Rochdale 1 Fleetwood 0

Tyler Forbes battles for the ball
Tyler Forbes battles for the ball

The woodwork denied Fleetwood a point on a freezing cold Spotland evening.

But that was only half the story under the lights in Greater Manchester - as the crisis at the back and at the bottom end of League One deepened.

Fleetwood's pitch might have ended Saturday battle scarred.

But it was a positive billiards table compared to Dale's surface - bare in patches, showing the scars of a double life.

Fleetwood's team was also showing signs of wear and tear - Conor McLaghlin and Amari'i Bell both absent, the back four yet again with a decidedly makeshift feel about it.

Steven Pressley did have cover Tyler Forbes coming in on the right, Bob Harris making his debut at left back - only the second man to play the role for Town this term.

The former Blackpool man is an experienced hand at this level - perhaps why Dale made it their mission to target his junior partner.

And before long it paid off, two men running at Forbes, full back Jimmy McNulty getting beyond and driving a scuffed cross from the edge of the box.

Joe Bunney's contact was far from clean, but enough to steer the ball out of the reach of Chris Maxwell, Dale ahead with the game's first opportunity.

It was a nightmare start for Fleetwood who, up to that point, had held their own in a nothing game.

And the breakthrough gave the hosts confidence, Dale's play more positive and almost yielding a second.

This time it was Reuben Noble-Lazarus floating a cross from the left channel, Forbes rising to try and head behind, instead turning the ball into the path of Bunney.

The forward should have found the net, snatching at the ball and making contact but unable to steer it the right side of the post with Maxwell in all kinds of trouble.

Fleetwood, all of a sudden, were at sixes and sevens, losing their composure and looking like falling further behind.

It wasn't just down the channels the visitors looked in real trouble, cunning campaigner Ian Henderson trying to exploit the lack of pace in their centre half pairing - a last ditch Harris tackle denying Bunney another clear scoring opportunity as the survival battle once again looked like taking a turn for the worst.

And when Stephen Jordan stopped dead clutching his hamstring things looked bleak - Joe Davis, his fitness questionable thrown into the fray.

The change was one of two moments which swung the balance in the first half.

The other came out on the right, Henderson with a crunching late challenge on Jimmy Ryan which triggered a 20 man tussle - referee Darren Handley losing control for a moment before flashing a Hallmark store full of cards, seemingly to anyone willing to argue.

Replays showed Henderson made no effort to play the ball, a straight red dodged for the Dale skipped who knew just how to stir the pot.

The incident put the fire in Fleetwood which had so far been lacking.

And they finished the stronger, going inches away from levelling in four frantic minutes of added time.

Shola Ameobi was the man desperate to get things going, finally receiving service from Town's so-far shackled midfield and keen to make up for lost time.

With Ash Hunter also seeing more of the ball Town had options and for the first time were putting pressure on the Dale defence.

And when Ameobi barrelled towards the near post, there looked like being light at the end of the tunnel, the shot on his left foot rather than his right, the big striker unable to squeeze the ball in at the back stick.

There was better to come from Fleetwood, who were able sustain their push after several minutes camped on the edge of the Dale area.

And when the ball fell to Harris in the left channel there was chance to level, a low cross met by Sarcevic, the midfielder arriving like an express train, Josh Lillis knowing nothing of his effort, the ball somehow bouncing back out, Hunter blazing over having reacted well to the rebound.

Neither side particularly deserved the lead but it was Dale who took the advantage to the break.

But Fleetwood were beginning to show a little more initiative.

Bobby Grant, a passenger for much of the first half, had more intent about his play, more direct, looking to pose a danger down the right.

One early run yielded a free kick, Town unable to take advantage, their early second half pressure gradually fizzling out.

Credit had to go to Dale who were working their socks off to contain the visitors.

There were still opportunities, Fleetwood sustaining pressure in patches.

And when Harris slammed over another cross from the left, Ameobi was well positioned to head, Lillis just beating the striker and punching clear.

Town looked likely to grind something out of the game, Dale offering little and denied the ball by Fleetwood.

But, as ever luck turned a blind eye to Town's plight, stand-in right back Forbes hobbling to a halt, Fleetwood with no defenders left on the bench or in their squad.

On came Nick Haughton, Fleetwood forced to be inventive in their reshuffle , Eggert Jonsson drafted in as a full back.

All credit to Fleetwood, patched up, kept plugging away, battling but unable to find a way past a very stubborn home side.

It was desperate at times, Rochdale scrapping to stay level, to put daylight between themselves and the drop zone.

Fleetwood dominated possession but were unable to effectively feed their attacking line, even the direct Wes Burns struggling to make an impact.

The visitors in the end were too easily contained, even when they did break away unable to summon up the quality delivery required.

Dale were content to run the clock down, knowing one goal was enough to drag them away from the relegation battle.

There was nearly a last ditch rescue remedy for Fleetwood, Burns getting a head onto Ryan's corner and rattling the woodwork, the rebound falling to his feet, a Dale defender getting a foot in to deflected the shot over.

As for Fleetwood, well they're still right in it - once again unable to build on a victory and kick start their own survival fight.

And with one game in hand gone their plight is looking all the more severe.

What's more Steven Pressley faces yet another rebuild at the back - injuries piling on injuries.

There's plenty for the Fleetwood boss to contemplate before his return to the Ricoh Arena on Saturday, Fleetwood's League One survival hanging in the balance.