MATCH REPORT: Fleetwood 2 Rotherham 0

Fleetwood Town's Conor McAleny
Fleetwood Town's Conor McAleny

Fleetwood Town’s old number 10 David Ball witnessed the birth of a new Highbury hero as his replacement Conor McAleny made the perfect start by sinking Rotherham.

It wasn’t a case of passing on the baton more a case of McAleny ripping it out of Ball’s grasp and making one hell of a statement - this is my shirt now and I’m here to score goals.

That look of displeasure after he was hauled off four minutes after his second said it all - I wanted a hat-trick.

It was a look the fans loved, the Cod Army welcomed the dawn of a new era by treating their new number 10 to a standing ovation.

The first of many you presume but only if Town can keep the forward fit and as hungry as he was on Saturday.

Rosler explained his reasons for the early withdrawl, stating the bigger picture with a long and arduous season ahead and the need to keep the natural goalscorer fit for the whole term so he can do what he is born to do - score.

And so that Town’s goals do not dry up like they did towards the end of last term with his rotation policy dented by injuries.

Many were concerned about the exit of Ball but the hit-man had a quiet game on his return to the Fylde coast as his old team mates Nathan Pond, Cian Bolger and Ash Eastham kept him at bay.

The stage was set for a goal-den return for Ball but it was the man who has taken his shirt who stole the show and the headlines to fire Rosler’s men up to the top of the League One table.

After that 5-1 final pre-season friendly defeat to Championship side Preston North End and that dismal display in the drizzle at Highbury the fans could be forgiven for having a touch of trepidation going into this opening day.

Gone are experienced pros Conor McLaughlin, Jimmy Ryan and Ball but while their guile and know-how was evidently missing that Friday against North End they certainly where not missed on Saturday and Town’s new heroes took to League One like ducks to water.

New faces, a new 3-4-3 twist on last term’s 3-5-2 wing-back formation but a familiar feeling around Highbury at 5pm.

There is one new thing though, the League table.

McAleny’s slaying of promotion favourites Rotherham fired Town to the top of the League One table.

A message of intent if ever there was one.

It wasn’t a walk in the park for Town, they had to fight and fend off an early challenge from the Millers at the start of both halves but that top six mentality and mean defensive line ensured clean sheet king Alex Cairns started where he left off last term with another blank blueprint, though it was a virtual spectator sport for him as despite their pressure in the final third and the addition of a new-look and Fleetwood grown forward line of Ball and Jamie Proctor, they lacked bite up top as two players who should know all about the swirling winds of this coast were out-muscled and out thought by Town’s back line.

Another new face in Town’s side Jordy Hiwula had the ball in the back of the net but he was flagged offside.

Town were left praising the officials soon after as Will Vaulks’s strike was squeezed under Cairns by Lee Frecklington.

But linesman Barry Gordon lifted his flag and recieved the praise of Uwe Rosler in his post match press for his bravery.

It turned out to be a pivotal moment as Town struck three minutes later.

Dempsey, in a pure central midfield role rather than the right sided berth of last term, pulled the strings as ever.

Ryan was the midfield maestro of seasons past but as McAleny wrenched Ball’s crown off him on the opening day Dempsey showed he is the new midfield king as he turned defence into offence and orchestrated from the middle as Rosler’s fast flowing, counter attacking football returned to roost.

Dempsey’s impact on the team is evident, especially given the murmours of worry in the crowd when the youngster limped after a strong tackle.

Fortunately for all he winced through the pain and shook it off to keep Town ticking in the engine room.

And it was Dempsey who did the damage for the goal.

He drove through the middle and intelligently whipped the ball over to Grant on the right flank.

The striker-turned-midfielder-turned-returning striker pulled the ball back for McAleny who got ahead of his man at the near post to fire home.

After a roaring end to end start the game settled down after the goal but Town should have taken a 2-0 lead in the 37th minute.

This time the flag stayed down as Hiwula latched on to Bolger’s powerful header, O’Donnell got a slither of a touch and that is seems was enough as the forward’s effort clattered into the inside of the post and out.

There was a sense that Town may pay for that missed opportunity, especially with Paul Warne ready to read the riot act at the break.

But it was still Town who had what the Millers lacked, bite up top with McAleny turning provider but Grant ballooned the ball over from close range

Rotherham started the second half strongly as they searched for a leveller but Town always looked a threat on the counter.

They pumped bodies forward but lacked bite and a cutting edge in the final third with former Town hit-man Ball tamely hoofing a trademark curler down Cairns’ throat.

It took a piece of individual brilliance from McAleny to seal the win as after an effort was just diverted away by the Millers he struck from the subsequent throw-in.

Bell threw the ball to the forward and he picked it up before dancing towards the corner of the box, spinning and fizzing the ball into the net.

A fine solo effort, and the sort of individual brilliance that could be the difference between fourth and second come May.

That goal knocked the stuffing out of Rotherham as Town’s defence remained rock solid.

Plenty of positives for the Cod Army to twist and shout about but

Fleetwood: Cairns, Bolger, Pond, Eastham, Coyle, Glendon (O’Neill, 67), Dempsey, Bell, Grant, Hiwula (Hunter, 86), McAleny (Cole, 71). Subs not used: Neal, Burns, Rodgers, Schwabl.

Rotherham: O’Donnell, Emmanuel, Mattock, Vaulks, Ajayi, Forde (Newell, 70), Frecklington, Proctor, Ball (Moore, 67), Taylor (Williams, 83), Ihiekwe. Subs not used: Bilboe, Potter, Purrington, Yates.

Referee: R Lewis.