Fleetwood Town come from behind to beat a spirited Rochdale side 3-2 at Crown Oil Arena on Boxing Day.
In an end-to-end match, Aaron Wilbraham headed Rochdale in front five minutes before the break, with Paddy Madden scoring from close range after Ched Evans’ header was saved by Robert Sanchez.
Wilbraham netted once more for the hosts with immediate effect, with goals from two substitutes, Kyle Dempsey and Wes Burns completing the comeback with two instinctive shots deep inside Rochdale's half.
The Cod Army then survived 13 minutes of added time, to move just three points off the automatic promotion spots in League One.
With a slow start to the game, the first real opportunity came from a Fleetwood set-piece. Paul Coutts’ free-kick to the left of goal was cleared off the line, with Harrison Biggins having a punt from range, only to see his shot blocked.
After a quiet ten minutes, one chance fell for each team and it was Danny Andrew who had a sight of goal and struck one from outside of the area, but his drive was well blocked by Eoghan O’Connell. Then, as Rochdale countered on halfway, Matthew Done had his own effort blocked by former Dale man Ashley Eastham.
Just before half an hour had passed, Fleetwood moved forward again with force, and this time it was Biggins who had a chance to shoot from distance, but his low effort was dragged wide.
With five minutes to go until the break, the hosts took the lead. You’d have to say slightly against the run of play, but Wilbraham was the man to head home at the near post despite Billy Crellin getting a hand to the effort.
The second half saw Fleetwood start brightly, and when Andrew found the on running Evans, his looping header bounced off the bar – with Robert Sanchez letting it drop right under his own eyes.
Town never gave up and that pressure eventually paid off. Madden converted from close range after Evans’ header was saved, and the Irishman didn’t disappoint to put the score line level, and to net his 17th of the season.
The home side replied almost instantly! After a cross wasn’t dealt with from Town's back line, Wilbraham lurked at the far post and hit his effort first team, whilst also beating Crellin at his near post.
In an pulsating second half, the Cod Army levelled once again just a minutes later. Dempsey - who had just been brought on off the bench - made sure that his impact was noticed as he fired in the equaliser from distance.
Two minutes later, Town could have taken the lead for the first time. Burns floated a cross into the area with Sanchez flapping at the ball, but the visitors didn’t capitalise on the mistake from the Spanish keeper.
Then, it was the home side who had a chance to go in front again! With Crellin under pressure, he managed to tipped over an impressive effort from Kwadwo Baah - which looked goal bound.
With a long stoppage of play due to what looked to be a serious injury to Rhys Norrington Davies, it meant the hosts were down to ten men and had to do that for 15 minutes, 13 of those being added on time.
After the stoppage, Town completed the comeback! Burns was alert in the penalty area after it pinballed around, and made it count with his first league goal of the campaign.
With the clock well into the 13 minutes added on, Crellin made a smart save before Harry Souttar managed to get across to block the shot! It was eventually punted upfield away from danger.
Barton’s side managed the remaining time well and kept knocking the ball around with confidence, which resulted in his team picking up only their third league away win of the season.
The result on Boxing Day means that Town have ended the year away from home in style, and now look forward to two important matches back at Highbury with Bristol Rovers and Sunderland the visitors to the Fylde Coast.
Town XI: Crellin (GK), Coyle, Andrew, Eastham, Souttar, Evans, Morris (McAleny 74’), Coutts (C), Madden, Biggins (Burns 64’), Sowerby (Dempsey 64’).
Subs not used: Cairns (GK), Clarke, Saunders, Hill.
Rochdale XI: Sanchez (GK), Norrington-Davies, O’Connell, Dooley (Andrew 78’), Williams, Camps (C), Keohane, Done (Baah 66’), Wilbraham, Ryan (Rathbone 62’), Matheson.
Subs not used: Lynch (GK), Maglorie, Gillam, Tavares.