Fleetwood Town 1
FLEETWOOD Town are in the play-offs and three games away from the Football League.
It was fitting that this high point in the club’s history was achieved in front of the similarly magnificent new Parkside Stand at Highbury, and the goalscorer was just as appropriate.
Magno Vieira’s goals have done so much to keep Town in the upper echelons of non-league’s elite division throughout their first ever campaign at this level, and it was the Brazilian’s 22nd of the season which proved decisive in first-half stoppage time at Highbury yesterday.
Despite feeling “weak and short of energy” throughout the game, after an illness which forced him to miss Friday’s defeat at Kidderminster, Vieira was sharpness personifed as he raced on to Sean Gregan’s knockdown from an Anthony Barry free-kick to beat Barrow keeper Clark Masters from around 12 yards.
It ultimately triggered a celebration party for the Cod Army packed into Highbury, one which had seemed so unlikely at the start of the Easter weekend, when that Kidderminster setback looked sure to extend the play-off race until next Saturday’s final round of fixtures.
But York’s loss at Darlington on Saturday and Kidderminster’s dramatic defeat at Rushden yesterday have guaranteed Micky Mellon’s side a crack at a second successive play-off triumph.
The narrowness of Town’s lead kept everyone on tenterhooks as glorious chances were somehow squandered at both ends, and not even the final whistle could ease the tenson. Kidderminster had equalised with five minutes remaining at Rushden only for Ryan Charles to dash their play-off dream with a 90th minute strike.
Town made two changes, with Peter Cavanagh stepping in at right-back after Shaun Beeley picked up a toe injury in training over the weekend.
Vieira’s speedy recovery was most timely, with George Donnelly suspended after his double yellow card at Aggborough.
The one surprise was that an open game packed with chances failed to produce more goals. The Cumbrians were equally anxious for the points to ease their relegation plight, but neither side played it remotely tight.
The first chance of note on 11 minutes was an excellent one, and went Barrow’s way as Paul Smith broke dangerously down the right for an unmarked Richie Baker to head wastefully over from five yards just beyond the far post.
Town’s first mena-cing move came four minutes later, when Gareth Seddon seized on Steve McNulty’s long ball and crossed to the far post, where the ball was cleared for a corner as Sean Clancy raced in
Baker hadn’t bro-ught his shooting boots and fired well over on 24 minutes, though four minutes later Town failed to convert a more inviting opportunity.
The move began, as so many of Town’s best do, with a perceptive through ball by skipper McNulty to Vieira, who played Jamie McGuire in on the right of the penalty area.
The midfielder’s shot struck the near post and cannoned inside to present the onrushing Clancy with an open goal, but he failed to make clean contact and the ball was cleared for a corner. Cavanagh was shown the game’s first yellow card on 33 minutes for a sliding challenge on Paul Rutherford who almost took devastating revenge six minutes later.
Town lost possession in midfield, and Rutherford was released in space down the left of the penalty area. His curling shot from 12 yards beat Danny Hurst but rebounded off the post. Town’s clearance produced a corner and more Barrow pressure, which was relieved by another wayward Baker strike.
The closing moments of the half brought a flurry of Town chances and finally a breakthrough goal.
Seddon did well to get his 43rd minute cross over from the left and Mullan’s header was tipped around the post by a full-stretch Masters.
Sean Gregan’s header from the resulting corner was not far wide and seconds later a good passing moved ended with Clancy failing to connect with McGuire’s cross.
But as the one minute of stoppage time ran its course, Darren Sheridan was booked for a foul on Barry, who made Barrow pay with the free-kick from which Vieira struck. The half-time whistle immediately followed amid minor scuffling as Barrow protested that Gregan had held down Sheridan to win the vital nod-down.
Vieira had an excellent chance to double his tally as he raced clear of the defence within seconds of the restart but he shot straight at Masters from just inside the area.
McGuire lost possession at the other end, resulting in a snapshot by Andy Cook which Hurst saved well diving to his left. The resulting corner was fired to the edge of the area and met with a bullet volley by Smith which deflected wide.
The outstanding Seddon’s excellent ball released Mullan in the 54th minute, only for a perfectly timed tackle by former Seasiders left-back Paul Edwards to deny him a shooting chance.
It took an assistant’s flag to save Barrow four minutes later as Seddon finished clinically but was deemed offside when he took Clancy’s pass.
Baker was again wastefully off-target with a central free-kick just outside the box on 64 minutes
Hurst’s quick throw two minutes later launched a Fleetwood attack and Masters did well to get solidly behind Brown’s low shot from outside the box.
With no thoughts of holding out for the tense final ten minutes, Town introduced Keigan Parker to freshen up their attack.
The ex-Seasiders striker was immediately involved, releasing Seddon down the left to deliver a cross from which the luckless Clancy’s shot was blocked.
Baker’s heading proved more accurate than his shooting but Hurst got well behind his 83rd-minute effort from Simon Spender’s cross, which proved Barrow’s final chance
Shots by Parker and Seddon didn’t trouble Masters but helped Town see out the final moments comfortably before their party could begin.
On this evidence Barrow don’t deserve to drop, and yesterday’s results mean they most probably won’t.
Fleetwood: Hurst, Cavanagh, Gregan, McNulty (c), Brown, Mullan, Barry, McGuire, Mullan, Clancy (Wright 89), Vieira (Parker 80), Seddon; not used: Davies, Harvey, Rowe
Barrow: Masters, Spender, Edwards, Pearson, Bolland (c), Smith (Nicholls 90), Sheridan, Owen (Chadwick 80), Cook, Baker, Rutherford; not used: Pearson, Goodfellow
Ref: D. Mohareb; Att: 2,788