MATCH REPORT: Fleetwood 2 Walsall 0

When John Sheridan tipped up at Fleetwood he gave his new forwards a license to thrill and so it was apt that his final game was lit up by an Ash Hunter show-stopper.

Saturday, 5th May 2018, 6:33 pm
Updated Saturday, 5th May 2018, 8:31 pm
John Sheridan bid farewell to the Cod Army

Hunter, has been a man re-born under Sheridan, utilized in a left wing-back role as well as his natural forward position it was a return to the front three though still on that left flank that saw him steal the show just after the half hour mark.

Sheridan gave the front men freedom to attack when he arrived in February and it paid dividends with Hunter an company crucial in helping Sheridan keep Fleetwood in the division.

Hunter's sublime 31st minute curler was followed by a Paddy Madden poaching effort just before the break in a game that felt more like a pre-season friendly than the final league game of the campaign.

It was a world away from this time last season when Town still had a shot at pipping Bolton to automatic promotion.

Though despite the change in circumstances Highbury bid farewell to Sheridan, who will now leave the club as the new Joey Barton era rolls into Town in June.

Sheridan has made his mark at Fleetwood in his short reign and the fans said thanks and goodbye to the man that ensured their League One status with a rapturous applause and standing ovation before kick-off.

He said he did not want the game to be like a testimonial before kick-off but with neither side with nothing but pride to play for in the blazing sunshine you could not help but feel like it was.

There was one purpose of the game for all at Highbury though - to send Sheridan off the right way, with three points and a return to winning ways.

Sheridan made five changes from the side that lost 2-0 to Peterborough with two of the biggest statements on the bench.

England U17 World Cup winning keeper Billy Crellin and his fellow development squad player forward Joao Morelli were given spots on the bench.

It was Alex Cairns who was restored to goal in place of Chris Neal who was not in the squad with that defeat at Peterborough anticipated to be his last for the club.

Nathan Pond, George Glendon, Jack Sowerby and Conor McAleny also moved to the bench as Harrison Biggins, Bobby Grant, Gethin Jones and Toumani Diagouraga returned to the line-up.

Fleetwood started brightly with Ash Eastham blasting a Grant corner from the right way over at the back stick.

Eastham was at the forefront of Town's attacking play once again as he nodded another set-piece towards the on-running Digouraga but his header was just kept out by Gillespie.

Hunter was having a whale of a time on the left of a front three and it was to be his day as he pulled off a showstopping strike, picking the ball up outside the box and whipping the ball towards the top corner.

The Walsall press team dubbed it a shot-cross but all of the home red and white faithful knew that Hunter meant the delightful goal.

Grant and Fitzwater both ended up sporting bandages the Fashion Policed would not have recommended with after clash of heads.

Though despite the blood it was jovial on the touchline as Grant and the Walsall man mock play fought.

That summed the game up really, it was 22 men enjoying their football in the sun but really a poor Walsall side showed just why they had taken so long to just beat the drop.

Madden was at his predatory best to ensure the victory as he pounced on Gillespie's spill from a Kyle Dempsey strike that was too hot to handle in the 45th minute.

Walsall did show their teeth late on though as Cockerill-Mollett just blasted the ball over the bar in added time, an effort that drew ironic chants of 'we've had a shot' from the away end but that was too be the best of their action in a dire display from the visitors.

Academy prospect Harrison Holgate celebrated signed his first professional deal and was welcomed onto the pitch to shake hands with Andy Pilley at half-time.

Grant had to come off due to that knock at half-time with McAleny entering the fray.

And he was aiming to join his fellow forwards Hunter and Madden on the scoresheet to end an injury hit season on a high.

He nearly teed Hunter up for his second after fizzing the ball across from the right but his first time shot was straight at Gillespie.

Bakayoko and Kouhyar pounced on a Diagourga slip-up at the back but then fluffed their lines as they too lost the advantage.

Coyle curled an effort wide as Town aimed to send Sheridan off with his biggest win with an intricate set-piece routine seeing Biggins feed Diagouraga in the six yard box but he scooped the ball over.

The game drew to a close but it will be one remembered for that Hunter goal and as a celebration of the man who completed another She-urrection to ensure League One football can be viewed once again at Highbury for the fifth season in a row.

Fleetwood: Cairns, Coyle, Eastham, Bolger, Jones (Pond, 70), Diagouraga, Biggins, Dempsey, Grant (McAleny, 46) Hunter, Madden (Hiwula, 57). Subs not used: Crellin, Glendon, Sowerby, Morelli.

Walsall: Gillespie, Leahy (Shorrock, 65), Dobson, Guthrie, Cuvelier (Oztumer, 65), Flanagan, Bakayoko (Candlin, 65), Fitzwater, Roberts, Kouhyar, Cockerill-Mollett. Subs: Roberts, Devlin, Morris, Kinsella.

Referee: K Johnson.

Attendance: 3644 (1084)