The Hatters’ final game before the new campaign-proper saw a welcome return of match action at Edgeley Park, as they ended their summer friendlies by sharing the spoils in an entertaining six-goal encounter with a visiting Fleetwood XI.
A brace from ex-Fleetwood striker Paddy Madden, sandwiching a third pre-season goal for Will Collar, enabled County to come from behind three times in the course of a frenetic 25-minute second-half spell, during which all of the afternoon’s scoring took place.
County took to the field on an unseasonably overcast mid-August afternoon, showing seven changes from the line-up at Burnley’s training ground four days previously – with Ben Hinchliffe, Ash Palmer, Alex Reid and another former Fleetwood player Ryan Rydel the four Hatters handed successive starts.
The ‘Cod Army’, with their League One campaign already under way, were inevitably without many first-teamers – including former EP favourite Anthony Pilkington – and put out a side that combined players from the club’s senior and development squads.
The visitors fired a couple of early efforts high and wide – but clear-cut chances for either side were very much at a premium until the 18th minute, when Reid’s through-ball found Scott Quigley who drilled his shot narrowly shy of the right post.
Rydel came close to netting against his old club, courtesy of a low drive from the left that visiting goalkeeper Luc Rees did well to tip around the far upright. And 10 minutes before the break, Fleetwood’s best move of the half culminated in a shot over the crossbar by Paddy Lane.
Reid saw a shot deflected by Sam Bird narrowly over the bar at the other end, and another Quigley attempt fizzed past the left post, as the Hatters strove ultimately in vain to break the first-half stalemate.
HALF-TIME: County 0, Fleetwood 0.
Ethan Ross replaced Hinchliffe between the sticks upon the resumption, and was soon called into action to parry Barry Baggley’s shot past the right post. But from the resulting, quickly-taken corner, he was powerless to keep out a sliced effort by Chris Conn-Clarke that looped over him into the net to put the visitors ahead.
Their lead lasted only two minutes, before Rydel was brought down in the away area by visiting captain Carl Johnson to give County a penalty that Madden converted past Rees. But the lively start to the half, and two-minute-interval scoring, continued when Cian Hayes wove his way into the Hatters’ box and fired past Ross to restore the advantage for Fleetwood.
The end-to-end fare did not let up, with John Rooney and newly-introduced substitute Tom Walker seeing their attempts kept out, and Ross saving shots from Conn-Clarke and Danny Edwards.
Another of County’s outfield substitutes drew the Hatters level again after 66 minutes, as Collar headed home a Rooney corner from the left. But parity was once more short-lived – with Baggley firing home the afternoon’s second spot-kick, awarded following a foul by Will Fish on Edwards.
Having fallen behind three times, the Hatters secured a hat-trick of equalisers three minutes later when Madden, at close range, headed in Quigley’s cross from the right by-line. And shortly afterwards, he went close to bagging a hat-trick of his own – latching on to a Rydel delivery to glance just wide of the right post.
Rees parried behind a Rooney shot one minute from time, to ensure that honours remained even at the end.
FULL-TIME: County 3 (Madden, 50 (penalty) and 73; Collar, 66), Fleetwood 3 (Conn-Clarke, 48; Hayes, 52; Baggley, 70 (penalty)).
Team (3-4-2-1): Hinchliffe (Ross, 46); Fish, Palmer (Walker, 53), Hogan (Capt.); Southam-Hales (Collar, 53), Croasdale, Rooney, Rydel; Madden, Reid (Whitfield, 53); Quigley (Newby, 84).
Unused Subs: Keane, Pye.
Man of the Match: Fish.
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.