MATCH REPORT: Fleetwood 1 Portsmouth 2

Skipper Nathan Pond is back in the side
Skipper Nathan Pond is back in the side

A new era began at Highbury this week and though Barry Nicholson could not steer Fleetwood back to winning ways the stormy waters became less rocky with glimmers of hope.

Yes Fleetwood slipped to their eighth successive defeat but it was a vast improvement from that dismal Doncaster display that ended head coach Uwe Rosler's reign.

Nicholson only had a couple of days to put his own stamp on this confidence sapped side but he did just that.

It was a new-look line-up a return to the 3-5-2 of last term as Nicholson recalled skipper Pond and handed a first ever league start to young midfielder Harrison Biggins and gave his fellow development squad team mate Joe Maguire the nod at left-back.

Rosler had said some players at Doncaster had played themselves out of the squad for this game and it was Nicholson who wielded the iron fist leaving off the boil PNE loanee Kevin O'Connor, experienced midfielder Toumani Diagouraga and striker Jordy Hiwula out of the match day squad.

He gave youth a chance but despite the statement team selection it was the same old story.

I've said this is too good a team to go down, but unless they start believing in themselves once again, they will as the slide continues.

They still remain out of the drop zone just on goal difference but unless they can stop conceding that will soon not be the case.

The mass away support who had made a mammoth midweek trip up North had chanted 'How **** must you be? We are winning away' though for Town, who started life without Uwe Rosler there was hope with a late fight-back fuelled by Conor McAleny nearly ending that losing streak.
It was a bright start as a team that had downed tools for Rosler in his last game, the 3-0 defeat at Doncaster, picked them back up again for Nicholson with Dempsey firing wide of the left stick and Eastham nodding straight at Luke McGee.
Fleetwood had conceded from Doncaster's first attack on Saturday but withstood the first attempt from Adam May with Cairns comfortably keeping hold of the ball.
But he was beaten moments later when the man who slayed Town in the reverse 4-1 win popped up once again as Jamal Lowe curled the ball home in the 24th minute.
This time though Fleetwood's heads did not drop as they managed to keep it to just 1-0 at the break.
Luck had deserted Fleetwood in recent weeks but it shone on them in the 47th minute when a Portsmouth corner was just cleared off the line after a goal mouth scramble two minutes into the second half.
Fleetwood nearly levelled through Hunter who fired the ball past the right post but Portsmouth regained their foothold on the game with Walkes flashing the ball across the face of goal.
Conor Chaplin fizzed the ball past the left stick and Oliver Hawkins saw his effort just drop over the bar as the visitors searched for a second.
Fleetwood substitute Wes Burns chipped the ball onto the netting but only the woodwork stopped them putting the game to bed as Adam May's curling effort clattered into the post.
Though the visitors soon dealt Fleetwood that hammer blow as Lowe's shot was parried into the path of Hawkins who tapped home from close range in the 74th minute.
To their credit Town did not give up and a strong run by defender Eastham on the right released Burns but his cross into the mix was glanced just wide by Hunter.
Conor McAleny set up a lively finish as he created something out of nothing to curl a spectacular strike into the top corner in the 82nd minute.
Fleetwood upped the ante in the closing stages but they could not find that elusive leveller, though it was a spirited end by the Town side with Burns' long throws causing panic in the box.

The players showed fight and grit though many need to watch their temper in the final 13 games as the cracks continue to show.

A cool head is needed and though it was a defeat Nicholson showed signs in his strong team selection and in the manner that the team fought for him in the closing stages that he could perhaps be the one to steer Town onwards.

There were plenty of managers watching on from the stands, old assistant Chris Lucketti and Blackpool boss Gary Bowyer joined Bradford manager Simon Grayson, Chorley gaffer Matt Jansen and even ex-England womens manager Mark Sampson in attendance.

But for now Nicholson has one more shot at taking the gig full time after an audtion that gave hope, if not the end of this losing run.

Fleetwood: Cairns, Coyle, Eastham, Pond, Bolger, Coyle (Burns, 61), Dempsey, Biggins (McAleny, 69), Grant, Maguire, Hunter (Sowerby, 82), Madden. Subs not used: Neal, Burns, Oliver, Jones, Schwabl.

Portsmouth: McGee, Walkes, Clarke, Burgess, Hawkins, Kennedy, Donohue, Lowe, Chaplin (Rowan, 78), May, Close. Subs: Bass, Whatmough, Deslandes, Smith, Widdrington, Haunstrup.