MATCH REPORT: Walsall 4 Fleetwood 2

Fleetwood Town striker Ash Hunter returned to the starting line-up at Walsall.
Fleetwood Town striker Ash Hunter returned to the starting line-up at Walsall.

Walsall were there for the taking but Fleetwood Town failed to slay a wounded beast and were left licking their own wounds.

Walsall were there for the taking but Fleetwood Town failed to slay a wounded beast and were left licking their own wounds.
Walsall had not won at home since September and after Town had fought back to make it 2-2 and boos and chants of ‘Whitney out’ rang round after manager Jon had withdrawn one of their goalscorers Zeli Ismail it looked like a rampant Town with wing wizards Devante Cole and Wes Burns off the bench and roaring at full flight would cruise on.
But despite fielding three strikers and breaking a two-game goal-scoring drought Fleetwood let Walsall off the hook, and gave under pressure boss Whitney some more breathing time as they switched off late on to leak in two goals and leave Uwe Rosler with some work to do before Saturday’s big derby day at home to Blackpool.
The Fleetwood boss made three changes to the side that drew 0-0 with Doncaster with Ash Hunter, Godswill Ekpolo and Markus Schwabl in for Devante Cole, Wes Burns and George Glendon who all moved to the bench.
Burns had been man of the match for Town against Doncaster, but with three games in the space of eight days and numerous minutes of football under his belt in recent weeks he was rested. Godswill was given the go ahead to replace Lewie Coyle, who served the final game of his three-match suspension and he was certainly in the action in the first 45.
It was a lively start by Fleetwood, with Kyle Dempsey once again at the forefront of all of Town’s good attacking play as, unlike MK Dons and Doncaster, Walsall did not match Town’s midfield three, allowing O’Neill and Dempsey time and space on the ball to exploit the gaps between defence and attack.
And Town took the lead through some good play on that flank as Dempsey’s precision pass from deep found the run of Godswill, his cross was diverted towards goal by O’Neill. Keeper Roberts fumbled the ball into the path of Hiwula, who made no mistake from six yards in the 21st minute.
But after a starring role in the opening goal, Godswill made a mistake at the other end, giving the ball away to Morris who stole in on the left with Erhun Oztumer sweeping home from close range to make it 1-1 in the 25th minute.
Hiwula had a first-time strike batted away as Town continued to dominate and impress going forward.
Fleetwood should have been 3-1 up with Hiwula and O’Neill both going close but after dominating the opening 40 minutes of the first-half Town were hit with a sucker punch.
Godswill gave a free-kick away in the bottom left corner, and with Town preoccupied with marking a mass of bodies in the box Oztumer slid the ball short to the top of the box for Zeli Ismail to fire home through a crowd of bodies in the 44th minute.
A blast of the hairdryer by Rosler at the break saw a bright start but Fleetwood just could not test Roberts in the opening stages.
It took just 10 minutes for a substitution as Fleetwood switched to 4-3-3 with the introduction of Cole for Cargill.
That substitution was to pay dividends as Cole and Bell linked up on the left flank with Cole racing towards goal.
He had a host of runners to aim at in the six-yard box, with Hunter unmarked, but the striker went for goal number 10 rather than make the unselfish choice to slide in the unmarked Hunter and his effort was batted out for a corner.
Though Town did take the lead from the set-piece, just like Walsall had done in the first half from a free-kick Town played a corner straight off the training pitch, with O’Neill sliding the ball to Bell at the top of the box and his right footed strike flew through a crowd of bodies to level in the 61st minute.
Rosler made changes throwing Burns and Glendon on for Hunter and Schwabl and both made an impact as Town continued to control the game, though sloppy passes in the middle of the park were still causing Town problems as they shot themselves in their own foot. Even the normally accurate Dempsey lost the ball as the game drew to a close.
Ismail was brought off to boos, not because of his performance but because oe the decision of the manager John Whitney and in a hostile home atmosphere it looked like Town could take advantage of the snarls and go on and win the game.
But it was Walsall with the best chance despite chants of “Whitney out” as Morris’ long range effort was tipped over by Cairns.
It was all Fleetwood in the dying stages with Burns playing well on the wing once again. Burns and O’Neill linked up on the right after good work by Glendon in the middle but O’Neill’s eventual effort was blocked.
Walsall showed a hint of what was to come as Whitney’s players stood up to be counted for their manager to tame the tide of the home faithful’s frustration with Morris going close again.
The hosts had not won in the league since September but they gave late goal kings Fleetwood a taste of their own medicine.
After O’Neill had needlessly lost the ball in the middle of the park, Walsall broke and Tyler Roberts’ curling effort outfoxed all to fly into the top right corner past Cairns, who perhaps could have done better.
It went from bad to worse for Fleetwood as Roberts turned provider to feed Agyei with a neat one-two and he rifled the ball home to kill Town off in a game that they certainly didn’t deserve to lose.

Walsall: L Roberts, Leahy, Guthrie, Chambers, Oztumer (Agyei, 83) Morris, Kinsella, T Roberts (Donnellan, 92), Ismail (Flanagan, 64), Bakayoko, K Roberts . Subs: Gillespie, Devlin, Jackson, Kouhyar, Agyei.

Fleetwood: Cairns, Eastham, Bolger, Cargill (Cole, 56), Ekpolo, Dempsey, Schwabl (Glendon, 65), O'Neill, Hiwula, Hunter (Burns, 65). Subs not used: Neal, Maguire, Nadesan, Sowerby.
Referee: Darren Handley

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