Town start 2017 at home with 13th game unbeaten
Fleetwood extended their unbeaten run to 13 matches with an impressive 3-1 victory over play-off rivals Bristol Rovers.
Ash Hunter, Cian Bolger and David Ball all scored in the feisty encounter at Highbury that saw January signing Ben Davies make his home debut.
Rovers, fresh from a 5-1 win over Northampton last weekend, came out of the traps quickly and controlling the early possession, but it was the Cod Army who had the opening chance of the match.
Ball drove a low ball into the box, but Ash Hunter couldn’t get the vital touch as Rovers cleared. Rovers missed a golden chance shortly after as Matty Taylor fired at Alex Cairns after receiving the ball from the right, but the Town stopper produced a fine save.
From Cairns’ goal kick came the opening goal as Hunter fired in with a smart finish. Kyle Dempsey received the ball on the right hand side before playing a neat pass to David Ball. Ball cut back to a waiting Hunter who struck first time to put the Cod Army 1-0 up.
There was barely time to breathe as Bristol Rovers threatened an almost instant equaliser. Byron Moore picked up the ball just outside the Town area and thundered a shot towards Cairns, but he produced a wonder save.
In a pulsating opening period, Hunter could and probably should have doubled his and Town’s tally as a breakaway move saw him through on goal. He fired agonisingly wide.
This only boosted Fleetwood though, as they began to control proceedings. Amari’i Bell flashed a shot across goal, which was deflected, and from the resulting corner, Town doubled the lead. George Glendon’s corner was headed towards goal by Bolger and knocked in by Ball. There was some controversy with the scorer, but replays showed the ball had already crossed the line, and it was Bolger’s goal.
As the visitors attempted to get back in the game, they began to pressure the Town defence. An impressive last ditch save by Cairns denied a certain goal after he tipped Taylor’s header away. A series of Rovers corners followed, but the Town defence held firm.
The first half was to end in controversial circumstances as an off the ball clash between Rovers captain Ollie Lockyer and Ball saw the striker go down. Lockyer was only booked despite the suspicion of an elbow, to the anger of a majority of Highbury.
The second period started with as much intensity as the first, with Hunter forcing a clearance out of the Rovers backline, before Ellis Harrison fired a powerful shot over the bar for the visitors. The visitors were reduced to only long range chances as Town continued to defend well.
The away side found a way back into the game after a defensive mix up allowed Billy Bodin to score and reduce the deficit to just one goal. Harrison’s long ball over the top looked to be an easy clearance for Nathan Pond but confusion meant he collided with Conor McLaughlin and Bodin had only Cairns to beat, and did so.
With Pond picking up a knock in the incident, Head Coach Uwe Rosler introduced Ashley Eastham to the pitch to make his first appearance since suffering an injury against Shrewsbury in November.
Town were almost 3-1 up through Hunter, whose audacious volley sailed only inches wide of Will Puddy’s net. With both sides creating a lively battle, the end-to-end action continued as Fleetwood threatened to put the game to bed. Dempsey’s corner saw Bolger’s header float just wide.
With the game heading towards a tense final 15 minutes of the match, Rovers began to frustrate the Cod Army, reducing their chances and forcing battles in midfield. Devante Cole was introduced to the action in the place of Hunter, who received a standing ovation from the Highbury crowd.
Town did finally get a third goal, and it came in fine fashion. A resilient Ball was to get his goal after all, as he twisted and turned his way through the Rovers defence before firing a low drive past Puddy. It was Ball’s tenth goal of the season.
The nerves weren’t quiet settled for the home fans just yet though, as in the final minutes, Bristol Rovers threatened to mount a comeback as Harrison forced Cairns into another superb save.. There was to no late drama though, as Town held on for a thirteenth undefeated game.
The win means the Cod Army remain in sixth place in the play offs, three points ahead of seventh place Southend.
FTFC XI:Cairns (GK), McLaughlin, Bell, Pond © (Eastham), Ball, Grant, Bolger, Glendon (Nirrenold), Hunter (Cole), Dempsey, Davies.
Subs: Neal (GK), Jonsson, Long, Sowerby.
BRFC XI:Puddy (GK), Brown (Easter), Lockyer ©, McChrystal (Partington), O.Clarke, Harrison, Taylor (James), Lines, J.Clarke, Moore, Bodin.
Subs: Hodges (GK), Lawrence, Montano, Sinclair.
Attendance: 3,728 (769 away)