FLEETWOOD Town emerged victorious in the Northern Premier League UniBond League Cup Final - beating Matlock Town 1-0 at Witton Albion.
Fleetwood Town emerged victorious from this pulsating cup final clash with fellow play-off hopefuls Matlock Town thanks to a wonderful 2nd half rearguard action.
Despite such a punishing schedule this month, Town shook off their fatigue and various aches and strains to clinch a famous victory and seal their 3rd piece of silverware in successive seasons.
A less than 100% fit Andy Bell replaced the injured Mickey Saunders in attack whilst Paul Haddow and Paul Robinson replaced Jerome Fitzgerald and Rickey Mercer, respectively; the former failing a fitness test whilst the latter was cup-tied. Lee Pryers was handed the captain's arm band and the task of filling the left sided midfield berth vacated by club skipper, Fitzgerald, whilst Phil Robinson partnered Martin Moran in the centre of defence. With Phil Denney and Danny Hurst also missing, youngsters Anthony Warwick and Joel Cowell were named in a 16 man squad.
Matlock came out of the blocks the quickest and Mike Hale was required to make three spellbinding saves to keep the scores level. And it was Hale who was at the centre of the games most controversial incident when, after coming off his line in an attempt to clear the ball upfield, the ball was hammered back at him by a Matlock player.
The ball clearly brushed Hale's hand but as the otherwise raucous Cod Army held their collective breath, the referee waved play on, so allowing Hale to boot the ball out for a throw in and safety. Buoyed by this piece of good-fortune, Fleetwood began to assert some control on proceedings and with the excellent Jamie Milligan pulling the strings in midfield and the splendid Pryers and Brown making their presence felt out wide, it was now Matlock who were forced back on the defensive.
Milligan forced a fine save from the Matlock goalkeeper, Andy Richmond, after one of several sparkling moves involving Pryers and Bell ended with Milligan firing in a low drive which Richmond did well to clutch on to. Moments later, Bell was through one on one with Richmond but the Matlock custodian was first to the ball. As Town increased the tempo yet further, Nathan Pond headed over after Richmond had flapped at a Milligan corner while Brown was inches away from getting on the end of a glorious far post cross by makeshift left back, Shaun Gray.
With half time beckoning, Pond scored the only goal of the game; the big midfielder soaring at the far post to head in a lofted free kick by Milligan to send the Fleetwood fans packed behind the goal into raptures.
Fleetwood began the 2nd half brightly and Milligan squandered a wonderful early chance to seal victory when his blistering left foot shot sailed over the bar.
Matlock gradually built up a head of steam and the game soon became a war of attrition with the Derbyshire side camped in the Fleetwood half as they desperately searched for an equalizer. But Fleetwood refused to buckle, delivering a sensational defensive display which limited Matlock to hopeful long range efforts and no clear goal-scoring chances of note. A series of crosses were headed and kicked clear, attempted shots were blocked by Fleetwood players more than willing to put their bodies on the line and as the minutes ticked by the feeling grew that this impressive show of resilience and character would deliver another famous win.
Richie Allen replaced the tiring Bell to give Fleetwood another outlet and with Matlock now reduced to pumping long balls forward, the Fleetwood defence grew yet more confident; Robinson and Moran solidity itself.
The final whistle was the signal for joyous celebrations, the 200 strong Cod Army gathering in front of the presentation party to cheer their heroes to the rafters.
Matlock and their supporters deserve praise for the wonderfully sporting manner in which they accepted defeat; the Fleetwood fans responding in kind with generous applause as the defeated Matlock players received their runners up medals. In a nice touch, manager Tony Greenwood paid his own special post match tribute to Andy Pilley, by insisting that his chairman join him on the field to share in the acclaim of the ecstatic Fleetwood fans.
Impossible to pick a man of the match as this was a wonderful team effort but Hale, Pond, Gray, Milligan, Brown and Pryers deserve particular mention whilst Haddow, Town's sole local boy, out-sang even the Cod Army during the post match celebrations and worked his socks off during the game despite his lack of match time recently.
Credit too to the match referee who, despite being put under intense pressure by the passionate Matlock fans massed behind the Fleetwood goal, kept his nerve and steadfastly refused their increasingly desperate penalty appeals.
Team: Hale, Walmsley, Gray, Moran, Robinson, Pond, Brown, Haddow, Bell (Allen), Milligan, Pryers. Subs Not Used: Charnock, Moore.