MATCH REPORT: Fleetwood 0 Bradford 0 (Bradford win 1-0 on aggregate)
Town's Wembley dream might have ended with a whimper rather than a bang but it was a season in which Uwe Rosler's revolution nearly added another chapter to the Fleetwood fairytale.
It was a case of two defences; Bradford’s stubborn one that Town were unable to break down and one momentary lapse in the away leg as Rory McArdle’s header was the only difference over the course of 180 minutes.
Rosler could be critiqued for being too defensive in his game plan; all of the ingredients, tactics and the bodies to make a real go of the final 30 minutes were there but, in the end, it was two games too many.
What has happened this season will be pulled apart and assessed over the summer but the starting XIs struck a chord.
In a Town team with an average age of 24, only one of their starters – David Ball – had competed in a League One play-off clash before; a cameo in Peterborough United’s 3-0 final win over Huddersfield Town in 2011.
In contrast, the average age of Stuart McCall’s side was 27 in a team with only Charlie Wyke and man of the match Mark Marshall who had never been in a play-off before.
Unfortunately, a team hampered by injuries in the last couple of months – and one that found ways to bounce back from the dead – could not muster one last revival as the season trudged to a halt.
Cian Bolger, who was badly missed at Valley Parade, fought through the pain barrier as he came in for Nathan Pond.
Rosler made two further changes from the first leg as Markus Schwabl and Devante Cole were replaced by George Glendon and Ash Hunter.
It was a war of attrition in the first half and a battle of two strong defences.
Bradford were the keener to attack and should have built on their one-goal advantage from the first leg.
Marshall’s neat chip in found Wyke unmarked at the back post but he could only nod the ball onto the upright from close range.
Fleetwood bided their time with some controlled, but unrisky, attacking play in the opening 45 minutes as Rosler tried to get to the break unscathed and still in the tie.
Town’s best chance came asthe half drew to the close with Glendon’s inswinging set-piece finding Bolger, but his flick-on was nodded straight at Colin Doyle by Ash Hunter.
Town’s target had been achieved as they reached the interval a goal down overall, and while the first half was a defensive spectacle, the second came to life from the off.
Marshall was lively throughout the first half and he kept the heat on Fleetwood in the second, driving inside and firing straight at Cairns from the angle.
Bolger was tumbled at the other end but the man in black, David Coote, failed to point to the spot.
Hunter’s effort was blocked before Rosler switched his favoured 3-5-2 shape to a new 4-2-3-1 with Ball sitting just behind Devante Cole with Hunter and Amari’i Bell on the flanks.
When that failed to break through Bradford’s resolute defence Rosler threw on Cameron Brannagan and moved Bobby Grant forward in switching to 4-3-3.
Town were still unable to find a way through with Bell’s cross nodded straight at Doyle by Grant, who also tried his luck from distance.
His effort, like Town’s hopes of a comeback, sailed over the bar as Bradford looked the more likely to score.
Despite winning two late set-pieces, introducing Wes Burns and pushing Bolger forward, Town could not muster a final attack as Bradford proved one hurdle too many after a 58-game season.
But, as one young fan – sat atop his parent’s shoulders – still waved his Fleetwood flag with pride, there is hope once again at Highbury; the memories of last term faded away as Rosler’s revolution drew to a halt in the cruellest of fashions.
Fleetwood: Cairns, McLaughlin, Eastham (Brannagan, 71), Bolger, Davies, Bell, Dempsey, Glendon (Cole, 58), Grant, Hunter (Burns, 79) Ball. Subs not used: Neal, Pond, Nirennold, Schwabl.
Bradford: Doyle, Meredith, Law (Gilliead, 70), Vincelot, Marshall (Darby, 86), Wyke, Clarke (Dieng, 62), Cullen, Knight-Percival, McArdle, McMahon. Subs not used: Sattelmaier, Devine, Hiwula, Penney, Kilgallon.
Referee: D Cootes.