Graham Alexander was delighted to see his side come out of their shell and battle back to earn a point against Preston North End at Highbury.
For much of yesterday’s League One Lancashire derby, Alexander’s men seemed overawed by their high-flying opponents.
But a confidence-inspiring talk at the break – and a cunning switch to ditch their wing-back system – saw Fleetwood snatch a share of the spoils as David Ball’s late equaliser made it 1-1.
Town looked in for a pasting when Daniel Johnson lashed home from the edge of the box in the ninth minute.
Jermaine Beckford missed a sitter which would have made it 2-0 before the break, gifting Alexander time to regroup.
And the Fleetwood manager was proud of his players’ response. “The second-half performance was superb,” he said.
“I thought we showed too much respect to Preston in the first half. We didn’t really put them on the back foot. We did that in the second half.”
Alexander has spoken plenty of times this season about playing the game and not the occasion.
It’s a message he feels was lost in the first 45 minutes in front of the Sky Sports cameras, and one he made sure to press home at the break.
“I asked them, ‘Is it because the TV are here or is it because it’s Preston North End?’” said Alexander. We told them the truth and they responded in the right way, as always.
“We showed them the real us, which was great to see.
“I saw players with determination, desire and a smile on their face, enjoying taking the game to very good opposition.”
The Fleetwood boss, who played more than 400 games for the Lilywhites, made it clear his men had been guilty of over-respecting their promotion-chasing neighbours.
“I wasn’t happy with the way we were playing,” he added. “Had it been more than 1-0, it would just have been an even bigger hill to climb.
“Going in at 1-0, I just didn’t think we’d competed in the game as well as we should have.
“Second half we nullified their threat and took the game to them, causing them all sorts of problems at the back.
“Preston are a good team, with plenty of good players, but we more than matched them second half.”
Fleetwood had a penalty shout for hand-ball turned down by Andy Madley when Jamie Proctor’s shot was blocked, replays showing the referee to be correct.
Alexander joked that he’s grown used to not being awarded spot-kicks.
He said: “We had opportunities. We could have had a couple of penalties.
“We’ve not had one all season, so I’m not expecting any other decision, but if we get that it gets us back into the game.
“In the end it’s a great finish from David Ball to get us a share of the spoils.”
A lengthy break while Preston’s Paul Huntington was treated could have taken the sting out of Fleetwood’s fightback.
But Alexander was delighted at the way his charges stuck at their task, scoring moments after play resumed.
He said: “It was a concern. We’d just started to get up a head of steam and then that break in play came.
“I hope the lad’s OK but we were concerned it might take our momentum away.
“But the lads carried on from where they left off. They really took the game to Preston.
“We got the goal and could easily have gone on and got the winner.”
Ball was the man to claim the glory, his stunning lob from 25 yards going in off the back-post.
Alexander knows it’s a huge boost for the striker, who has had a frustrating few months.
“It’s a fantastic goal,” said the Fleetwood boss. “He’s already up for goal of the season with his backheel against Doncaster but that might just edge it.
“We know of his qualities and I think he’s been unlucky this season.
“He’s got great skill and awareness, and it’s an amazing goal.”