Fleetwood Town 1,Crawley Town 2
A STORMING second-half performance by Fleetwood failed to earn a deserved point on a day when their big-spending rivals made a further step towards the Blue Square Bet Premier title.
Fleetwood lost valuable ground in their own promotion chase, but they did more than enough for a draw, creating a host of chances after half-time.
However, this was a serious – if not defining – setback in Fleetwood’s season, compounded by close rivals Kidderminster Harriers’ win at Wimbledon.
That was as much a favour to Crawley as it was a further kick in the teeth for Fleetwood, who are now five points adrift of the play-off pack.
While Fleetwood rued a missed opportunity, the Crawley team – fortified by a bulk order from the Highbury chippie for the coach trip home – were well pleased on their long trip back to Sussex.
Fleetwood got a goal back in a tremendous second-half fightback after going 2-0 down after 48 minutes.
Such were the chances that Fleetwood pieced together that Crawley substitute goalkeeper Scott Shearer must have earned man-of-the-match plaudits.
He denied Fleetwood on several occasions, not least when he somehow kept out a MagnoVieira back-flick as the home side’s attacking was at its most intense.
Fleetwood lost little or nothing in comparison with Crawley, finding their stride after a sterile first half in which the leaders went ahead with a contentious penalty.
If the first half was forgettable, the second was eventful and exciting.
The match opened up with a deserved goal by Town’s George Donnelly.
He also nearly laid on a second for Vieira, whose invention almost produced a memorable goal.
Midfielder Jamie Maguire was lively at the epi-centre of much that the home side did right in the second half.
They made one enforced change from the side that beat Newport 3-1 seven days earlier, Sean Gregan returning at the heart of the defence in place of Paul Linwood, out with a hamstring strain.
Gareth Seddon had an early chance, latching on to a peach of a pass from Junior Brown before shooting wide.
However, Seddon hobbled off seconds later in some pain, needing lengthy treatment before returning with his left ankle heavily strapped.
He was clearly a passenger and was inevitably replaced, on 10 minutes by Donnelly. Seddon was yellow carded just before he limped off, presumably for saying something out of turn to referee Dean Mohareb.
Crawley’s David Hunt was booked for a foul as Sean Clancy was skipping by him down the left – a hefty fist by Michael Kuipers dealt with Anthony Barry’s resulting kick.
The visitors’ William Gibson was the third player yellow-carded for an unceremonious lunge on Brown.
Vieira tried his luck with a snap shot from the left after good build-up play from Donnelly and Jamie Mullen, but Kuipers was not called into action.
Crawley’s response was a shot on target by Sergio Torres, well blocked by Peter Cavanagh.
Fleetwood seemed to have a lucky escape on 27 minutes when Matt Tubbs went down in the area under a challenge from Brown. It seemed a fair shout for a penalty but the referee was having none of it.
On 31 minutes, Fleetwood did concede a spot-kick.
Clancy was adjudged to have brought down Richard Brodie and the prolific Tubbs slotted the ball home, the home defence registering their protests to the referee.
Minutes later, Maguire became the fourth player to be booked, for a foul on Josh Simpson.
On 40 minutes, the visitors lost Kuipers, who was stretchered off with a bad thigh strain. Scott Shearer replaced him.
It had been a scrappy, stop-start first half, with few clear-cut chances and low on entertainment and action.
Brodie nearly got his head to a left-wing cross during five minutes of over-time allowed for by the lengthy treatment to both Seddon and Kuipers.
Tubbs then tested Danny Hurst in the Fleetwood goal, stinging his hands as the defence waited in vain for an offside flag.
Brown sent over a left-wing cross, and although skipper Stephen McNulty got his head to the ball it was not enough to bother the substitute keeper.
Torres escaped his markers to nod Gibson’s corner wide in the first attack of the second half.
It was a foretaste of things to come and Crawley doubled their lead on 48 minutes.
Brodie picked up the ball in the inside-left channel, wasn’t closed down and curled the ball into the top corner.
It left Fleetwood with a huge task, but they responded as Donnelly and Vieira linked up in threatening fashion, but the Brazilian delayed his shot too long and was crowded out.
Gibson was released by Torres and it looked as though Crawley might go 3-0 up but the shot was woefully wide.
By this time, Fleetwood had brought on Keigan Parker in a bid for extra impetus in attack. But prolonged attacking by Micky Mellon’s side ended with Clancy spearing the ball over.
A timely tackle by Kyle McFadzean halted Vieira at the expense of a corner, from which McNulty headed over.
On 64 minutes, Fleetwood’s pressure paid handsome dividends as Maguire fired over a right-wing corner and Donnelly made perfect contact to steer his near-post header past Shearer.
Brown was the next to go close, with a glancing header from a clever cross by Clancy.
McFadzean got a booking and team-mate Brodie blasted over the bar from close range.
Donnelly did magnificently down the left to beat a lunging Pablo Mills and roll a pass to Vieira, whose deft back-flick looked bound for goal until Shearer somehow kept it out.
Vieira looked on in disbelief that he had failed to score.
Parker then miskicked in a promising position as Fleetwood poured forward again.
Maguire had the ball whipped away from his toe, while at the other end, Simpson’s deflected shot struck the side-netting.
By this time, Fleetwood had pushed McNulty up as an auxiliary attacker and Vieira tested Shearer to the full with a long-range drive.
Milligan was the next to examine Shearer’s reflexes, who pulled off a diving save, but time eventually ran out for Fleetwood.
Fleetwood: Hurst, Cavanagh, McNulty, Gregan, Brown, Maguire, Barry, Mullan (Parker, 49) Vieira, Seddon (Donnelly,10) Clancy (Milligan, 82). Subs not used: Davies, Pond
Crawley: Kuipers (Shearer 41), Hunt (Wilson 68), Mills, McFadzean, Howell, Gibson (Rusk 81), Bulman, Simpson, Torres, Brodie, Tubbs. Subs not used: Smith, Cook
Ref: D Mohareb; Att: 2,027