mixed emotions were felt. The two quick-fire goals were a big positive, whilst apprehension was a result of Dagenham’s reply.
Town began the second half brightly, and Doe picked up a yellow card for a reckless challenge on Hughes. Another freekick was won when Brown was brought down, and the same player was on the floor again shortly, this time appearing to be injured. He rejoined the action again after several minutes on the sideline. Ryan Cresswell proved strong in defence, heading away an Elito cross from the danger zone, and he was effective with his head at the other end of the pitch. A deflected Ball shot gave the Cod Army a corner, and Brown was the provider for the second time in the 53rd minute. His floated cross allowed Cresswell to climb above the Daggers defenders and nod into the back of the net to bring back Fleetwood’s two goal lead.
Dagenham made a double substitution around the hour mark, and Town made a change too. Stewart Murdoch replaced Schumacher in central midfield. One of the Dagenham substitutes, Afolabi Obafemi, made the biggest difference with two efforts from 12 yards which were both thankfully blocked. With 15 minutes remaining, Alexander took off Brown for winger Gareth Evans to possibly run the clock down. Murphy had an opportunity from a dead ball situation to put pressure on Fleetwood for the late stages of the game but his attempt was wild. With little of the match to go, Jamille Matt was used as the last of Town’s alterations. The hard-working Ball departed the field, and his efforts were very much appreciated by fans. In the last minute of normal play, Evans met Stephen Jordan’s cross in the air, and it looked destined to be the fourth. Emarkably, Femi Ilesanmi acrobatically cleared it off the line.
The team now look ahead to their Capital One Cup clash away against Notts County in mid-week where hopefully they can advance on this great result.
Town: Davies, Roberts (captain), Schumacher, Hughes, Brown, Hogan, Cresswell, Sarcevic, Ball, Crowther, Jordan.
Substitutes: Murdoch (Schumacher), Evans (Brown), Matt (Ball)
Attendance: 2511Opening day victory