Fleetwood Town fought back after going behind in the first half, but it wasn’t quite enough as they narrowly lost 3-2 to Oxford United at Highbury on Good Friday.
It was a disastrous start to the game for the Cods as they conceded three goals in the opening 15 minutes, with Nathan Holland, Cameron Brannagan, and Billy Bodin all getting on the score sheet, but Town fought back, making it a nervy end for the Yellows.
Ellis Harrison found himself stood over a penalty just before the break, which he slotted away, before Cian Hayes was able to bring it back to 3-2 as he struck into an empty net. Harvey Macadam came close to levelling it up as his effort was cleared off the line, with Oxford holding on until the final whistle.
The visitors took the lead with the first chance of the game as Bodin crossed the ball into the Town box, towards Brannagan, who played it to the incoming Holland, who struck across Kieran O’Hara and into the bottom right.
Oxford didn’t let off the gas there as they managed to add another two to their tally before the 16-minute mark. Brannagan, who was at the heart of the action in the opening stages, played a one-two before cutting onto his right foot and drilling it into the far corner. He then played the role of assister as he crossed the ball into Bodin, who nodded into the back of the net.
There was work to do after the opening quarter of an hour and Town started to come back into the game, finding their feet by working the ball well in the middle of the park.
A chance couple of chances came from this run of form as Callum Camps stood over a free-kick, 20 yards out, which struck the crossbar at a thunderous pace, with Ellis Harrison driving down the right, firing the wrong side of the far post soon after.
Town rounded out the half the better side after a penalty decision went the way of the Cods. Harrison struck the ball, after taking the ball down, with his effort hitting the hand of a defender. Fleetwood’s number nine then stepped up to the spot and hit home to make it 3-1.
Hayes came alive just before the break as he tried an audacious effort after Jack Stevens had to come out of his goal and head the ball away, stopping Harrison from getting through with a counter attack. The young winger picked the ball up 35 yards out and tried to chip the ‘keeper, but his effort went high and wide.
The final chance of the half fell to Oxford though as Taylor found his way through the Fleetwood backline, but O’Hara was more than a match for the shot, as he pulled off a brilliant save from close range.
It was a fast start to the second half as both sides worked chances in the opening two minutes. Town went first as Tom Clarke played a long ball towards Harrison, who headed the ball brilliantly towards the near post, forcing Stevens into a diving save to tip it around the post.
Seconds later, Oxford went down the other end as the played a low cross from the right into the feet of Taylor, who passed the ball into the net but from an offside position.
This seemed to spur the Cods on as they found a way back into the game as Harrison forces a mistake from Stevens with the ball falling to Hayes on the right, who cleverly slotted the ball into an empty net to make it 3-2 in the 54th minute.
It was almost level a few minutes later as Paddy Lane’s effort from the edge of the box was deflected into the path of Harvey Macadam, who managed to get to the ball before the goalkeeper, and even though he poked the ball towards goal, it was cleared off the line.
The eventful nature of the game continued with 20 minutes to go as Mark Sykes tried to go all by himself to extend Oxford’s lead back to two, but his effort rolled wide of the far post. Soon after, Dan Batty floated a cross into a flurry of Town players, inside the away box, but the eventual shot hit the side netting.
Fleetwood continued to add pressure in the latter stages of the game as in the 75th minute, Hayes did well to work the ball past his marker, with his strike being deflecting to Lane, but his shot is blocked by two defenders.
It was a nervy end as Town did actually have the ball in the back of the net two minutes into injury time as substitute Anthony Pilkington’s effort was deflected into the path of Batty and, even though his effort went into the back of the net, it was flagged offside by the linesman.
Town XI: O’Hara (GK), Jules, Clarke (C), Harrison (J.Garner 90’), Camps, Batty, C.Johnson, Lane (Harrop 80’), Nsiala, Hayes, Macadam (Pilkington 69’).
Unused subs: Donaghy (GK), Butterworth, Baggley, Boyle.
Oxford XI: Stevens (GK), Long, Brown, Moore (C), Brannagan, Taylor, Sykes (Williams 84’), McNally, Bodin (Henry 69’) (McGuane 88’), Kane, Holland (Whyte 59’).
Unused subs: Eastwood (GK), Forde, Seddon.
Attendance: 3586 (730 away).