A last gasp switch off at the back nearly saw Town’s old non-league rivals Southport stick the knife in and ruin boss Uwe Rosler’s birthday but a 10 minute counter-attacking masterclass ensured there was no giant killing at Highbury.
Town took a 34th minute lead as Aaron Amadi-Holloway fired in his second of the campaign but Rosler’s men were complacent and sat back on the lead.
That meant National League side Southport’s hopes of an FA Cup fairytale were still alive and Josh Thompson punished Town’s arrogance as he nodded home from close range just minutes before the final whistle.
But the shock did not cause Town to capitulate and they scored three times in a clinical opening 10 minutes of extra time that saw Cian Bolger nod in his first goal for the club, Ash Hunter rifle the ball past Magnus Norman and Amari’i Bell bag his first ever Town goal to ensure Rosler’s 48th birthday ended on a high note.
Town were worlds away from a tired Southport side as the gulf between the divisions showed as Town found an extra gear to see ‘Port off and clinch an FA Cup second round clash at their League One rivals Shrewsbury Town in December.
Fleetwood head coach Uwe Rosler made six changes to the side that lost 2-1 at Port Vale for this first round replay just eight days after Town had drawn 0-0 at Haig Avenue.
Chris Long was sent off at Vale Park for violent conduct and started his three match ban tonight, Jimmy Ryan hobbled off in the 27th minute of that defeat at the Valiants and was not fit enough to feature with full-back Elohr Godswill Ekpolo left out of the squad.
Keeper Chris Neal, striker Ash Hunter and centre-half Cian Bolger were all rested with shot-stopper Alex Cairns stepping in, forwards David Ball and the recovering Aaron Amadi-Holloway (hamstring) were also recalled to the starting line-up alongside centre-half Ashley Eastham.
Midfielder Victor Nirennold filled in at right back with Conor McLaughlin still away on international duty with Northern Ireland. full-back Michael Duckworth missing due to injury (groin) and Godswill unavailable while on-loan Manchester City youngster George Glendon who replaced Ryan at Vale Park given the nod in the centre of midfield as Rosler opted for a 4-3-3 formation.
As expected with an attacking line-up and Town over 50 places higher than National League side Southport in the football pyramid Rosler’s men started the game brightly with some neat passing play across the park but they failed to find a decent final ball until the latter stages of the half.
Town’s old non-league rivals Southport nearly took a shock lead in the 25th minute as Ryan Higgins’ cross from the left beat Cairns who was off his line but fortunately crashed into the bar.
Kyle Dempsey created a moment of magic out of nowhere as he steamed through the middle and forced Norman into a diving save but his parry just missed the run of the prowling Amadi-Holloway.
Cole smashed an effort straight at Norman and Demspey blasted another effort wide from distance as Town edged closer towards goal.
And it was comeback kid Amadi-Holloway who built on setting up two assists in his first appearance since August at Carlisle by netting his second competitive goal for the club.
Holloway pounced on Cole’s cross from the left with his back to goal and his shot took a bit of a deflection before crossing the line in the 34th minute.
Southport nearly had an immediate response as Lussey broke through but his low effort was easily collected by Cairns.
Town full-back Bell tumbled in the box just before half-time in clear view of the referee who waved away the claim.
Town were straight out of the blocks in the second half with the midfield joining the strikers in pressing Southport’s back-line and leaving them no room to breathe.
The pressure lead to Ball stealing in but his deflected angled effort was just palmed out by Norman.
And Town had another big penalty shout ignored by the referee as Grant appeared to be tripped inside the box, he looked to have been impeded but theatrically went down and the clear-sighted referee failed to point to the spot.
Rosler withdrew Ball just before the hour mark and threw on the fresh legs of paceman Hunter knowing that Southport would push bodies up as they tried to keep their cup hopes alive.
And Southport did go close to nabbing a leveller as substitute Grimes nearly scored with his first touch as he ghosted into the box unmarked but nodded straight at Carins.
And ex-Town player Jamie Allen nearly popped up to burst his old club’s bubble as the ball flew over Pond and Eastham into his feet in the box but he fired his first time effort towards the middle of goal and Cairns stopped it with his legs as he found himself in the right place at the right time for the second time in quick succession.
With Southport enjoying a purple patch for the first time in the game and Town only defending a slender one goal lead Rosler brought off Grant and put defensive midfielder Eggert Jonsson on to shore up the middle of the park with Glendon moving over to the left.
The Town boss also utilised six-foot-five defender Bolger as a different striking outlet up front as he deployed him in a target man role like he did in the 2-1 defeat at Bradford and 2-1 defeat at Millwall.
Town had looked comfortable throughout the game but they had sat back allowing the visitors to grow in confidence as the half wore on and they finally found a way past Cairns just minutes before the final whistle.
As has been a habit at times this season Fleetwood switched off with three minutes left as complacency crept in. Neil Ashton whipped the ball in from the left, Thompson nodded it back across goal from the back post and Grimes was on hand to divert the ball over the line.
The goal reignited Town with Hunter missing two opportunities and Dempsey also blasting over but the game went to extra time.
Town continued where they left off in extra time as Rosler switched to three at the back moving Bolger back with Pond and Eastham and pushing Bell and Nirennold up the flanks into midfield.
And with the threat of a cup upset in the air Town finally turned on the style as Rosler’s men netted three times in the opening 10 minutes of extra-time to put the tie to bed.
Firstly Town scored a rare set-piece goal as Bolger nodded in Glendon’s pin-point corner from the right just four minutes into extra time.
Less than two minutes later Hunter rifled home after Dempsey’s ball over the top unleashed him to sprint one-on-one.
And Bell all but wrapped up the win in the 10th minute of stoppage Town as he swept Home Hunter’s flick-on from close range.
Cole had numerous opportunities to add to his one-goal tally but it was not in the script as he continued to miss-fire in front of goal.
Fleetwood: Cairns, Nirennold, Pond, Eastham, Bell, Dempsey, Glendon, Grant (Jonsson, 72), Cole, Amadi-Holloway (Bolger, 78), Ball (Hunter, 59). Subs not used: Neal, Davis, Sowerby, Jakubiak.
Southport: Norman, Ashton, Nolan, Thompson, Allen, Jones (Grey, 84), Lussey, Weeks, Howe, Higgins (White, 105+ 1) Ferguson (Grimes, 69). Subs not used: Crump, White, Cofie.
Referee: D Webb.