Fylde Under 'F' For Feisty!
The Hatters put behind them the disappointment of defeat at Chorley four days earlier with a spirited performance that deservedly earned a point, and, in the process, ended Fylde's run of consecutive home League victories stretching back to August.
Alan Lord rang the changes following the Chorley game, as Danny Hurst reclaimed the goalkeeping jersey from Ian Ormson after a four-match absence, Chris Churchman replaced Richie Baker in midfield, and both Kristian Dennis and Chris Sharp were handed starts for the first time since serving out their recent suspensions. Ormson and Baker featured on the County bench, together with Lee Stevenson who was suffering from a tight calf. Scott Duxbury's return to First Team action was having to be put on hold for slightly longer, due to tonsilitis, with the versatile Andy Owens being asked to fill the left back berth - while Mark Lees moved across to play at right back, in place of Glenn Belezika - as part of a 4-3-3 formation.
Scarcely a week goes by without our meeting opponents who don't have a former Hatter in their ranks, and this afternoon was no exception - although Danny (L) Rowe was named among the Fylde substitutes, rather than taking to the field at 3pm. Tom Eckersley's name did not appear on the team-sheet at all, but news of the central defender's likely, imminent recall by the Coasters was increasingly positive following a serious knee injury that he had incurred some ten months earlier.
County, sporting - rather unusually for an away fixture - the first-choice royal blue kit, began proceedings with a look of determination. Which was just as well, given that the diminutive Danny Lloyd appeared to be on a mission single-handedly to take the game to the Hatters. Alternating between the flanks, Lloyd was clearly the stand-out player of the first half, as he first jinked past County defenders to shoot narrowly wide, then got behind them to toe-poke an effort even closer to the post. Not content with solo efforts, he turned provider with a cross that found the head of Josh Wilson - only for the Fylde debutant to nod the ball beyond the upright.
The Hatters were not without opportunities of their own, though. Owens was the first County player to set his sights on goal, when he blasted a shot over the home bar, and Scott Spencer did likewise after teeing himself up for a volley attempt. The Owens long-throw spin - no doubt admired by Fylde boss, and former Hatters exocet-specialist, Dave Challinor - was also deployed to good effect, leading to corners for County on a couple of occasions prior to the break.
With fewer than five minutes left on the clock in the first half, the contest really burst into life with near-misses for both sides. A County corner led to a scramble in the Fylde goalmouth that ended with a Stephen O'Halloran header being cleared off the line, before the hosts' leading scorer, Richie Allen, who had hitherto been having a quiet game, showed the Hatters a clean pair of heels to execute a delightful chip just wide of the post.
HALF-TIME: Fylde 0, County 0.
Spurred on by their chances just ahead of the break, County and Fylde emerged for the second half to create a flurry of end-to-end moves. Dennis was the first to try his luck, shooting from twenty yards after being set up by Tunji Moses, only for Ben Hinchliffe, in the Coasters' goal, to anticipate a potentially awkward bounce and gather the ball safely. At the other end, Hurst was soon called into action - using his hands, and then his feet, to save shots from Michael Barnes and from Allen, respectively.
Dennis, who had suffered from a relative lack of service during the game, took it upon himself to deliver a killer of a cross that flashed across the Fylde goal - while surely lamenting not being able to be in two places at once, with a view to getting on the end of his own delivery.
Allen was presenting a more lively threat to the County defence as the game went on, and he curled a shot just wide of the post - before a Wilson cross found substitute, Michael Potts, whose goal-bound shot was deflected away from its target by Daniel Gregson.
With three shots on target, and six off, for each team during the match, it really couldn't have been a tighter tussle - as well as one featuring plenty of good football. The no-score draw - County's first in seven months and a day - was anything but a drag, and, moreover, was entirely merited against one of the League's pace-setting outfits. The return fixture promises to be intriguing a week on Tuesday... assuming that both sides avoid an FA Trophy replay. (I, for one, will, with all due respect to the Land of my Fathers, be less than sorry to avoid the schlep to Colwyn Bay on a Tuesday night!)
FULL-TIME: Fylde 0, County 0.
Team: Hurst, Lees, Owens, Moses, Gregson, O'Halloran, Dennis (Woolfe, 90), Churchman, Spencer (Baker, 72), Milligan, Sharp (Stevenson, 84).
Unused Subs: Ormson, Fagbola.