OPINION: Fleetwood Town 2 Oxford United 1

Paddy Madden celebrates his sixth goal of the season
Paddy Madden celebrates his sixth goal of the season

Wes Burns might have had his name in lights at Highbury but the victory over Oxford United will be remembered for the redemption of Kyle Dempsey.

Wes Burns might have had his name in lights at Highbury but the victory over Oxford United will be remembered for the redemption of Kyle Dempsey.

Left out in the cold last season and shipped off on loan to Peterborough, he finally got his chance and took it.

It had been 11 months since Dempsey started a league game for Fleetwood, but having lit up the EFL Trophy defeat at Accrington he got the nod on Saturday.

And did he take his chance? Intelligent on the ball, robust, tough-tackling, the link between Town’s attack and defence.

Credit to Dempsey, he returned this summer determined to fight for his Fleetwood future and show his boss why he deserves a spot.

Roared on by the Cod Army, the Dempsey of the 2016-17 season returned to action and stole the show.

Burns was named man of the match but it was Dempsey’s day and Joey Barton knew it, the midfielder leaving the field to a standing ovation.

In my final two matches covering the club I’ve completely agreed the boss’ post-match comments. He heaped praise on the midfield man.

The wing men did light up the opening exchanges on a day counter-attacking football returned to Highbury with aplomb as Oxford allowed Town to use their pace.

Karl Robinson felt Town’s opener should not have stood. Paul Coutts’ corner was cleared at the near post to Dempsey on the edge of the area. He grappled with Anthony Forde and did enough to nudge the ball into the path of Jordan Rossiter.

The on-loan Rangers man’s first-time finish crashed into a post and fell for Paddy Madden, who was perfectly positioned, aware and alert.

Rossiter looked up to the heavens in a ‘What more can I do to score?’ sort of way, but Madden has the grace of God at the moment. It was his sixth goal in the opening nine games but he showed his worth up the other end too.

As at Accrington, Madden would be needed in the box at the death and the striker was on hand to make a vital clearance.

Robinson was dismayed a foul was not awarded butTown deserved the opening goal for a roaring start.

Boss Barton had shuffled the pack, handing a debut to on-loan Burnley man Jimmy Dunne in central defence, with Harry Souttar on international duty.

Ash Eastham, who had returned to the line-up for the EFL Trophy, must have been wondering what he has to do to get his first league start of the season.

It was a baptism of fire and in the first half Dunne was burned.

Burns had recovered from his shin injury at Accrington to start on the right of a front three, and with Dempsey driving Town forward in the engine room, Josh Morris and Burns had a whale of a time on the wings.

But Town could only manage that one goal despite their dominance in the opening 30 minutes. That has been a trend this season – Town dominate but don’t necessarily punish teams and you are always vulnerable at 1-0.

After one wayward Cameron Brannagan effort, Oxford scored from their first clear-cut chance.

Again it was from a cross into the box that Town conceded. They failed to clear a corner from the left and had opportunities to stop the next cross as Town’s marking went to pot.

Elliott Moore was able to stroll into the box too easily for the header and Town had conceded another poor goal.

Eyes stared accusingly at new boy Dunne, with Madden fuming, but again Town had been undone by the basics.

Jamie Mackie had been a thorn in Town’s side, nibbling away at Peter Clarke and Dunne, who was rusty in his first competitive game of the season.

But credit to the 21-year-old Irishman. He could have sulked and let his head drop, but after Town survived an Oxford surge at the end of the first half he would return for the second stronger and more composed.

He save the blushes of keeper Matt Gilks, who looked like he’d dipped his gloves in butter.

He flapped a number of times and was lucky Dunne was on hand to clear as James Henry loomed.

Both teams went for it with end-to-end football in the second half, Oxford determined to end their Fleetwood ‘curse’ – having failed to win in 11 league meetings between the clubs.

Oxford’s ambition allowed Town to play some sublime counter-attacking football, with Coutts and Dempsey instrumental.

Coutts had moved back to sit in front of the defence and help protect Dunne on debut, while Dempsey and Rossiter pushed forward impressively.

Burns continued to enjoy life on the right and saw one effort screech past the post, with Madden just too late to touch home. It was terrific to watch.

Ched Evans stripped off to enter the fray and the sight of the Town hitman saw his team-mates on the pitch up the ante – and Barton didn’t make the change for almost 10 minutes.

It was fellow substitute Ash Hunter won the corner that would lead to the winner and took it himself.

The ball was cleared to Coutts and he sprayed a pass to Lewie Coyle, whose peach of a cross fell perfectly for Clarke.

The defender outjumped Josh Ruffels and Town were deservedly back in front.

The U’s fought back but Town never looked like conceding late on.

Fleetwood still need to improve but Saturday was all about Dempsey. Welcome back.