Fleetwood Town 2, Yeovil 2
THERE are nights which seem set up for a classic FA Cup tie.
A windswept, wet and wild night, a non-league ground, a two-division gulf between the teams – Fleetwood Town’s encounter with Yeovil certainly seemed to fit the bill.
Gone may be the days of mudbath pitches and heavy leather, but romance isn’t dead yet in the cup, although Fleetwood Town left it late to prove the point.
Roared on by more than 3,300 fans, the home side set the early pace, looking to take full advantage of Jamie Vardy’s return to the side, having sat out Tuesday’s 3-0 victory over Kettering.
There was a place in the starting line-up too for Gareth Seddon, Peter Till forced to begin the game on the bench following a reshuffle by Micky Mellon.
In tricky conditions, Fleetwood struggled in the early stages to turn possession and pressure into clear-cut goalscoring opportunities.
Jamie Milligan carved out the first opening for Town just after the quarter hour mark, his free-kick looked goal-bound but was deflected behind for a corner.
Then Sean Clancy squandered a glorious opportunity, failing to connect with a Gareth Seddon cross at the back post.
Town were soon made to pay.
Yeovil had hardly ventured out of their own half but grabbed a shock lead thanks to Edward Upson on 32 minutes.
The midfielder was given too much space on the edge of the area, unleashing a piledriver from 20 yards past Scott Davies in the Fleetwood goal.
Town were rattled and could have been further behind before the break.
Kieran Agard blasted wide from six yards and was then denied by a cruel deflection as Yeovil looked to stretch their lead.
But Fleetwood, backs to the wall, clung on valiantly to go into the break just one goal down.
It wasn’t to last long.
Three minutes after the restart, Andrew Williams launched a quick break from the heart of Yeovil territory, setting up Conor Clifford – the on-loan Chelsea youngster was clinical from six yards.
Town seemed sunk and Yeovil looked well on their way to the third round.
The home side were lucky to survive a bout of penalty box pinball following a Yeovil corner and struggled to find openings – the normally tricky Vardy effectively shackled by the Glovers defence.
To a certain extent, Mellon’s men were their own worst enemies – poor first touches and sloppy passing gifting possession to the League One side, who seemed to be coping better on the slippery surface.
Fleetwood’s top goalscorer did find a way through with 25 minutes to play, his cross cleared by Bondz N’Gala, who was also on hand a minute later to block Jamie McGuire’s shot.
Suddenly, Fleetwood found a new gear as Vardy, playing a wider role, was given greater room to roam, while Yeovil looked to sit back and protect their advantage.
The home side won a series of corners but Yeovil stood firm – Milligan’s centres unable to find that vital Fleetwood head.
The introduction of Richard Brodie for Andy Mangan gave Town a greater physical presence up front and the striker could easily have snatched one back within minutes of his arrival.
Milligan made the most of a second chance to cross, after his corner was half-cleared by Paul Huntington, and he picked out Brodie who managed to turn but blasted his shot over.
Vardy then launched a one-man assault on Yeovil lines, setting up Seddon to cross, but the No.19 was only able to find a Yeovil head.
With 10 minutes to play, it looked like Fleetwood Town’s FA Cup adventure was fizzling out in the Highbury tempest.
But there’s more magic to this great old competition than that and a grandstand finish was set up when Fleetwood pulled a goal back with just eight minutes left on the clock.
Substitute Till’s pinpoint cross from the left was met at the back post by Kieran Charnock, the on-loan defender stooping to nod a header past Gareth Stewart in the Yeovil goal, his second goal in two matches for Town.
Suddenly, amid the sheeting rain, a wave of belief washed across Highbury ... anything was possible.
From the restart Town poured forward, Milligan lashing a shot narrowly past the post from outside the area.
A minute later, referee Robert Madley waved away two claims for handball inside the box against Yeovil players as Fleetwood sensed an unlikely comeback.
And when Huntington felled Charnock inside the area with two minutes of normal time remaining, the stage was set for Milligan – and the midfield maestro made no mistake from the penalty spot.
From down and out to the third round hat in just six minutes – the celebrations at Highbury were uncontainable. Milligan was mobbed by his team mates as if he’d fired in a winner.
With four minutes of added time to play, the Cod Army behind the goal were roaring their side on in the hope of another cup fairytale.
But it was Yeovil who staged a late rally, Huntington forcing a last-minute save from Davies to keep Fleetwood in the tie.
On balance, the draw was a fair result for both teams, who will go head to head again on Tuesday week at Huish Park.
By then, both sides will know the prize which awaits the victor as Fleetwood’s name appears in tomorrow’s third-round draw for the first time in the club’s history, alongside the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and neighbours Blackpool.
Yeovil will now, of course, be favourites to join those illustrious names.
But anything can happen in 90 minutes.
That’s the magic of the FA cup.
Fleetwood: Davies, Beeley (McNulty 45), Pond, Clancy (Till 56), Milligan, Goodall, Mangan (Brodie 72), McGuire (c), Seddon, Charnock, Vardy; not used: St Louis Hamilton, Vieira, Briggs, Cox
Yeovil: Stewart, Ayling, N’Gaia, Huntington, Blizzard, Williams (Johnson 80), Upson, Ehmer, Agard, Wotton (c), Clifford (MacLean 86) not used: Gilbert, Gibson, Slowe, Baggeridge
Referee: Robert Madley; Att: 3,319