Fleetwood Town 1 Wrexham 1. SQUANDERED chances and big night nerves meant Fleetwood Town fans will have to wait a little longer to celebrate promotion to the Football League.
The top-two clash with Wrexham was always going to be a tight affair and, but for a recent Wrexham blip, nobody would have expected Town to seal the title.
But, nevertheless a record crowd of nearly 5,000 packed into Highbury, anticipating, almost expecting victory.
Micky Mellon made two changes to his starting line-up following Saturday’s victory over York City.
Injured Peter Cavanagh was forced to sit out the top of the table clash, replaced in midfield by Danny Rose. His regular midfield partner Lee Fowler was also absent, replaced by Jamie Milligan – making his first start for Town since January.
Andy Morrell made five changes from his side’s defeat to Alfreton on Friday, leaving himself out altogether, leading scorer Jake Speight returning from suspension.
Fleetwood bossed the first half but Wrexham carved out the first real opening of the night within two minutes of kick-off, Mathias Pogba, in at the near post, his shot bundled into the arms of Scott Davies.
Milligan was the architect of Town’s first clear cut chance, the midfielder creating himself space on the right to cross, the flick on from Gareth Seddon just too much for Jamie Vardy at the back post.
Wrexham were keen to make their physical advantage count and, with quarter of an hour played, could easily have snatched the lead.
Pogba was too strong for Alan Goodall, some clever interplay with Danny Wright working the ball into the box – Pogba’s shot blocked by a rattled Fleetwood defence and hacked clear.
As the half progressed Fleetwood’s quality began to show, Vardy with a good opening for Town -– picking up on a loose ball, his shot low across the keeper too weak.
Moments later Jamie McGuire came close, robbing Joe Clark deep inside the Wrexham half, his shot curling just over the bar.
With Fleetwood in the ascendancy, Wrexham handed Town chances to take a crucial lead – goalkeeper Joslain Mayebi the chief culprit.
First the Cameroon international stopper, under no pressure whatsoever, almost dribbled the ball into his own net.
Then, a poor clearance found its way straight to the feet of 32-goal hero Vardy, the striker looking to tee up Seddon – Mark Creighton coming in with a crucial block.
The visitors, under pressure almost constantly, looked dangerous from set pieces and tested Town again with five minutes of the first half remaining.
Creighton was left unmarked at the back post, his bullet header from Dean Keates’ corner headed off the line by Danny Rose.
The antics of Mayebi almost landed Wrexham in bother just before the break – the ‘keeper racing 40 yards to meet Vardy – stranding himself with the goal wide open.
Had Vardy’s chip been a little lower, Town could have taken a crucial lead into the break.
Wrexham stepped up a gear at the start of the second half, piling pressure on to Town and Speight almost put the Welshmen ahead, Davies rushing out to deny the striker.
Minutes later the visitors did take the lead, Nathan Pond’s poor clearance falling perfectly for Dean Alfei, who picked out Speight at the back post for an easy tap in.
Town were at sixes and sevens but were soon level – against the run of play.
A free kick from the right channel was given a helping hand, or rather foot, by Gareth Seddon, deceiving everyone in a crowded box and sneaking into the far corner – whether or not defender Creighton got a touch is open to debate.
Cue flares and wild celebrations in the Memorial Stand – didn’t anyone mention a draw wasn’t good enough?
The equaliser was a confidence boost for Town who resumed their relentless assault on the Wrexham area.
Vardy, put through by substitute Peter Till, looked certain to score but dragged his shot wide.
Next it was Seddon’s turn to squander a dream opening, Vardy’s cross somehow hooked away for a throw in.
Town were in total control and should have grabbed the lead when Seddon set up Vardy, the strikers blast somehow blocked – the celebrations remaining on hold.
With 15 minutes to play, the home side were handed a huge boost. Joe Clark answered back to the referee after conceding a free kick for handball on the edge of the Wrexham box earning a red card from referee Andy Davies for his outburst.
Wrexham parked the bus, hoping to deny Town a winner while still threatening on the break.
And Keates almost did grab an unlikely winner, finding himself alone at the back post, his shot blocked at point-blank range by Davies.
Fleetwood were struggling to find openings, their best work coming down the right, where Peter Till and Shaun Beeley were combining well but failing to find that killer ball.
And it was Beeley who provided the best late chance for Fleetwood, his swerving shot from 20 yards tipped over by Mayebi – atoning for his earlier errors.
Wrexham almost grabbed a winner at the death, Pogba’s shot ruled not to have crossed the line, much to the relief of Fleetwood’s shocked defence.
And so, the big game over – what changes?
Well, Wrexham have one fewer game to snatch the title from Fleetwood’s grasp.
The Cod Army need just one more win to guarantee their Football League dream - but a point would almost certainly be enough. There’s not long to wait, Lincoln City are the visitors on Friday – until then the champagne stays on ice.
FLEETWOOD: Davies, Beeley, McNulty (c), Pond, Milligan (Briggs 50), Goodall, Mangan, McGuire, Seddon (Brodie 68), Rose (Till 50), Vardy Subs not used: Charnock, Stevenson
WREXHAM: Mayebi, Alfei, Ashton, Creighton, Wright (Ogleby 70), Speight (Westwood 78), Keates (c), Little (Tolley, 79), Knight-Percival, Pogba, Clarke Sent off: Clarke (dissent)