Ball brace the highlight in comfortable win
Fleetwood Town overcame a stuttering start against Shrewsbury Town to reach Highbury Heaven with a third home win in eight days after a 3-0 win.
A first half goal from Conor McLaughlin and two from David Ball took Uwe Rosler's side up to within a point of the play-offs. It was a convincing performance which gives Fleetwood a psychological edge ahead of the Emirates FA Cup Second Round tie between the sides in two weeks’ time.
Fleetwood’s side showed one change from the win over Chesterfield three days ago. Devante Cole replaced Ashley Hunter. Former Fleetwood player, Junior Brown, started for Shrewsbury while another, Antoni Sarcevic, was on the bench.
Fleetwood began with the same 3-5-2 formation that served them so well on Saturday. It was Shrewsbury, however, who looked the livelier in the early exchanges with AJ Leitch-Smith and Ivan Toney catching the eye. By contrast, Fleetwood's approach play was not at its incisive best as they found the visitors' busy, compact style of play difficult to match. In a rare excursion forward, McLaughlin stole in at the near post to meet a George Glendon corner after 12 minutes but was off-target with his header.
Suddenly, Fleetwood burst from their shackles around the half hour mark and the familiar fluidity returned to their attacking play. Brown had some apologising to do after 28 minutes, passing straight at Bobby Grant in space. The trademark left-foot shot brought a fine diving save from Mark Halstead and kick-started Fleetwood's revival. There was a second chance for Grant from the corner, a fierce drive almost splitting Adam El-Adb in two. Cole rose high to meet a McLaughlin cross and moments later the full back fired wide of the post. Cole linked well with Ball as Fleetwood came remorselessly forward.
The pressure finally paid off after 37 minutes. Great work by Kyle Dempsey set Cole away down the left. His low cross from the by-line was met firmly by McLaughlin for his fifth goal for Fleetwood. A purple patch had broken Shrewsbury's resistance and Fleetwood maintained their record of scoring in every league game this season.
Shrewsbury came back, however, and Toney's header required a diving save from Alex Cairns just before the break.
It was a bright start to the second half with action at both ends. Glendon's corners are becoming a feature of Fleetwood's play and another fine effort just after half time found a stooping Cian Bolger, his header wide of the post. Grant and Ball combined well down the left after good work by the industrious Glendon.
Fleetwood went further ahead after 52 minutes, Ball finishing the job coolly for his seventh league goal of the season after moments of panic in the Shrewsbury defence. With Rosler's side firmly in control, the visitors looked like a side struggling five points from safety near the foot of the table.
Fleetwood dropped the tempo around the hour and allowed the Shrews some territory. There were several moments of concern, not least when Cairns underplayed a pass to Pond who gesticulated wildly at his keeper after the danger had passed. George Waring replaced the injured Ian Black. Cole was replaced by Ashley Hunter.
A minute later, Ball added to his stock of exquisite goals with a shot from the edge of the area that dipped over the despairing Halstead into the top corner. Rosler made his last change with twelve minutes left, Victor Nirennold on for Glendon. Another fine effort by Dempsey ended five minutes later when he was replaced by Jack Sowerby.
Sarcevic received the applause of the home crowd as he joined the action with five minutes left. Keeper Halstead made a fine save to deny Hunter from close range as Fleetwood peppered the Shrewsbury defence. Ball twice came close to his hat trick as Fleetwood ended the game strongly.
Fleetwood: Cairns, Bolger, Pond (C), Eastham, McLaughlin, Dempsey, Glendon (Nirennold, 78), Grant, Bell, Ball, Cole (Hunter, 72)
Shrewsbury: Halstead, Sadler, Black (Waring, 70), Toney, Dodds, O'Brien (Sarcevic, 84), Brown, Grimmer, Deegan, Leitch-Smith, El-Abd