MATCH REPORT: Walsall 3 Fleetwood 1

Fleetwood Town's Wes Burns  Photographer Chris Vaughan/CameraSport  Football -
Fleetwood Town's Wes Burns Photographer Chris Vaughan/CameraSport Football -

It was a record breaking performance for Fleetwood captain Nathan Pond but a display Town and the 204 travelling supporters will want to forget as they lost 3-1 to high flying Walsall at the Banks’s Stadium.

Pond beat 1950’s centre-back Jack Ainscough’s club appearance record by playing his 422nd game for the club but despite the momentous day for the defender Town did not rise to the occasion.

Fleetwood never recovered from a rocky opening 20 minutes that saw an electric Walsall side race into an early two goal lead.

The clinical Tom Bradshaw popped up in the second minute with a neat first-time finish that flew past the helpless Chris Maxwell and into the back of the net.

Walsall, who still have a chance to break into the top two and nab an automatic promotion spot, out pressed, passed and bullied Town in that opening spell and Paul Downing made it two in the 18th minute as he lost his marker and volleyed home Anthony Forde’s corner from six-yards out.

Town never recovered from the double blow and despite a better start to the second half Steven Pressley’s men found themselves 3-0 down in the 58th minute.

Romaine Sawyers found space just outside the box and his low effort flew into the bottom right corner.

Pressley responded by brining Devante Cole on and the striker pulled a goal back with a sweet curling effort in the 84th minute.

But it was all too little too late as Fleetwood missed out on ending their relegation battle and will now have to wait until Sunday to find out their fate.

Town did have a chance to beat the drop if they had picked up a point or all three at the Banks’s Stadium after Blackpool and Doncaster Rovers both lost on Saturday.

But it was not to be and now with two places in the drop zone still to be decided with just Fleetwood, Blackpool and Doncaster in line to fill them it will go to the wire.

Fortunately for Town, despite what boss Pressley described as a ‘disappointing’ and ‘inept’ performance, they are still two points above Blackpool and three above Rovers so a point on the final day against an already relegated Crewe side will still ensure they are playing League One football.

Town hot-shot Wes Burns missed the game after picking up a hamstring injury during training.

With Burns missing Pressley brought David Ball into the starting XI and dropped Bobby Grant to the bench with Nick Haughton returning to the starting line-up after netting four times for the development squad in midweek.

Ball and Haughton played in a front two with on-loan Sheffield United player Stefan Scougall playing just behind in a 4-3-1-2 formation but they barely got a sniff in the first 45.

It was the worst possible start for Fleetwood as right back Jason Demetriou whipped the ball in from the right flank to Welsh striker Bradshaw in space in the box and his first time effort sailed sweetly over his fellow countryman Maxwell.

Town were shell shocked by the early goal and Demetriou tried his luck from distance in the sixth minute but his fierce effort just fizzed past the left post.

Bradshaw for once wasted an opportunity in front of goal as he nodded the ball straight down the throat of Maxwell and he smashed another effort wide after finding space on the right of the box in the 14th minute as Walsall dominated.

And it went from bad to worse for Town in the 18th minute as Downing popped up at the near post to divert Forde’s corner in with a first time touch.

Haughton summed up Fleetwood’s performance in the opening stages, as from their first meaningful attack he slipped on the sodden turf just as he pulled the trigger and so his effort trickled through to Etheridge in the pouring rain.

Haughton tried his luck from outside the box but his curling effort flew straight into Etheridge’s arms moments later.

The effort sparked a chant of ‘we’ve had a shot’ from the Fleetwood fans behind the goal and Town did spring to life soon after.

Amari’i Bell’s left-footed strike from just inside the box was tipped round the left post by a diving Etheridge and from the subsequent set-piece the ball fell to Jimmy Ryan at the top of the box but his thunderous effort flew the wrong side of the box and broke a chunk off one of the plastic seats behind the goal.

Ryan felled Sawyers and after a bit of handbags between the two Forde eventually struck the 25-yard set-piece, it took a big deflection off the wall and forced Maxwell to leap across his goal and make a fine one-handed save to tip it out.

As the half drew to a close defender Stephen Jordan challenged Etheridge for the ball in the box and ended up receiving treatment from the physio and limping off.

Jordan was fit enough to return to the pitch in the second half but he was unable to carry on and Pressley was forced to take him off and bring Nilsson on in the 48th minute.

Town had made a bright start to the second 45 and Sarcevic nodded Ball’s cross straight at Etheridge and Haughton acrobatically fired the ball straight at the keeper moments later.

Despite Town’s good start they could not find that all important clinical touch in the final third or create enough opportunities as the forwards lacked service as Town failed to break down a highly organised and strong Walsall outfit.

And they were punished by Sawyers who slid the ball into the bottom corner from just outside the box in the 58th minute.

Pressley responded by bringing off Jonsson and throwing striker Cole into the mix.

But it was Walsall who continued to push forward and Bradshaw was denied a second by Maxwell’s leg as the keeper made a fine instinctive save to stop the striker converting a corner from just six-yards out.

Scougall whipped in a corner from the left and Ball nodded the ball wide of the left stick flying in at the near post in the 71st minute.

Cole’s ball into the box was spilled by Etheridge and he just managed to recover and reclaim the ball with Haughton hovering.

Nilsson made a vital interception to just nick the ball away from the hovering Bradshaw’s toes in the box and Fleetwood just managed to clear the subsequent corner.

Fleetwood had missed the pace of Burns throughout the game and their final pass in the final third was often their downfall.

But they finally hit back in the 84th minute as Cole scored his first goal for the club.

The striker found space just outside the box and sweetly curled the ball into the bottom right corner.

The hard-working Ball tried the spectacular from distance as the click ticked towards the 90th minute but his neat chip was just tipped away by a diving Etheridge.

And from the subsequent corner Haughton’s cross was nodded straight at the keeper by McLaughlin.

Fleetwood: Maxwell, McLaughlin, Pond, Jordan (Nilsson, 48), Bell, Jonsson (Cole, 58), Sarcevic, Ryan (Nirennold, 61), Scougall, Haughton, Ball. Subs not used: Gogic, B Grant, Nilsson, Hunter, Ameobi,

Walsall: Etheridge, Demetriou, O’Connor, Downing, Chambers, Bradshaw, Sawyers (Cook, 84), Forde, Henry, Lalkovic (Hiwula, 72), Morris (Mantom, 64). Subs not used: MacGillivray, Taylor, Preston, Kinsella.

Tim Robinson (West Sussex)

Attendance: 6628 (Away 204)