Nathan Pond takes Man of the Match
The Nathan Pond testimonial game was everything that Fleetwood Town wanted. The 4-0 victory over League One Preston was convincing, new signings made their mark, there were no injuries and the man of the moment did not put a foot wrong in defence.
The sun shone down on a magnificent playing surface as 1889 came to pay tribute to Pond after ten years service at Fleetwood Town. Following a parade which included former Fleetwood players and the manager who initially brought Pond to Fleetwood, Tony Greenwood, the man himself entered to rapturous applause.
Both sides selected strong starting elevens with Town fielding five of their summer signings and former Bolton front man, Kevin Davies, making his Preston debut in a team containing the majority of the likely league starting line-up. His selection was likely to ensure a busy afternoon for the beneficiary!
The afternoon belonged to Pond’s but every player, not least the man himself, was out to make a claim for a starting place against Dagenham and Redbridge in two weeks.
The early play occupied midfield with neither keeper involved. Steven Schumacher wasted a free kick for Town before Preston started to press. Tom Clarke and Chris Humphrey linked on the right but the latter’s cross came to naught. Joe Garner showed pace down the left before being halted by a fine tackle from former Preston player, Conor McLaughlin.
Town’s first chance came after twelve minutes when Jeff Hughes met a cross from the right with a firm header at the back post that Declan Rudd saved to his right. Pond got the better of Davies from a Rudd clearance in the 16th minute. Junior Brown made a trademark run in the 18th minute, forcing David Buchanan to concede a free kick in the inside right channel but the outcome was over-complex and the chance wasted.
Both sides had gilt-edges chances within a minute of each other midway through the half. Town rode their luck after 22 minutes when Humphrey found space at the back to cross into danger, Garner striking a shot against the crossbar. Town immediately responded with Jamille Matt shaking off a defender, before setting up Hughes who brought an excellent save from Rudd. Antoni Sarcevic was unable to capitalise on the deflection.
Substitute Jon Parkin’s jog along the touchline brought a positive response from visiting fans paying tribute to his Preston days. They then looked on as Garner and Schumacher came together in midfield. After referee Simpson had intervened he showed the red card to the Preston player, a move which mystified many in the crowd and on the pitch, but seemed to be a result of the initial contact by Garner in the tackle.
Town soon exploited the numerical advantage, taking the lead after 37 minutes. A McLaughlin cross from the right went over the head of the rising Matt but Ryan Crowther came in at the back post to plant the ball past Rudd. The lively Humphrey caused trouble three minutes later with a teasing cross from a tight angle on the right but centre-back Mark Roberts was on hand and calmly dealt with the threat.
Preston made five changes at the start of the second half, one of the group, Keith Keane, coming close to equalising. There was danger for Town down the left and Keane struck the resulting chance into the side-netting. Town retaliated immediately. Bailey Wright blocked a Hughes shot before, three minutes into the half, Town extended their lead with a second from Crowther. The midfielder had a first chance blocked by Clarke but the defence failed to pick up the loose ball and Crowther followed up with an emphatic left-foot strike.
Preston attacked and forced McLaughlin to clear in a dangerous position after a free kick just outside the penalty area on the left. Pond was calm and authoritative in defence and his side further turned the screw in the 63rd minute, Sarcevic hitting a right foot shot which went in via the upright. It was a deserved reward for his efforts on his Highbury debut. Stephen Jordan struck a firm left footer from the edge of the area and Crowther came close to a hat-trick as Town dominated. McLaughlin, getting a rare chance ahead of Beeley, had plenty to prove against his former side and showed up well in both defence and attack.
Alexander resisted change until the 68th minute, sending on David Ball to replace Matt. The striker, happily recovered from injury against Northwich, had four early chances, his closest grazing the crossbar with a header from a Schumacher cross. Town’s fourth goal was fortunate, Schumacher aided by a deflection from Paul Huntington in the 78th minute. The midfielder was immediately replaced by Parkin.
Parkin set up Ball after 84 minutes, a firm shot on target well-saved by replacement keeper Thorsten Stuckman. Pond left the field with five minutes left to a standing ovation and the sponsor’s man of the match award. He was replaced by Liam Hogan. Town continued to press, Parkin bringing the best out of Stuckman again.
Pond received a presentation after the game. It was a memorable afternoon for Fleetwood’s longest-serving player.
Davies, McLaughlin, Roberts, Pond (captain) (Hogan 85), Jordan, Brown, Schumacher (Parkin 79), Sarcevic, Hughes, Crowther, Matt(Ball 68)