MATCH REPORT: Crewe 1 Fleetwood 1 (Fleetwood win 4-3 on pens)
It was a historic night for Fleetwood Town as Ash Hunter and Alex Cairns' penalty heroics secured passage through to the second round of the League Cup for the first time.
Six previous attempts are now forgotten as Barton’s Fleetwood side erased the pain of the past with a penalty shoot-out win.Cairns’ save from Perry Ng was worthy of winning any shoot-out at a ground where he had won a past penalty bout in his Leeds youth days.For Barton it was a first ever shoot-out, but with Harrison Biggins the only man to miss.Ash Hunter was then the coolest man in Crewe as he slotted the ball home despite some sledging from shot-stopper Dave Richards.The man you want taking that final penalty is Hunter and he showed why.Though at times it looked like he would not be the striker stealing the headlines.On paper Fleetwood Town’s strikeforce is the envy of many in the third tier and it was the response you wanted to see from Conor McAleny, Wes Burns and Paddy Madden on their return to the starting line-up.They were just three of the eight changes Barton made from the 2-0 win at Oxford, Cian Bolger and Tommy Spurr in for Ash Eastham and Craig Morgan, with a young and inexperienced middle three of Nathan Sheron, Harrison Biggins and Jack Sowerby behind that front trio.Only Cairns, Gethin Jones and Lewie Coyle remained from Oxford, the full-backs getting another go to prove why they should keep their shirts, with Coyle once again getting used to an unfamiliar left-sided role.In truth Town should have been three up inside the opening half-hour such was the ferocity of their front-line’s start.The link-up between Sowerby and Sheron and the forward pack was at times sublime.But Town were left licking their wounds after the forwards failed to take their chances.They went for the jugular early doors, Paddy Madden nodding a Sowerby centre uncharacteristically off target.Burns too was guilty of wasting two big opportunities and he will be disappointed he failed to hit the target after sprinting through and latching on to Sheron’s defence-splitting pass. McAleny had nothing but the woodwork to rue after he and Madden showed a telepathic awareness as the half wore on.The duo’s first-touch one-two carved open Crewe but McAleny’s strike kissed the inside of the post and after pouncing on the rebound and unselfishly finding Madden, the latter could only fire over.It was the response you would have hoped for from a front three determined to get more minutes in the league, but despite the endeavour, passion, positioning and awareness, they hadn’t packed their shooting boots.And just as those Town chances rattled past like the trains outside Crewe’s famous ground, Town’s defence juddered to a halt.Ah, the old set-piece Achilles’ heel returns and it was a case of a lack of the basics. Fleetwood had left three up for the corner that saw Crewe take the lead.It was a case of errors across the board. Spurr and Bolger should be doing better as they returned to the starting line-up to prove why they should start with Ash Eastham on Saturday. Neither unfortunately covered themselves in glory and seized their chance.Callum Ainley had a number of chances and Crewe asked serious questions of Fleetwood’s defence.The work on those cracks needs to be continued because Town cannot give those chances away on Saturday against Rochdale.And for all the tantalising potential of controversial ref Trevor Kettle causing new boss Barton to hit boiling point, it was the home fans who were bubbling over with rage.It was a big learning curve for Town’s young midfielder Nathan Sheron that led to that controversy.The 20-year-old defender turned defensive midfielder caught the eye in the opening exchanges, linking the defence and attack but a steep learning curve was ahead.Just days after his league debut at Oxford, the youngster was welcomed to the realities of cup football as a late and rash challenge on James Jones was to spell the end of his night.Kettle showed a card the same vibrant yellow as Town’s new away strip, much to the anger of the home faithful who wanted the card to blend in with their own men’s red kit.On a yellow in that position he lasted until half-time, Barton then deciding to throw on Jason Holt for his experience.And after making his Town debut on Saturday, the Rangers loan man was certainly an inspired substitution, getting Town back in the game.McAleny, Madden and Burns all probed with the ball eventually falling to Jones.His cross cannoned back out to Holt, who was in a prime position just outside the box to rifle home his first competitive goal for the club. What a time to do so.With Holt the super-sub a man, a man who has often earned that tagline during his previous 150 appearances nearly made his mark once again.Wriggling through in the 88th minute, Ash Hunter just saw his strike fizz past the wrong side of the post .Holt then saw an effort ruled out, wrongly it would seem, by the assistant referee for offside, as Town battled to avoid penalties.Wintle nearly had the final say, though, curling the ball over but it was to be penalties that confirmed Town made history.
Fleetwood: Cairns, Jones, Bolger, Spurr, Coyle, Sowerby, Sheron (Holt, 46), Biggins, Burns (Long, 83) Madden, McAleny (Hunter, 70). Subs not used: Jones, Eastham, Dempsey, Grant.
Crewe: Richards, Ng, Pickering, Jones, Bowery, Ainley (Reilly, 90), Nolan, Nicholls, Wintle, Kirk (Lowery, 78), Hunt. Subs not used: Garratt, Walker, Raynes, Finney, Lundstram.
Referee: Trevor Kettle.
1783 (107 Fleetwood)