Magic day but no historic goal

A near miss for Damien Johnson
A near miss for Damien Johnson

This was it – the big one, history in the making.

A more cynical man than me might say this fixture, Fleetwood Town’s first ever in the Football League, could never have lived up to the hype.

And, on the surface at least, it didn’t.

But as ever in football, the scoreline only tells half the story of a day Micky Mellon’s men almost secured a historic victory.

Put it down to nerves, inexperience, pressure, a goalkeeper just having one of ‘those’ days – Town served up everything but that vital goal at a sun-soaked Highbury.

Micky Mellon chose to make one change from the side dispatched from the Capital One Cup by Nottingham Forest, Damien Johnson in for Conor McLoughlin, while late signing Alex Marrow earned a spot on the bench.

Fleetwood made the brighter start and could have made a dream opening to their Football League campaign after just 10 minutes.

And how fitting that the first chance fell to one of the main men of their Conference campaign – Jamie McGuire was in the right place to launch a stinging shot from the edge of the six-yard box, Michael Poke equal to the midfielder’s effort.

But Torquay, League Two play-off semi-finalists last term, were no pushovers and Steve McNulty had to be sharp in Town’s defence to block Ian Morris’ effort from 18 yards.

Mellon has spent big over the summer to plug the gap left by Jamie Vardy and Fleetwood showed their attacking grit just after the quarter hour, a period of sustained pressure only coming to an end when Johnson’s shot was deflected wide.

Targetman Jon Parkin was proving a real danger, not to mention a magnet for Torquay defenders, opening up opportunities for Town inside the Gulls’ box.

Andy Mangan should have made more of the space he was afforded at the back post, blasting his shot over, but still Town were more than holding their own on their Football League debut.

Every now and then, mind you, came a reminder of the need to be clued-up in defence, never more so than when Mangan lost out to Billy Bodin, though keeper Scott Davies on hand to keep Town on level terms.

Fleetwood continued to press and, after half an hour, had a good shout for a penalty when David Ball appeared to be hauled down, referee Chris Sarginson unmoved by the protests or the roar of the Town faithful.

With half-time approaching, the drama took an unexpected twist when a large hole opened up, not in Fleetwood’s oft-fragile defence but in the pitch itself.

For groundsman Dale Frith it must have come as a bit of an embarrassment that the chasm appeared right in front of Mellon’s dugout seat.

With a newly installed drain, rather than rabbits, to blame experts did some gathering, stroking of chins and general tutting before sending for a sticking plaster, in the form of a bucket of soil.

And so it was back to the football action and to the offensive for Fleetwood, Mangan getting the better of Joseph Oastler to feed Parkin in the middle, his missile surely goal-bound had it not taken a cruel deflection.

On the stroke of half-time, Town again created an opportunity to open their League account. Ball’s cross from the right was beyond Jamie McGuire but nobody had picked up Mangan at the back post – the Fleetwood forward, for a second time, was unable to get over his shot which he blazed over the bar.

The second period seemed a more cautious affair at the outset but came alive on the hour mark, when Fleetwood launched another full frontal assault on the Gulls goal.

Town always looked likely to create down the left channel, and so it proved in a 10-minute period of utter domination.

First up with a chance was McGuire, his header from Ball’s cross missing out thanks to another deflection.

Next up for target practice was Junior Brown, the substitute playing in his more natural role as a winger. He got his header on target only to see it blocked by a scrambling Torquay defence.

Then it was the turn of Parkin, with a looping shot which looked to be dipping in, Poke with another fingertip save to keep the visitors on level terms.

Shaun Beeley’s blast from the edge of the box would, on another day, have squirmed into the back of the net but Torquay were showing no signs of cracking as they had done against Leicester City in the cup in midweek.

And, as the fizz went out of Fleetwood’s game, the Devon side looked to capitalise, Scott Davies twice called into action to prevent a late smash and grab.

First the keeper was forced to parry wide Ian Morris’s 22-yard drive. Then, moments later, he was needed to thwart Bodin, Torquay’s most lively attacking threat.

So much so, he could have grabbed an undeserved winner for Torquay with five minutes remaining, his shot narrowly flashing past the post. There was just time for one last Parkin effort – a trademark back-post header – but the deadlock remained unbroken.

Not the win Fleetwood fans craved and the team surely deserved, but the Cod Army will travel to Bradford tomorrow brimming with confidence and believing they are capable of matching anything the Football League can throw at them.

The adventure, after all, has only just begun.

Click here to see Town’s results, upcoming fixtures and their position in the table.