MATCH REPORT: Fleetwood 2 Sheffield United 2
Sheffield United staged a daylight robbery at Highbury as a controversial penalty in added time robbed Fleetwood Town of all three points.
As the clock ticked over the 90th minute mark 10-man Town had fought back from a goal down to be 2-1 up thanks to headers from Ash Hunter and Marcus Nilsson and looked set to secure their third win on the spin.
But that was all to change in the blink of an eye as United’s Ryan Flynn surged down the left hand side of the box and tumbled over.
Referee Carl Boyeson ruled that Amari’i Bell had impeded the midfielder despite appearing to have got the ball.
And as Bell protested an object was allegedly thrown from the United fans behind the goal at Town keeper Chris Maxwell.
The shot-stopper suffered a cut to his eye but dusted himself down to face Che Adams.
The Welshman’s spot-kick heroics helped Town knock United out of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy earlier in the campaign.
And it looked as though the keeper was set to blunt the Blades once more as he managed to get a leg to the ball but Adams’ penalty had too much pace on it and it looped off his thigh and into the net.
It was a heartbreaking end to what was a spirited display by a patched up Town team that was rocked by injuries and the dismissal of young substitute Nick Haughton.
Haughton had been on the field for less than 20 minutes when he kicked the ball away in anger and was shown a second yellow.
He’d only entered the fray due to Jack Sowerby - who replaced wounded centre back Joe Davis at half-time - picking up a knee injury.
But despite playing with 10-men a battered, bruised and adjusted Town side weathered United’s storm until that penalty decision gave the visitor’s the opportunity to pinch a point.
Town had to make more readjustments before kick-off as midfielder Antoni Sarcevic, who picked up a groin strain in Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Gillingham, was not fit to play and so boss Steven Pressley was forced to make one change to that winning change.
Hunter was recalled and forward David Ball was asked to slot into the midfield as Pressley opted for a 4-3-3.
United made the brighter start as John Brayford’s cross from the right was nodded off target by Adams at the back post.
Adams was in the action moments later as he tried to curl the ball past Maxwell from just outside the box but the Town keeper dived to his left and made a solid save to thwart the United forward.
Fleetwood grew into the game and the goal hungry Hunter curled a right-footed effort wide of the right post from outside the box.
And it was the Blades who drew first blood. United took the lead as Matt Done’s cross from the left took a deflection off Nilsson and fizzed passed Maxwell into the right corner in the 29th minute.
But less than a minute later Hunter leapt high and nodded Victor Nirennold’s cross from the right home.
Davis clashed heads with a United player in the box and ended up receiving treatment to a head wound on the pitch.
The defender was bandaged up and trudged off down the tunnel for treatment, with half-time looming Pressley - who had some stern words from referee Boyeson for breaching the technical area - gambled and decided not to substitute Davis.
With only young development squad right back Matt Williams on the bench Pressley decided to play the remaining minutes of the half without Davis so Eggert Jonsson plugged the gap in the back line with Hunter and Burns retreating into the midfield.
The move paid off as United barely threatened as the half drew to a close and failed to test Maxwell with Town down to 10. In fact Fleetwood looked the more potent going forward even with the shift in shape.
Despite Town’s best efforts to patch Davis up he was not able to return for the second 45 and so midfielder Sowerby entered the fray with Jonsson continuing to deputise at centre back.
Both sides had chances early in the half. Jimmy Ryan tried his luck from distance but his low, hard strike just fizzed past the wrong side of the post whilst moments later Dominic Calvert-Lewin smashed the ball just over the bar into the travelling United fans.
The in-form Wes Burns missed a golden opportunity to put Town ahead. Ball’s cross from the left hit the bar and fell to the Welshman at the back stick but he smashed the ball into the right post from three-yards out and then cannoned the ball over.
In the 57th minute Flynn had an effort and minutes later Adams found space and fired the ball straight down Maxwell’s throat.
Hunter was chopped down on the right wing by Dean Hammond - who picked up a yellow card for his troubles - and Town took the lead from the subsequent set-piece.
Ryan whipped the ball into the mix and Nilsson rose above his marker and headed the ball towards the bottom corner. It was an agonising wait for the Cod Army as the ball swirled through the air but it kissed the right post and rolled over in the 61st minute.
Ball’s goal bound shot was just deflected away by a United leg as Town tried to make it three.
But they suffered another injury blow as young Sowerby - who entered the mix after Davis’ head injury - limped off with a suspected knee injury.
His replacement, Haughton, was straight in the referee’s note book within minutes of coming on.
Haughton felled Done as the United man steamed down the left wing and was shown a yellow card by Boyeson.
United should have levelled in the 77th minute. Done dinked a free-kick over the wall into the path of three unmarked green shirts at the back stick but fortunately Hammond sliced the ball across goal wide from less than six-yards out.
The Blades upped the attacks as the clock ticked towards full-time.
The ball pinged around Fleetwood’s box but luckily Flynn’s backwards header looped into Maxwell’s hands.
Up the other end Burns and Shola Ameobi nearly increased the host’s lead with a slick counter-attacking move.
Burns steamed down the left and whipped the ball into the box into the path of Ameobi who had thrown himself through the air but just missed connecting with the ball and scoring a spectacular diving header.
United had an effort cleared off the line by Fleetwood in the 85th minute as they searched for an equaliser.
And moments later Nick Haughton was sent off for picking up his second yellow of the game.
The youngster kicked the ball away after the referee gave United a free-kick.
Then the controversial penalty incident happened and United had a late winner chalked off.
Basham had the ball in the back of the net but the referee disallowed it for a foul on Maxwell and the game ended 2-2 with the referee booed off.
The result saw Fleetwood drop to 18th but they have built a five point cushion away from the drop zone after Blackpool’s defeat at Millwall.
Maxwell, Nirennold, Nilsson, Davis (Sowerby, 46, (Haughton, 69) Bell, Jonsson, Ryan, Ball, Burns, Ameobi, Hunter (Matt, 76). Subs not used: Gogic, Williams, Grant, Cole.
Sheffield United: Long, Brayford, Basham, Flynn, Done, Baptiste, Calvert-Lewin (Sammon, 74), Adams, Cuvelier (Coutts, 46), Edgar, Hammond. Subs not used: Howard, Campbell-Ryce, McGahey, Whiteman, Kelly.
Referee: Carl Boyeson (East Yorkshire)