VERDICT: Fleetwood Town 1 Accrington 1
A year on from Alex Cairns' triple save at Northampton Town and the keeper is now proving why he is the best in League One.
A year on from Alex Cairns’ triple save at Northampton Town and the keeper is now proving why he is the best in League One.
The Town shot-stopper has had ups and downs since that viral save and praise from Manchester United keeper David de Gea.
However, fresh from another show-stopper at Sunderland, Cairns’ performance against Accrington Stanley was another sign of how key he is to Joey Barton’s plans.
Cairns thwarted Sam Finley, Billy Kee and company all game on Saturday as Town put in a display their supporters have not been accustomed to watching under Barton.
Not being at the races meant it was a chance for Cairns to take centre stage.
While this season has generally been all about the wingers and the attackers, Cairns has been doing his job in the background.
With things not going to plan in front of him on Saturday, he took the reins and stopped Stanley.
Fifteen shots for the visitors is not a statistic that Barton and company will be proud of.
Seven of those efforts were on target but is testament to Cairns that only Sean McConville’s angled effort outfoxed the keeper.
It wasn’t just all about the keeper as there were strong displays as well as timely blocks and clearances as Cian Bolger was reunited with Ash Eastham in the centre of defence.
Though skipper Craig Morgan’s leadership was missed, Bolger showed Town have the strength in depth to cope and made his mark with a goal and a solid showing.
Fifteen shots on goal were not the fault of Town’s keeper and centre-backs; Stanley prospered in the middle and out wide.
With Wes Burns suspended and Accrington limiting Ash Hunter in the first half, it was the visitors who asked the questions on the flanks.
It was Conor McAleny’s turn on Saturday to fill the gap caused by Burns’ absence – but he hobbled off after 10 minutes with Kyle Dempsey brought back in.
Dempsey contributed something different to the role as, while he lacks Burns’ out and out pace, he did prosper in the pockets.
That said, he has to listen to the home fans as, time and again, he ignored their shouts to shoot in good positions.
Also on the flanks, James Husband has made the left-back role his own since arriving from Norwich City but it was far from his best showing.
Although Accrington had tried to keep Hunter quiet, he popped up with his seventh assist of the season in the 38th minute, a perfectly flighted dead ball glanced home by Bolger.
With Town a goal up, it was a chance for Hunter and his team-mates to attack.
Hunter went close to establishing a two-goal cushion but it was a game that showed how important Ched Evans is.
Burns may be a big loss but, with Evans on the pitch, Fleetwood are more of a threat with the combination of Paddy Madden (pictured) and Chris Long not as dangerous as Madden and Evans.
As the quest for that second rumbled on with no reward, there was the sense that Stanley would come back.
Town’s downfall was to be a long throw from the right.
Bolger answered the first question but it was McConville who was most alert to fire home.
Credit to Accrington, it was the least they deserved as Town’s opener came against the run of play and, for the majority of the game, they were the better side.
With Dean Marney also limping off, it set the stage for James Wallace who nodded a Hunter corner over the bar.
Yes, Fleetwood have the squad to cope with injuries but this showed how much they miss Evans and Burns.
It was a chance for McAleny to take the headlines but, once again, Lady Luck dented his hopes.
Long, though adding flashes of ingenuity up front, needed to take a few tips from Hunter as to how to focus on the team rather than self glory as the latter’s defensive work was strong once again.
Ultimately, there was a lot of food for thought from this game.
Does Town’s 4-4-2 start have the same impact without Burns and Evans?
If Evans is not back for next weekend’s trip to Southend United, a tweak in the system could aid Town for their journey to Roots Hall.
Though Marney has had a good start to life on the Fylde coast, the fight for a starting spot in the middle of the pitch is hotting up following Wallace’s impressive cameo and Harrison Biggins still pushing for a shirt.
Unlike the removal of Evans or Burns from the starting XI, a change in the middle could possibly help Town to find another gear when their wings are clipped like Stanley managed to do.
Town have a squad capable of coping with injuries and suspensions, especially at the back and the middle.
Though the glass must remain half-full, this was a game Fleetwood could quite easily have lost had it not been for Cairns and company.
He and his central defenders ensured a point and, despite a lacklustre showing, Fleetwood were not on the wrong end of the result.
Though they need to learn.
Accrington walked away kicking themselves for their wasted chances.
Town need to make sure now that no team is allowed 15 efforts on their home ground and how to stop that from happening.
On another day, they will get punished.