Shrewsbury Town 1 Fleetwood Town 1Shrewsbury conceded a late equaliser to deny them a much needed three points against fellow strugglers Fleetwood.
The game had started well for the hosts with Jordan Clark’s shot deflected into the net off Liam McAlinden after just six minutes. But Ashley Hunter squared the match for the Cod Army within seconds of coming on as an 84th minute substitute.
Town were forced to shuffle their pack for the Boxing Day clash. Sullay Kaikai’s midweek return to parent club Crystal Palace led to a rare start for Liam McAlinden.
Town got off to a fantastic start with Clark’s shot diverted into goal by a defender, but although the finish was a scrappy one, Clark’s enterprise in the build-up deserved to bring reward.
He took on a number of players down the left hand side and after a few ricochets went in Shrews favour, Clark was on hand to blast the ball towards goal, and took all the plaudits when it nestled in the opposite corner of the net to which he’d directed his shot. McAlinden would most likely contest that a part of his anatomy made him the last Town player to make contact with the ball, so perhaps some work to do for the dubious goals panel?
A wind assisted corner would have brought an instantaneous leveller for the visitors had Nathan Pond been alive to it unmarked at the back stick. But the ball stuck under the skipper’s feet and the chance was lost.
The wind was swirling around the Stadium to such a degree that a Mark Halstead goal-kick soon after the goal, took a ride on the winds and landed on the edge of his own penalty area!
Fleetwood’s response had been a good one to falling behind and Connor McLaughlin was next to pop up in acres at the far post. His shot though, was that of a seasoned defender and Town were let off for a second time.
At the other end, James Collins held the ball up well and chose to set up Abu Ogogo instead of taking the more direct route to goal, and a Fleetwood defender did well to block the shot off.
Pictures shot from the television gantry over on the West Stand side of the Greenhous Meadow, confirmed that McAlinden’s back (or backside) had diverted the path of Clark’s shot and that there could be little doubt it was the striker’s goal.
Five minutes before the break a Junior Brown free-kick just eluded Scott Vernon which was the closest Town had come to a goal since that early strike by Clarkalinden.
The wind was still wreaking havoc but given the poor conditions, the players hadn’t put on a bad show for the holiday crowd. There was almost an embarrassing moment for Pond before he recovered to concede a late corner, and after Ian Black had finally managed to get one over a wildly swaying corner flag to deliver the kick, the half ended in a flashpoint.
Handbags between NKP and Joe Davis brought both players together, but Pond decided to stick his oar in and it all threatened to turn ugly. The ref and his assistant both had to run over to calm the situation as more and more players entered the fray with the whistle already blown to signal HT.
Half-Time: Town 1 Fleetwood Town 0
Fleetwood came out of the dressing rooms a couple of minutes before Salop but a quick look around both sides confirmed there had been no interval changes.
Black flashed one wide from the edge of the box after three colleagues each chose to shift the ball rather than crack it in the direction of Chris Maxwell. The Fleetwood stopper had been a bystander all afternoon with Halstead hardly overworked in the Shrewsbury goal either.
Clark fired wide after cutting in to create an opening but the midfielder almost gifted a goal to the opposition. He slipped midway inside his own half and when the ball found its way to Ball, his fierce drive was repelled by Halstead standing tall at his near post. A second corner was headed against the face of the bar by Pond - who was almost directly underneath it so the defender couldn’t have been much more than a yard out.
Jimmy Ryan became the first recipient of a yellow card just after a double substitution by the away side when he left Black in a heap. But it was Junior Brown who was replaced with 25 minutes left by Mat Sadler.
David Henen blazed wildly over when he had a sight of goal and he should have at least made Halstead make a save. Fleetwood were still in this game though you sensed a second for Town would be enough to kill the game off.
A Black free-kick had Maxwell scampering across goal but in fairness, it was a save you’d expect any keeper to make. Black’s weaknesses showed once more with another booking for sheer petulance as he blocked off an intended quick free-kick.
Halstead was called into action again to deny Fleetwood an equaliser with 15 minutes left when it looked like Henen was going to restore parity, but once again Town’s keeper did well to save with a fine block.
JLAA replaced McAlinden soon after with Fleetwood continuing to ask the questions, making all bar the 100 away supporters extremely twitchy. A late tackle on the far side earned Collins a booking before Micky Mellon put Liam Lawrence on for Clark.
But it was the opposition substitution at the same time that had a devastating impact. Hunter had been on the pitch for all of ten seconds when he ran on to a ball played in behind the home defence to confidently stroke the ball beyond Halstead.
There can’t have been too many quicker goals from the bench and didn’t Hunter enjoy it.
Tariqi Fosu came closest to winning the match with a shot that rippled the side netting, but it finished one apiece as Town ended their promotion year with just three wins from twelve home league games in SKY Bet League One.
Full-Time: Town 1 Fleetwood Town 1
Town: Mark Halstead, Anthony Gerrard, Nat Knight-Percival, Dom Smith, Ian Black, Jordan Clark (Liam Lawrence, 84), Abu Ogogo, James Collins (c), Scott Vernon, Junior Brown (Mat Sadler, 65), Liam McAlinden (Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro, 76)
Subs not used: Callum Burton (GK), Sam Paterson, Shaun Whalley, Liam Lawrence, Tyrone Barnett, Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro
Fleetwood Town: Chris Maxwell, Connor McLaughlin, Eggert Johnsson (Ashley Hunter, 84), Nathan Pond (c), Amarii Bell, Jimmy Ryan, Bobby Grant (Tariqi Fosu, 61), Antoni Sarcevic, David Ball (Jamie Proctor, 61), David Henen, Joe Davis
Subs not used: Alexs Gogic, Tyler Forbes, Nick Haughton, Dion Teixeira
Referee: Stephen Martin
Assistants: Matthew Donohue and Robert Merchant
Fourth Official: Michael D’aguilar
Attendance: 5,749 (100 from Fleetwood)