MATCH REPORT: Fleetwood Town 0 Walsall 1
Fleetwood's cushion from the drop was sliced open by Oldham after an unlucky 1-0 defeat to Walsall at Highbury.
But Town boss Steven Pressley was not spitting feathers after the game as his revitalised side responded from the disappointment of Saturday’s dismal display at Burton by heading the manager’s words and sticking to the basics, showing more aggression and defending properly.
The one cloud on the horizon for Pressley was the amount of time the lethal Tom Bradshaw was allowed in the box.
It was Bradshaw’s only chance of the game as Pressley’s men snuffed out his treat for the majority of the game.
But as with all great strikers the glove wearing Bradshaw needed just one window of opportunity to sneak in, fire home and burgle all three points from under Town’s nose.
It was his 14th goal of the season and it was teed-up by a delightful back heel by Sam Mantom with Bradshaw simply blasting the ball past fellow Welshman Chris Maxwell.
It should have been another Welshman who stole the headlines.
Fleetwood’s on-loan Bristol City starlet Wes Burns again proved his class with another energetic display that was just missing the clinical touch of his countryman Bradshaw.
In fact it was Burns’ inch perfect cross that set-up substitute Devante Cole to nearly grab a deserved equaliser in injury time.
The tireless forward once again used his pace to storm towards the back line and fizzed the ball back towards Cole 12-yards-out.
The substitute did everything right and looked on ready to wheel away and celebrate his first goal for the club but Walsall keeper Neil Etheridge had read a different script and pulled off an incredible fingertip save to thwart Fleetwood.
It was a gallant display by Pressley’s men but unfortunately the points were hooked away from them and Town were left to rue what might have been.
The result means Town have well and truly been dragged further into the relegation mixing pot.
Town remain 19th in the table but Oldham beat Blackpool in the only other League One game of the night and reduced the deficit to just three points.
Oldham leapfrogged Blackpool and now occupy the final relegation place just three points off Town with a game in hand, limiting Town’s breathing space and leaving Pressley’s men looking over their shoulders into the abyss once more.
But despite the doom and gloom of the league table it was a night with positives - especially after the dire performance in the 2-1 defeat at league leaders Burton on Saturday.
New signing Thomas Grant was handed his Fleetwood début and did not look out of place in a midfield three with Jimmy Ryan and Eggert Jonsson.
The 20-year-old youngster signed earlier this month after being released by Falkirk in January and it is not the first time Town boss Steven Pressley has given the youngster a début as the ex-Scotland defender gave the then 17-year-old Grant his first professional start when he was Falkirk manager.
It was one of two changes Pressley made to the side that lost at Albion.
Victor Nirennold and striker Shola Ameobi moved to the bench as Burns, who came off the bench and scored at Burton, was recalled to the starting XI.
Defenders Stephen Jordan and Tyler Forbes recovered from injuries to be named on the bench but despite being fit enough to be named as substitutes neither entered the fray.
Nick Haughton - who was sent off in the 2-2 draw with Sheffield United - returned to the bench after serving a one match ban and made a late cameo.
Bobby Grant was sent off in the 2-1 defeat at Burton for violent conduct and started the first of a three match ban.
It was a bright start by Fleetwood as Burns - the man Pressley hailed as the only shining light in the dismal 2-1 defeat at Burton - continued to shine.
He sent a thunderous effort fizzing past the right post in the opening minutes and then oh so nearly opened the scoring in spectacular fashion in the 11th minute.
His 18-yard screamer swirled through the air and appeared to brush Etheridge’s fingertips as it just skimmed over the bar.
Burns was tripped outside box and fired the subsequent set-piece just over the bar moments later
Fleetwood constantly passed the ball with poise around the whole pitch and despite the electric Burns’ best efforts they failed to find the killer ball or get an effort on target as they dominated the first half.
And the host’s were made to pay for not converting their chances.
In fact over the course of the whole match Town had 11 shots with five hitting the target compared to Walsall’s six efforts and only one on target.
And that Bradshaw effort was to be the all important as their only shot on target proved to be the match-winning strike.
Bradshaw punished Town for not scoring when they were on top as the striker beat fellow Maxwell with a sublime strike in the 49th minute.
The goal was set-up by a slick, accurate back heel from Mantom that outfoxed Town’s centre-halves and allowed Bradshaw to steal in and fire home.
But Fleetwood did not go down without a fight.
Bell Amari’i Bell cut in from the left but his shot was deflected wide and Burns blasted over from distance once again from the subsequent corner as the host’s edged nearer to hitting the target.
The in-form Burns was in the action once again as his goal bound effort was just tipped wide of the right post by an on-song Etheridge.
Town right-back Conor McLaughlin appeared to trip Rico Henry on the edge of the box, the referee blew his whistle, raised an arm and it was an agonising moment for the Cod Army as he just judged that the foul had taken place just outside the box instead of pointing to the spot.
Town centre back Joe Davis’ header was flicked on and just held by the leaping Etheridge.
And Jimmy Ryan’s thunderous low drive from distance was just palmed away by a diving Etheridge as the keeper continued to thwart Town as they peppered his goal in the dying embers of the game.
And it was Etheridge who had the last say.
Time appeared to stand still as Cole’s goalbound effort whirled towards goal with the Walsall keeper appearing to be wrong-footed but somehow the shot-stopper leapt across goal and just tip the ball wide and leave Town looking back over the shoulder at the drop zone.
Fleetwood: McLaughlin, Nilsson, Davis, Bell, Grant, Jonsson (Haughton, 87), Ryan, Hunter (Cole, 46), Ball (Ameobi, 72) Burns. Subs not used: Gogic, Jordan, Nirennold, Forbes, Haughton.
Walsall: Etheridge, Demetriou, Taylor, O’Connor, Downing, Chambers (Kinsella, 78) Mantom, Bradshaw (Lalkovic, 87), Sawyers, Henry, Hiwula-Mayifuila (Forde, 72). Subs: MacGillivray, Lalkovic, Preston, Flanagan, Kinsella, Morris.
Referee: Chris Kavanagh (Manchester)