Manager on JPT progression
Graham Alexander was unable to hide his delight at seeing his Fleetwood Town team reach the final of the Northern Section of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at Highbury on Tuesday night.
Alexander’s men claimed their fourth League 1 scalp of the competition having beaten Tranmere Rovers, Crewe Alexandra and Carlisle United to get this far.
Jeff Hughes scored his second goal in as many days on 19 minutes, before Nouha Dicko, on-loan from Wigan Athletic equalized ten minutes after the interval.
However, the unlikely source of Conor McLaughlin ensured Town’s passage to the final as his 25 yard thunderbolt flew into the top corner.
Reflecting on the achievement, Alexander said: “I think the lads have really responded to the challenge of playing teams from a higher level, and it was a tough game, make no doubt about that. We took the lead and then they equalized after a good spell of pressure, but I thought the response from the team was fantastic. It could have easily been a negative one after losing the last two leads in the previous two games, but I thought it galvanized us a little bit and we had to defend as they were a good opponent.”
Steve Evans’ men started the better of the two sides on the night, but Town, marshalled by Mark Roberts and Nathan Pond in the centre of defence absorbed the pressure: “They’re a good team Rotherham with some big players who get it up front and ask you questions, but I thought the lads stood up to it and saw out that pressure, and we got a fortunate goal. We knew they’d be a response from them at half time and they did that as they were a little bit more direct and scored their goal, but then it’s a question of our team’s mentality and I thought they answered it in every way they had to. The energy shown to get forward and then to get back was great and I couldn’t be more proud of the team tonight.”
Despite having an exciting attacking arsenal at his disposal, the match winner was right back Conor McLaughlin who scored his first professional goal to Alexander’s delight: “It was a fantastic strike. I think it’s one of those where you’re feeling good about yourself and you think why not? He’s got great feet has Conor and he’s still improving as he’s had a stop-start career so far what with injury and so forth, but it’s up to him where he wants to go because if he keeps that aggressive defending side to his game then he’ll be a great full back. With regards to the fantastic strike though, I think we had the best view as we were right behind it and you just knew it was going to beat the keeper due to the sheer pace of it.”
Having conceded late goals against Oxford United and Burton Albion respectively in recent weeks, the Scot was wary that the same might happen again as United piled the pressure on in the dying moments: “You’re obviously thinking about the previous two games and I’m sure the players were as well, but it’s difficult when a team is hitting 50/60 yard balls up front all the time and you just have to deal with them. We sent Cressy (Ryan Cresswell) on and I thought Dan (Daniel Carr) came on and showed some great touches as well, so too Junior, but I thought all the lads contributed to the win. We had to see out a bit of pressure and Scott made a couple of good saves and the lads can have a pat on the back tonight, but get back to work on Thursday as we’ve got another big game on Saturday against Rochdale in the league.”
Joining the Cod Army in the Northern section final will be fellow League 2 side Chesterfield as they dumped Oldham Athletic out on penalties: “It’s a great competition for League 1 and 2 sides as it’s a chance for players to get to Wembley and it’d be a fantastic occasion, but we have two tough games against Chesterfield who will have the same aspirations as us.”