Graham Alexander hailed an ‘out of this world’ strike as Fleetwood moved to within 180 minutes of Wembley.
Town will face Chesterfield over two legs in the northern final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, having claimed their fourth League One scalp of the campaign – Steve Evans’ Rotherham United beaten 2-1 in last night’s Highbury semi.
Conor McLaughlin’s stunning 25-yard curler, his first ever goal for Fleetwood Town, sealed the win, Jeff Hughes having grabbed the lead for Fleetwood before Nouha Dicko levelled for the Millers.
Alexander was delighted to beat another team from a level above and stunned by the full- back’s winner.
He said: “I think the lads have really responded to the challenge of playing clubs from the higher division. It was a tough game.
“They equalised after a good spell of pressure but I thought the response from the team to that was fantastic.
“It would have been easy for it to be a negative one, having given away the lead in the last two games.
“But I thought their goal galvanised us.
“We had to defend, which you have to do against good teams.
“But we created chances ourselves and the winning goal was out of this world.”
The two managers had to be seperated by stewards after the final whistle after words were exchanged during their handshake.
It was an ugly end to an exciting evening and Alexander chose to focus on the football played by Evans’ team rather than the Millers manager’s response to the defeat.
“They were a good team, “ he said.
“They have good players, they have big players.
“They get the ball forward quickly and they ask you questions.
“We got a fortunate goal but I encouraged the lads to shoot as often as possible in the final third.
“They did that.
“We knew there’d be a response at half time and the lads would have to deal with it.
“They did that.
“They scored a goal and it’s a question of our team’s mentality.
“But they answered it in every way they could and some of the quality on show was great.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the team.”
And Alexander hopes his hero of the evening will take a big confidence boost from his stunning winner.
McLaughlin has only recently cemented his starting place at Fleetwood, but Alexander believes his former Preston team-mate has a huge amount more to offer.
“It was a fantastic strike,” he admitted.
“It’s one of those where you’re feeling good about yourself, you go forward a little bit, it opens up and you think, why not?
“He’s got good feet has Conor.
“He’s still improving, he’s had a stop-start career so far with injury and so-forth.
“But it’s up to him where he wants to go because he’s got great feet and if he keeps that aggressive defending side to his game he’ll be a very good full back.
“The strike was fantastic, we were right behind it.
“You could see it was on target, it was just whether it was going to beat the keeper but in the end it’s done him for pace.
“It was a great goal to win a game.
“Its a great reward for him.
“Full backs don’t get a lot of time in the spotlight, unless they score, I should know.”
Town are now just 180 minutes from a major Wembley final.
While Alexander admitted it was an exciting prospect for both players and supporters, he knows there’s a tough two leg regional final to get through first, not to mention a run of crucial league fixtures.
“It’s great for the club,” he said.
“It’s a great competition, it’s a fantastic competition.
“It’s a great chance for the players to get to Wembley as well as the fans.
“But we can’t get carried away, we know we’ve got two tough games against Chesterfield who are a very good team as well.
“They will have the same aspirations as us.
“When it comes around we’ll focus on that but there’s some big games before that and we have to concentrate on them first.”
Town return to League Two action at Rochdale on Saturday before travelling to Burton Albion on Tuesday for an FA Cup Second Round replay.