VERDICT: Fleetwood Town 2 Shrewsbury 1
As Mother Nature battered the Fylde coast Fleetwood Town trio Ash Hunter, Paddy Madden and Wes Burns lit up the pitch at Highbury.
Have we seen goals of the quality on display last weekend since the departure of David Ball in 2017?
While Conor McAleny might have popped up with a few beauties and Ash Hunter a couple of screamers I can’t recall that calibre of goals at Highbury in a long time.
One due to the power of the team and the second a touch of individual brilliance.
Madden’s bullet header was a goal of beauty for the build-up.
A 23-pass move saw the ball sprayed from right to left before Hunter steamed in on the right with his cross inch-perfect for Madden to nod home.
Burns was not to be left in the shade, however, as he scored the goal of the game.
Picking up the ball in the middle of the park, he beat three Shrewsbury men, slid the ball to Madden and then whipped home the return pass with his left foot.
That opening 30 minutes from Fleetwood was some of the best football witnessed at Highbury.
While there were flashes against Acrrington Stanley, Barnsley and Wycombe Wanderers, they were determined to ensure their good start and first-half dominance was boxed off with the scoreline to prove it.
Madden, Burns and Hunter were the key with the latter two having found a new gear under Joey Barton’s guidance.
It is something to shout about that they are finally fulfilling their potential under the new boss.
A rough diamond when he arrived at Town in 2015 from Ilkeston, Hunter is now at another level and will no doubt attract the attention of the higher divisions.
Ten assists in 13 games carries on from the groundwork done by John Sheridan last season.
He had often seen Hunter’s brilliance against his teams and, when given the chance to use him, started giving him the 90 minutes he needed to get a consistency and increase his all-round game knowledge.
Hunter has built up an almost telepathic understanding with Madden and that can only bode well for the future with the latter looking capable of scoring more than 20 goals in a season.
Saturday’s show was achieved without Ched Evans, who was absent with a shoulder injury.
That absence paved the way for Burns’ return after being one of the few bright sparks in the miserable midweek Checkatrade Trophy defeat to Rochdale.
As with Hunter, Barton is getting the best out of Burns, whose form as a loanee in 2015/16 remains fresh in the memory but who hasn’t been a key figure since returning permanently last year.
Having only scored twice last season, Saturday’s goal was his third this time around and one you would pay good money to watch.
However, for all the promise and hope, there were still some grey skies above Highbury as Town fell to earth in the second half.
The injuries are still racking up. as, despite Craig Morgan’s return, James Husband’s absence meant Lewie Coyle switched flanks to the left.
Nathan Sheron, another of Town’s youngsters to have had a new lease of life under Barton, impressed at right-back.
His display means that, once Husband returns from injury, Town will have a serious battle in the full-back positions.
Further forward, James Wallace has proved his critics wrong in recent weeks but his injury record speaks for itself.
He has been hampered by injuries throughout his career and limped off just before the break, paving the way for striker Chris Long.
He has been unable to establish a partnership with Madden during Evans’ absences and – again – he failed to take his opportunity.
Barton wanted to go on the attack and win by four or five goals but Long did not have the required impact.
It meant that, after the visitors’ half-time dressing down which saw them pull a goal back through Josh Laurent, Long’s day was cut short with Jason Holt replacing him.
Barton admitted afterwards that he had made the wrong decision in introducing Long to start with and it should have been Holt instead.
Nevertheless, that move allowed Ross Wallace, Hunter and Burns to get their grip back on the game with Hunter almost scoring from a free-kick.
Finally, though, we saw Fleetwood manage the game properly despite a late scare.
On a grey and windy day that started with Town’s forwards warming the home fans, keeper Alex Cairns gave a reminder why the club will have a fight on their hands to retain his services.
This season’s highlights reel already includes fine saves at Sunderland and a man-of-the-match stint against Accrington.
This time, he made a crucial late intervention to secure the three points by tipping away Aaron Amadi-Holloway’s header in injury-time.
It may have been only Fleetwood’s second home win of the term but – if the first 30 minutes and performances at Scunthorpe United and Doncaster Rovers are anything to go by – when this Barton side gets it right, they can engulf the opposition.
The clouds might have filled the sky at Fleetwood but it certainly is not grey on the pitch.
The winds of change are swirling and sending them back up the table.
With two mighty tests ahead at Portsmouth and Peterborough United, Town are clicking into gear at just the right time.