THIS bottom v top encounter at Melbourne Avenue was the only fixture in North One West to survive on Saturday, though it was a bitterly cold afternoon as temperatures remained just above freezing.
Having conceded 80 points in the clubs’ previous meeting, Fleetwood could be excused for going into this game with a little trepidation.
With Tom Evans snowbound in Leeds, Ryan Riches moved to scrum-half and Paul Bamber wore the no.10 shirt.
Ben Corless was another absentee through injury, resulting in a start for Steve Buzza in the front row.
The visitors soon made their intentions clear by turning down two kickable penalty opportunities, though a possible pushover try was thwarted by resolute Fleetwood defending.
Fleet then enjoyed a period of possession, in which the ball was worked to Scott Richardson on the right wing.
He made good ground before off-loading to the supporting Ryan Riches who ran in for the first try to give the home side the lead. Sale came back strongly and were awarded another penalty within kicking range for offside.
This time they did go for goal but the kick was missed.
Fleet were certainly not about to roll over as strong running from Dave Hart and Jack Reville kept the visitors on their toes.
The home side continued to work tirelessly at the breakdown but were harshly penalised for not rolling away and this time the points were taken, cutting Fleet’s lead to two.
Again the home line came under pressure from a series of forward drives, but Sale were guilty of not releasing just short of the line and Fleetwood had another reprieve.
Fleet’s cause was not helped when Lee Storton was shown a yellow card for persistent offending at the breakdown, and the visitors’ pressure eventually paid dividends with a try in the left corner which gave them the lead for the first time.
Even so, the hosts continued to thwart wave after wave of attacks and went into half-time very much in the match at 8-5.
It got better early in the second half, as quick turnover and a penalty enabled Riches to bring the scores level.
Errors were beginning to creep into the visitors’ game, though Fleet failed to capitalise and made mistakes at crucial times.
Dale Thompson worked tirelessly as did the back row of Pye, Hart and Kelsall. Fleet were awarded penalties but their lineout was not functioning, which was to prove crucial.
Sale looked to move the ball wide and stretched the Fleetwood defence, resulting in an unconverted try in the right corner.
Fleetwood continued to defend manfully, none more so than centres Tom Wilson and Adam Crisp, and Matt Larkin making a huge covering tackle. However, the Sale forwards continued to attack the tiring home pack and ran in two more tries.
There were positives from this performance, especially defensively, but Fleetwood need a more reliable source of possession to fulfil their potential in attack. The win moves Sale a point clear at the top, while Fleetwood remain two adrift at the bottom.