Devante Cole continued his scorching streak against relegation battling Shrewsbury as he netted his first league goal of the season to help Fleetwood Town start 2017 on a high note by moving up into a play-off spot.
Cole tamed the Shrews with two goals in Fleetwood’s 3-2 FA Cup second round replay win last month and continued his fine run of form against them with a close range volley.
That ninth minute effort and some fantastic late defending by Fleetwood saw them climb up into sixth spot.
The visitors handled everything thrown at them by a toothless Shrewsbury side after the hosts were buoyed by a controversial penalty situation that saw referee Ross Joyce reverse his decision to award Uwe Rosler’s men a penalty just seconds due to delayed offside decision just before Bobby Grant was about to step-up to the spot.
Rosler’s men are now unbeaten in 11 games, with four of those coming against today’s hosts, as they start 2017 with another win and picked up their third away victory of the campaign against a lacklustre Shrews side who were booed off at the final whistle after failing to carve out a clear cut chance in the dying embers despite setting up camp in Fleetwood’s half in the final 10 minutes.
Before kick-off Fleetwood announced the loan signing of Ben Davies from Championship club Preston North End and the 21-year-old went straight into the starting line-up and impressed on the left of a back three partnering Nathan Pond and Cian Bolger as Rosler opted for a 3-5-2 wing-back formation once again.
Davies came in for Jack Sowerby with Rosler making a further three changes to the side that beat Oldham by the same scoreline on New Year’s Eve with Fleetwood picking up their third straight clean sheet.
Victor Nirennold, Chris Long and Cole came in for the rested George Glendon, David Ball and Ash Hunter with Nirennold starting at right wing back and McLaughlin moving into a central midfield role.
Shrewsbury’s last game of 2016 was on Friday with a 2-1 defeat at Rochdale while Fleetwood had a day less to recover after their 1-0 win over Oldham on Saturday.
Despite having less recovery time Town were straight out of the blocks with wing-backs Amari’i Bell and Nirennold and pacey strikers Cole and Long causing problems from the off against the Shrews’ slow defence and Fleetwood should have been at least 3-0 up at the break.
With their lightning quick start it wasn’t long until Town took the lead with Bell racing down the left wing outfoxing Shaun Whalley and whipping the ball across the six-yard box past the run of the unmarked Long and into the path Cole at the back stick who volleyed in his first league goal of the season from close range with the static Shrews defence still rooted to the spot.
It could have been two moments later as Cian Bolger wasted yet another free header by nodding Dempsey’s pin-point corner from the left way wide of the right post.
Toney had the hosts first effort on target as he beat the wall to fire a free-kick straight at Cairns.
But the Shrews looked shaky in defence and lacked confidence on the ball, something ex-Shrewsbury man Grant nearly took advantage of as he robbed Deegan on the edge of the Shrews box to run one-on-one with Leutwiler. Grant opted to try and chip his old team mate but the keeper was up to the challenge as he batted the ball away and then looked to impede Long in the box as the Fleetwood striker went for the rebound.
It was all Fleetwood as the half drew to a close with a Dempsey corner smartly reworked by Grant who lifted the ball into the mix with Pond, Cole and Long all queuing up ahead of Shrewsbury’s unresponsive back-line to nod the ball home. It was Cole who got there first but Leutwiler pulled off a fine one-handed diving save to tip the ball out of play.
And Rosler’s men nearly scored once again from the subsequent Dempsey set-piece as Bolger headed the ball down towards the bottom corner but striker Toney was in the right place at the right time to clear off the line.
There was controversy in the 50th minute as Fleetwood were awarded a penalty after Cole appeared to be brought down in the box by Smith only for the referee to reverse his decision just before Grant was about to take the spot-kick. Much to Rosler’s fury referee Ross Joyce halted proceedings with the ball on the spot and Grant about to start his run up to chat to his assistant referee on the far side. After that chat Joyce reversed the decision and gave a goal kick, presumably due to a delayed offside decision.
That reversal boosted the home faithful and roused the fans who had booed their players off at the break.
A period of intense pressure in Fleetwood’s box ensued with the hosts winning a flurry of corners and setting up camp in the visitors half but despite the pressure they could not break through with Cole making a vital back post block and Pond getting himself in the way of Dodd’s curling effort.
Rosler switched things up by sending on the fresh legs of Glendon and Hunter for Dempsey and Long in the 68th minute.
Shrewsbury desperately pumped the ball forward but their crosses and long balls were often met by Bolger or Pond with Fleetwood creating one of the best chances of the game in the dying embers as Hunter just could not turn McLaughlin’s flick from a Glendon corner home.
It was all Shrewsbury in the final 10 minutes but despite their dominance they barely tested Cairns with a succession of poor deliveries from set-pieces and hopeful long balls.
In fact the closest they came to scoring was by a slight mistake from the Fleetwood shot-stopper who’s heavy touch nearly rolled over his line before he got a boot to it as Fleetwood made it 11 games unbeaten and moved into a play-off spot.
Fleetwood: Cairns, McLaughlin, Bolger, Pond, Davies, Bell, Nirennold, Dempsey (Glendon, 68), Grant, Cole (Ball, 76), Long (Hunter, 68) Subs not used: Neal, Davis, Haughton, Sowerby.
Shrewsbury: Leutwiler, Sadler, Lancashire (O’Brien, 60), Whalley (Waring, 77), Ogogo, Toney, Dodds, Brown, Smith (Riley, 54), Deegan, El-Abd. Subs not used: Black, Ebanks-Blake, Halstead, Sears.
Referee: Ross Joyce.
Attendance 5030 (96)