A valiant second half effort from Fleetwood Town wasn’t enough as they fell to a 2-1 defeat at home to Blackburn Rovers.
Rovers led at half time through a Bradley Dack strike, but Town dominated the second half and deservedly leveled through Conor McAleny’s first goal since the opening day of the season.
Cruelly though, a moment of magic from Richard Smallwood won the game for the high-flying visitors just seven minutes from time.
Uwe Rosler made three changes to the side that faced Southend United in Town’s last Sky Bet League One, with Paddy Madden and Gethin Jones being handed their first starts and home league debuts, with Ashley Eastham also returning to the starting line up. Those three replaced the Amari’i Bell, who was coincidentally transferred to Blackburn on Friday, George Glendon, and Ashley Hunter. Toumani Diagouraga was also handed his first Highbury appearance.
Blackburn were unbeaten in 15 league games, and started well on top as Dominic Samuel flashed an early shot just wide of Chris Neal’s post.
Devante Cole came close to creating a chance, as a nice ball from Madden found its way to the striker, and while his touch was slightly too heavy, it did show Fleetwood’s capabilities of disrupting Rovers’ back line.
The visitors were causing problems at the back for Rosler’s side, and after a spell of penalty area pinball as the ball was played in and then cleared numerous times, Blackburn had the ball in the net. Much to the pleasure of all of a red persuasion though, the linesman ruled Dack’s header offside.
Blackburn then struck the bar from a corner as Derrick Willams connected with a Charlie Mulgrew corner and came close again as Danny Graham had his header saved by Neal.
The away side were dominant, and took a deserved lead almost half an hour in as Graham played a smart ball into Dack, who slotted past Neal for 1-0.
Town had a good chance to level imminently from a dead ball situation, as Kyle Dempsey’s swung a free kick into the penalty area. Cian Bolger rose the highest, but his looping header was narrowly over.
Rovers’ attacking prowess was proving difficult for Town to deal with, and they continued to knock on the door for a second deep into the first half.
Crosses into the box seemed to be Blackburn’s chosen method of attack, with numerous balls causing trouble for Rosler’s defence.
It was Ryan Nyambe’s in the 43rd minute that was the most worrying for Fleetwood though, as a failed clearance by Bolger saw him scuff it and the ball loop across the face of Neal’s goal. Fortunately for Town, it went out of play.
Rosler made two changes at the break, as McAleny and Glendon replaced Cole and Markus Schwabl.
Town showed signs of improvements after these changes, and could have been level had the combination of a David Raya wonder save and the offside flag not denied Madden from just a few yards out.
Blackburn were still showing signs of life though and could have scored again just moments after Madden’s chance when Graham forced Neal to tip the ball onto the post before Town cleared it away.
In a chaotic opening to the second half, Town found themselves level in dramatic circumstances as McAleny pounced on a terrible back pass from Mulgrew and rounded Raya to pass the ball into the open net. It was fine reward for Rosler who proved once again he can make the most of his substitutions. Honours were even and momentum was with Town.
Town should have been ahead when Lewie Coyle raced down the right before whipping the ball into Madden, but the Irishman’s leaping header was just wide of Raya’s post.
Once again there was another chance for Fleetwood as Glendon curled one in towards Wes Burns, who couldn’t quite connect at full stretch.
Town were starting to dominate when Dempsey fired his free kick at Raya, but the game was still hanging in the balance with 20 minutes remaining.
Hunter was brought on by Rosler in an attempt to change the game, and he had impact almost instantly as he twisted and turned on the edge of the box, before Glendon fired over from distance. It was a vast improvement on Town’s first half showing.
Madden was next to try his luck, as he turned and shot on the edge of the box, but he fired just wide of the mark.
On their second half showing Town did not deserve to lose, but much against the run of play Rovers scored a second with seven minutes remaining. Smallwood received the ball on the edge of the area and fired past Neal with an impressive strike.
It was harsh on Fleetwood, who had had the better of the game in the second period and were very unlucky not to have come away with more.
Fleetwood Town XI: Neal (GK), Coyle, Eastham, Dempsey, Burns, (Hunter), Bolger ©, Diagouraga, Madden, Jones, Schwabl (Glendon), Cole (McAleny).
Subs not used: Cairns (GK), Pond, Hiwula, Rodgers.
Blackburn Rovers XI: Raya (GK), Nyambe, Williams, Smallwood, Samuel (Nuttall), Graham (Payne), Mulgrew ©, Dack, Downing, Bennett, Conway (Armstrong).
Subs not used: Leutwiler (GK), Ward, Caddis, Travis.
Referee: Mr A Woolmer