Fleetwood Town 3, Braintree 1
THE feelgood factor was all around Fleetwood today – you only had to look at the Blue Square Bet Premier table to understand the why.
Micky Mellon’s men moved to the top on a night of drama, though most of it was at the ground of Forest Green Rovers.
It was there that longtime leaders Wrexham were beaten 1-0, missing a penalty in the fifth minute of stoppage time.
Highbury was far from short of incident either, as Fleetwood – not without the odd stumble along the way – disposed of the ten men of part-time Braintree.
The first-half sending off of Ben Wright was something of a game-changer as it also signalled an upturn in Fleetwood’s fortunes and they took control.
If Fleetwood had been a bit more measured in their finishing, and had not keeper Nathan McDonald been in such splendid form, they could have had more than the three they scored.
By the same token, Fleetwood had troubles at the back and Braintree always had the edge when the ball was in the air in the home box.
Magno Vieira scored two, one from the spot, and had an outstanding game – his energy levels and link-up play were commendable. And although he was running a little on empty when substituted with 20 minutes left, he had been Fleetwood’s stand-out player by some way.
Braintree shocked Fleetwood by going ahead in the fifth minute, after the home side conceded a free-kick in he inside-right channel.
Wright curled over a teasing cross, which eluded everyone except Matt Paine, who met the ball perfectly and powerfully as it soared into the top left corner of Scott Davies’ goal.
Jamie Vardy raided dangerously down the right but his centre slammed into the side-netting.
It was a low-key opening 20 minutes by Fleetwood, reflected by an equally subdued Highbury crowd, though manager Mellon was seemingly unflustered on the touchline, assuring his charges: “Keep passing – it will come.”
What did come on 24 minutes was a Braintree sending-off. Wright was red-carded for a crunching tackle on Shaun Beeley, which left the full-back writhing in pain on the deck – referee Ross Joyce had little hesitation on brandishing the red.
Andy Mangan fired over for Fleetwood before Vardy came agonisingly close to connecting yards from the line. Fleetwood’s Lee Fowler was booked for a foul on Paine after 30 minutes.
Paine got in another thumping header from an Andy Yiadom cross, the Braintree man again beating the opposition to the ball, which went inches over.
Paine was then in strife at the other end, bringing down Vardy, who had tricked his way into the box.
Vieira stepped up to take the penalty and sent McDonald the wrong way for the Fleetwood equaliser and his seventh goal of the season after 33 minutes. Mangan’s goal-bound shot was blocked by Dean Wells’ midriff – painful but timely.
Fleetwood remained worryingly susceptible in the air and Davies had to pull off a scrambling save, falling backwards to keep out Sean Marks’ header.
Vardy left his marker for dead with a burst of speed down the left as he met Vieira’s probing ball, though McDonald managed to get his body in the way of a shot by Fleetwood’s much-admired front man.
Fleetwood were finding their stride now and they took the lead on 43 minutes. Fowler escaped down the right and his composed cross found Vardy, who made no mistake from close range. It was his 21st goal in 24 starts, a remarkable statistic.
Yiadom was given soft yellow card early in the second half for his midfield challenge on Peter Cavanagh, and from the resulting free-kick the home side extended their lead on 51 minutes.
Danny Rose caused trouble with a left-wing cross, leading to a scramble in the box and Vieira had his wits about him to poke the ball home from close range.
Vardy capitalised on a defensive slip-up but his shot flashed across goal and wide. Fleetwood were caught napping at a free-kick and were relieved to see Yiadom’s strike whistle past the post.
The home side went close to going further ahead when Alan Goodall’s strong, deflected drive shaved McDonald’s left post, and the keeper then saved bravely at the feet of Vardy as he homed in on goal. McDonald was soon in action again to tip Rose’s stinging shot over the bar.
Jai Reason was the next Braintree player to go into the book for a tackle from behind, while Town substitute Richard Brodie was also yellow-carded for a foul on Adam Bailey-Dennis.
Yiadom showed that Braintree still posed the odd threat, manoeuvring a good position but ruining it with badly sliced shot.
Braintree looked to have a big, justifiable shout for a penalty when Thomas Aswad looked to have been felled unfairly and squarely in the box, but to the amazement of everyone, not least the Essex contingent, the referee bizarrely saw it otherwise. It looked the proverbial stone-wall penalty.
Fleetwood had taken their foot off the pedal but Vardy re-energised them, forcing McDonald into an excellent save. Rose stung McDonald’s hands too as Fleetwood searched in vain for a fourth.
Fleetwood: Davies, Beeley (Atkinson 71), McNulty, Pond, Vieira (Seddon 70), Goodall, Mangan (Brodie 78), Cavanagh, Fowler, Rose, Vardy; not used: Stevenson, McGuire.
Braintree: McDonald, Thomas, Bailey-Dennis, Paine, O’Connor, Wells, Reason (Pooley 85), Symons (Quinton 71), Yiadom, Marks (Chilaka 76), Wright; not used: Jones, Muwanga.
Ref: R Joyce; Att: 1,791
n Town winger Stefan Cox is set to join Evo-Stik League premier club Chester on loan. Cox has made only three appearances since his summer move from Tooting & Mitcham.