Fleetwood Town 1 Burton Albion 0: Verdict
The coldest I had ever been at a football ground was at Accrington Stanley in August.
Preston North End’s home clash against Rotherham United in the 2015-16 season is up there too.This weekend was another level; plummeting temperatures, sleet, rain, swirling winds – it was a struggle in the press box, never mind on the pitch.So if we were that cold just imagine what it was like for the players in the thick of that sea breeze.It may not have been electric, front foot football like that witnessed at Doncaster Rovers and Scunthorpe United but something else was seen that will stand Town in better stead; a steely, gritty, performance from all of their men.It would have been easy given the conditions to hide and not respond to that 2-0 defeat at Luton Town but everyone stood up to be counted.It shows that this team does have the magic ingredient you cannot bottle. A mix of fight and spirit. It was another big day for Town’s defence after Joey Barton made three changes and scrapped a back three that he initially deployed at Luton.With skipper Craig Morgan out, Nathan Sheron moved position once again to partner Ash Eastham.The combination of ‘Mr Consistent’ and ‘Mr Versatile’ was a risk with Cian Bolger left warming the bench.Bolger, Morgan and Eastham have made errors that have cost goals this season, and with the skipper scoring an own goal last week, it seemed Barton would have another decision to make at the back.He did – due to injury – but perhaps this could be the central defensive platform to build on.Eastham thrives under the captaincy, his leadership vital.Yes, it was not perfect or pretty, and the wind – especially in the first half – saw Fleetwood struggle to pass it around at the back.As soon as an Alex Cairns kick out spun in the air and went back towards goal, the message was sent.But it took some a while to take that on board with Ash Hunter nearly diverting the ball into his own net.That was all that Burton really mustered in attack in the first half.The way the ball was swirling through the air, you’d have expected Albion to be trying their luck from distance, seeing what the elements could do with the ball’s flight.They didn’t.In fact it was Fleetwood kicking themselves that they were not a goal up at the break.They kept it simple; with the wind against them they had the ball on the deck and tried to utilise the wings.They just could not find that final ball until Conor McAleny got in on the right.He tricked his way into the box and pulled the ball back for Madden.You’d have expected the Irishman to have been wheeling away and pointing to the heavens nine times out of 10 but this time he could not find a way past Bradley Collins.Ched Evans also saw a penalty claim waved away in that first half but he’d get his spot-kick in the second half.He was ruled to have been impeded by half-time substitute Jake Buxton and the result of the penalty was never in doubt.The Sheffield United loanee had targeted 10 goals by Christmas and slid home his eighth with aplomb.The key to Town’s fortunes this season is keeping Madden and Evans together on the pitch.While Evans has struggled with shoulder issues, he was at the heart of the battle in both attack and defence to ensure the three points.If you wanted to question Fleetwood’s spirit then this would have been the time as with them leading 1-0 in the 51st minute, it sparked a revival from their visitors.Substitute Marcus Harness lit up the right flank and made mincemeat of stand-in left-back Ross Wallace.Cairns was up to the test, however, making saves from The shot-stopper made saves from Jamie Allen and William Miller to ensure his clean sheet, continuing to show why Barton dubbed him the best in the division.It would have been easy to buckle in the conditions but Town showed they are learning.Hunter went for the spectacular, his effort from distance batted away by Collins, and then, on the stroke of 90 minutes, Madden went for it too with his looping chip just hitting the top of the net.Dean Marney did put the ball away but saw it chalked off for offside and, after absorbing Burton’s pressure, Town once again showed their game management skills.A shift in formation saw Harrison Biggins enter the fray as Fleetwood shifted to 4-3-3.Hunter then limped off with cramp as Kyle Dempsey entered the fray, a week after being criticised for not being ready to come on at Kenilworth Road.A two-minute delay for him to come on for the injured Husband saw Luton open the scoring on their way to three points.But Dempsey did his talking on the pitch.His boss has wanted more attacking insight and, fresh from scoring for the development squad in midweek, he was nearly sent clean through on goal.Evans’ delightful ball up released the midfielder but he miscontrolled as he could have raced towards Collins.It was a bright cameo nevertheless, and though it was a wet and miserable day, something shone bright on that pitch at Highbury: Fleetwood Town’s spirit.