Holt 77, Hunter 80
IN A TOWN famous for the production of Fisherman’s Friend lozenges, Fleetwood struck twice late on to leave a bitter taste in the Pilgrims’ mouth.
In a game of very few clear-cut opportunities, in horrendous howling winds, Jason Holt broke the deadlock on 77 minutes with a far-post tap-in, before substitute Ashley Hunter killed the game off moments later, capitalising on the space left by Argyle’s search for an equaliser.
After climbing to the dizzying heights of 12th in midweek, Pilgrims manager Derek Adams chose to select an unchanged starting eleven. The bench would likely have remained untouched too, but for the withdrawal of the versatile Oscar Threlkeld, who suffered a knock in training on Friday which left him unable to travel. As a result, Scott Wootton hopped on the team bus to Lancashire.
The Greens’ hosts, managed by the inimitable character of Joey Barton, had still not given up hope of a late play-off charge, and made two changes from their 2-1 defeat to fellow play-off chasers Coventry in midweek. Jack Sowerby and Ryan Rydel replaced Ashley Nadesan and Nathan Sheron, with Rydel becoming the Cod Army’s youngest-ever EFL starting player in the process.
The weather on the Fylde coast, coupled with the low-lying Highbury Stadium roof and a weather front approaching from the adjacent coastline, was always going to be difficult to play football for the purists, which was not optimal for two sides who like to get the ball down and play. With winds approaching 80 miles-per-hour at stages, it was to be a game of ‘blood and snotters’, as a legendary former Argyle manager might say.
In increasingly difficult conditions, it was the hosts who came closest early on. Paddy Madden, who netted at Home Park earlier in the season, capitalised on Niall Canavan’s poor footing to steal in and drive a low shot across goal. Matt Macey got down well to tip it wide.
The hosts’ dangerous start continued, and only brave blocks from Niall Canavan and the flying Joe Riley denied the Cod Army an early goal. The conditions were perhaps epitomised by the delay before Fleetwood could take the resultant corner, with Sowerby unable to stop the ball rolling away long enough to kick it.
Argyle weren’t on the Fylde coast just to get wet, though, and the Greens responded through pot-shots from Freddie Ladapo and Graham Carey, before a lovely move involving Riley, Carey and finally Sarcevic saw the former Fleetwood midfielder’s effort charged down at the last.
As half-time drew near, it felt as though, despite no shortage of effort from both sides, the weather was the only effective element on display. In a game that was always going to be more about adapting to the conditions and desire to win the individual battles, it’s perhaps no surprise that Ryan Edwards was the Pilgrims’ best in the opening 45, rising highest in the box on numerous occasions to snuff out danger. As referee John Busby blew his whistle for the half, you could almost sense both teams’ palpable relief at the opportunity for some respite.
Argyle began the second-half well, and a right-wing move almost found Ladapo, via a ricochet, with an opportunity from six-yards out. Moments later, an almost mirror-image attack down Fleetwood’s left saw Madden clip an aimless effort over Macey’s bar.
The Pilgrims, looking to crucially break the deadlock, tested Town’s defensive resolve with a couple of Carey set-plays shortly after, and only a timely block from Ladapo’s near-post effort kept the scoreline blank. The Greens pushed on, unperturbed, and a probing through ball from Yann Songo’o sent Carey in behind, but his pull-back was intercepted at the feet of Ladapo once more.
With the game becoming stretched, Fleetwood broke back and perhaps should have had the lead. Madden’s mazy run down the left distracted enough attention way from Wes Burns to leave the wide man in ample space on the edge of the area, but having received the ball in space, Burns spurned his opportunity by firing straight down the throat of Macey. Ched Evans followed shortly after with an attempt into the side netting.
Sensing the game was stretched, Adams opted to introduce the calming influence of Jamie Ness for Songo’o, with half an hour left to play. Ryan Taylor also replaced Lameiras, as the Greens looked to force the issue with a more direct approach in howling northern winds.
Despite their territorial dominance in the moments prior, Argyle fell behind on 77 minutes. Finally springing the Greens’ offside trap, Madden raced inside the box to the right by-line, before laying the ball to the far post, where Jason Holt arrived to tap home. It proved to be Madden’s final involvement, before his replacement, Ashley Hunter, doubled the hosts’ advantage on 80 minutes with his first touch, as Argyle opened up to seek a leveler.
With the minutes ticking down, Nadesan came within a few inches of adding a third that would have been pretty harsh on Argyle, driving wide from a narrow angle in stoppage time.
Fleetwood (4-3-3): 1 Alex Cairns (GK), 2 Lewie Coyle, 12 Harry Souttar, 5 Ashley Eastham, 35 Ryan Rydel (26 James Husband 66), 4 Jason Holt, 23 Ross Wallace (22 Ashley Hunter 78), 28 Jack Sowerby, 7 Wes Burns, 17 Paddy Madden (24 Ashley Nadesan 78), 9 Ched Evans (capt). Substitutes (not used): 16 Paul Jones (GK), 27 Harrison Biggins, 29 Nathan Sheron, 30 Barry Baggley
Booked: Holt 52
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 1 Matt Macey (GK), 2 Joe Riley, 5 Ryan Edwards, 14 Niall Canavan, , 3 Gary Sawyer (capt), 4 Yann Songo’o (6 Jamie Ness 60), 8 David Fox (20 Lloyd Jones 89), 7 Antoni Sarcevic, 10 Graham Carey, 11 Ruben Lameiras (9 Ryan Taylor 70), 19 Freddie Ladapo. Substitutes (not used): 31 Michael Cooper (GK), 13 Paul Anderson, 23 Ashley Smith-Brown, 25 Scott Wootton.
Referee: John Busby
Attendance: 2,711 (343 away)