Fleetwood Town 0 Bristol Rovers 0: Joey Barton sees red as Town end the year with a draw

Fleetwood Town protest following Ched Evans' disallowed goal
Fleetwood Town protest following Ched Evans' disallowed goal
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Fleetwood Town missed their chance to leapfrog Bristol Rovers in the League One table on what was a controversial afternoon at Highbury.

Head coach Joey Barton was sent off with 20 minutes to go after massive protests followed a disallowed goal from Ched Evans.

After the melee following referee Paul Marsden’s decision had calmed down and play restarted, both sides were then thwarted by the woodwork during what proved to be a frantic finish.

Barton had again freshened up his starting line-up at the beginning of an exhausting run of four home matches in just nine days.

Having triumphed at Rochdale on Boxing Day, that late victory clearly proved physically tough on some of Barton’s players.

Goalkeeper Billy Crellin had sustained a blow towards the end of that game, so it was no surprise to see him replaced by Alex Cairns.

Crellin was on the bench, as were Ashley Eastham and Harrison Biggins, also starters on Boxing Day.

Jack Sowerby dropped out altogether, while the three outfield players to start once again were Rochdale matchwinners Wes Burns and Kyle Dempsey, as well as Peter Clarke.

The buoyant hosts ought to have made a dream start before two minutes had been played.

Evans flicked a header perfectly into the path of strike partner Paddy Madden but Town’s leading scorer somehow managed to drag a shot off target from only eight yards.

Similarly, Rovers’ Ed Upson went close after only eight minutes.

Darting into the Fleetwood box, the Rovers midfielder fired in an angled shot which Cairns saved superbly.

It was Barton’s men who were bossing the opening quarter, however, and a confident Evans saw a shot from 25 yards well held by keeper Anssi Jaakkola.

Evans soon went close again, only to direct a firm header off target as he met Lewie Coyle’s cross.

It had been an encouraging first-half effort from Town but a little more dynamism in and around the Rovers box was going to be needed in the second 45 minutes.

Again the hosts appeared content to take the bulk of the possession early in the second half, but Rovers were clearly still a major threat under new manager Ben Garner.

Sub Tom Nichols headed harmlessly over the top, while at the other end, Evans somehow managed to plant a 59th-minute header wide following a perfectly-executed cross from Dempsey.

As the final 20 minutes approached, this intriguing clash blew up in spectacular fashion.

Evans smashed home from an acute angle just inside the Rovers area, but after initially giving the goal and then consulting with his assistant, the referee ruled otherwise, seemingly due to a touch from an offside Madden as the shot flew in.

The protestations from the home players and the bench were huge, so much so that Barton was red-carded and forced to watch the remainder of the game from up in the stand.

After that controversy had calmed down, both sides went on to hit the crossbar.

Evans saw a thumping strike pushed onto the woodwork brilliantly by Jaakkola, while Nichols’ looping effort also went close at the other end.

Fleetwood Town: Cairns, Coyle, Clarke, Souttar, Burns, Dempsey, Coutts, Morris (McAleny 80), Andrew, Evans, Madden. Subs not used: Crellin, Eastham, Biggins, Saunders, Hill, Matete.

Bristol Rovers: Jaakkola, Rodman, Menayese, Craig, Kilgour, Leahy, Ogogo (Nichols 46), Upson, Hargreaves (Kelly 84), Sercombe, Clarke-Harris. Subs not used: Van Stappershoef, Russe, Bennett, Tomlinson, Adeboyejo.

Referee: Paul Marsden.

Attendance: 2,848.