United were beaten for the third game in a row as a goal in each half gave Football League new boys Fleetwood a 2-1 win tonight and a double over the U's. A superb strike in the 89th minute from Liam Davies gave United some consolation, although the final result may not.
Fleetwood, eyeing a place in the automatic promotion places, had the lion’s share of the early possession on a difficult sanded surface. United, with Deane Smalley back in the team for the first time since October, reverted to their 4-4-2 shape with Alfie Potter in the eleven once more on the right of the midfield four and created two or three early chances.
It took 16 minutes before the first shot of the night, James Constable rippling the wrong side of the netting with a powerful shot from a difficult angle. Two minutes late Smalley hit the correct side of the net but had his headed effort ruled out for a push as the corner had come his way.
Lewis Montrose, a commanding presence in midfield throughout, then tested visiting keeper Scott Davies for the first time with a 25th minute curling effort which the keeper pushed away at full stretch but on 28 minutes United were a goal behind. Fleetwood are a decent passing side and worked a good opening as they moved the ball from right to left. Conor McLaughlin began it with a pass to David Ball. He had Luke McCormick in his sights but waited until the overloaded Damian Batt tried to stop the shot then slipped it to his left for Ryan Crowther to finish with a shot across McCormick which made it 1-0.
United had a quick chance to hit back as Potter nipped into the box but inexplicably chose the more difficult option of a pass when the shot was on. Smalley then smashed a volley just wide on 33 and at the break United were perhaps unfortunate to once again be behind after their opponents had mustered just one shot at goal.
They started the second half on the front foot as well and were playing with real urgency and tempo to try and find a way back but were then hit by the sucker punch once again at the other end. A long deep cross from McLaughlin on the right travelled all the way to the far post where left back Dean Howell got up to head back across goal. Junior Brown raced in to knock the ball past the helpless McCormick and United were 2-0 down.
Constable offered hope with a left footed shot on the hour which smacked to safety off of the left hand post and the U's continued to play most of the game in the Fleetwood half, but the Cod Army have swiftly gained experience at this level and took time out of the game where they could while standing strong in defence. They needed a good save from Davies on 80 as Constable threatened to pull a goal back with a stabbed effort from close in after good work from sub Josh Parker. They also needed a little bit of luck as Michael Raynes headed the rebound over the bar but perhaps deserved that for a stubborn defensive effort and a well organised team performance.
United threw men forward and Davies made an excellent save from a Batt shot before Davis took aim from 25 yards and rifled his shot past the keeper, who didn't even move. That set up a grandstand finale which saw Constable plant a good effort over the top, then a second less good one well over. The United faithful roared their team forward, sensing an impossible comeback, but somehow that vital final chance just wouldn't come.
Once again United were willing workers and gave it their all, but came up short against one of the promotion chasing sides.
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Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Steve Daniels, Stats by PA Sports