Town 0 Coventry 1: The Verdict

Ash Hunter battles John Fleck
Ash Hunter battles John Fleck
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There are few crueller ways in which to lose a game than an own goal in the very last minute.

But that’s how things have been for Fleetwood - a glaring error here, a howler there, a stroke of bad luck just when it isn’t needed.

The fact Richard Wood was struck by the ball after Chris Maxwell’s save shows he was in the right place at the right time - Coventry’s winner just one of those things.

Not that Fleetwood can, right now, just shrug and accept such things as fate.

A run of five League defeats is definitely a lurch into unknown territory - new boss Steven Pressley may well have the ideas to halt the slide but it’s not clear yet whether he has the tools in the current Fleetwood changing room.

The Scot’s impact at Highbury was immediately obvious - Tyler Forbes cast out in a squad reshuffle, the young defender having made one mistake too many on Tuesday evening.

And in came Ash Hunter - one of two young guns tasked with providing Town’s attacking flair alongside the hard grafting Jamie Proctor.

There was a clear change to the way Town were playing too.

Pressley had talked in the build-up to the clash about a clear philosophy.

And that was manifested in a high-tempo pressing game - Fleetwood on it from the start, trying to make their opponents uncomfortable on the ball.

The cosmic shift from Graham Alexander’s increasingly cautious approach was clear for all to see, Fleetwood dynamic and pro-active - Coventry not given a moment’s peace.

And it paid dividends in the opening 45 minutes, Fleetwood’s midfielders bustling about shutting down every bit of space, every avenue for Tony Mowbray’s side.

And as the Sky Blues became increasingly frustrated the mistakes came - the League One high flyers unable to show the quality in possession which has taken them into the pack of early play-off contenders.

Of course, as with any new system, there were winners and losers.

For the likes of Proctor and Jimmy Ryan it was a match made in heaven - both covering furlong upon furlong, chasing down every pass, every run.

Ash Hunter was also enjoying the high-tempo of play, even if his new wide role took him away from the six-yard box where he can cause so many problems.

Then there was Victor Nirennold, the Frenchman in his element, lolloping about in front of the back four, his enthusiasm as ever making up for any technical shortcoming.

For the likes of Antoni Sarcevic and Nick Haughton it was more of a struggle - particularly for the former who has always been afforded the luxury of being able to drift in and out of a game.

Sarcevic must adjust if he’s to have a future under the new Highbury regime - to move the ball quicker and retain possession better.

There is no place in Pressley’s new look Town for passengers - the boss barking from the bench, calling for more from his players at every turn, not allowing the tempo to drop for a moment.

Town’s style of play made life difficult for the Sky Blues who only mustered one clear cut chance before the interval.

It was Jacob Murphy who tested Chris Maxwell - the former Blackpool loanee a thorn in the side of Fleetwood last season with Colchester and picking up where he’d left off on that April day.

He was ably assisted by Reuben Lameiras and Sam Ricketts who kicked off a slick move down the right, Maxwell with a superb save to divert Murphy’s shot along the line - a fingertip keeping Town on the level. Other than that, with Wood and Teixeira at the heart of their defence Fleetwood were largely keeping the Sky Blues at bay.

But they lacked the pace on the counter and the power up front to take advantage of the possession they were able to win, scraping out only half chances - two scuffed Jamie Proctor shots the pick of the pack.

After the break they did create more - enjoying a purple patch at the opening of the second half which lasted until their pressing game ran out of steam.

Had Fleetwood taken the lead in that time they would almost certainly have taken points from the game.

And they went close - Hunter making an early impact, twice testing Reice Charles-Cook in the Coventry goal.

A blistering 25 yard drive forced a save out of the Coventry keeper, Town unable to keep up the pressure from the resulting corner.

Ten minutes later Sarcevic, in a rare show of quality, piled into the box, showing great tenacity to keep the moving going after his initial shot was blocked.

Smashing the ball to the back post he picked out Hunter who looked certain to sneak a shot inside the post.

Charles-Cook’s fingertips denied the lively forward - his save perhaps the most crucial moment of the game.

Town were forced to maintain the tempo and it was beginning to take a toll.

Jimmy Ryan, who seemed determined to cover every blade, was being asked to be ballwinner and creative force in one, his roving role unbelievably punishing.

Still Fleetwood carved out one, maybe two more chances to sneak it.

First there was a big shout for a penalty when Antoni Sarcevic looked to be pushed near the penalty spot, Mr Heywood unmoved by the protests.

Then there was David Ball’s big moment, the substitute popping up at the back stick after Charles-Cook was only able to parry a free kick from the right.

His shot, like Hunter’s before, could easily have crept in, but for the Coventry keeper’s robust touch, the effort bouncing back onto Ball’s legs and behind for a goal kick.

In truth Town had run out of steam, chased and pestered themselves into the ground.

And Coventry, with the pace and trickery of Murphy were taking advantage.

The wide man might easily have claimed a hat-trick.

Having tested Maxwell either side of the break he went closer still with 10 minutes remaining, rattling the woodwork having danced past an exhausted Ryan on the edge of the area.

Fleetwood, in the end, thought they’d got out of jail - one slack moment in a superb defensive display proving so costly.

They simply didn’t have the legs to contain George Thomas who scampered along the 18-yard line and let go a stinging shot.

Maxwell got a hand to it, turning it onto the leg of Wood who was racing back to cover on the line.

Town had given everything and were set to leave with nothing.

But that may be the way in the coming weeks as Pressley’s plan is put into action.

Town will need to be fitter and sharper for longer if they are to make the pressing game count. They may have run out of steam on Saturday but manager and players alike will have learned from Saturday’s baptism of fire.

There may be casualties along the way - those players either unwilling or incapable of the effort required.

But Pressley might just be able to put the fight in Fleetwood to ensure survival.