Fleetwood 1 Shrewsbury 2 - Report and pictures
Nathan Thomas’ first Shrewsbury goal sent Paul Hurst’s men back to the top of League One, writes Lewis Cox at Highbury Stadium.
The on-loan Sheffield United winger powered home with eight minutes to play on a euphoric night for impressive Town, who had seen Shaun Whalley’s header cancelled out.
Rivals Wigan lost for the second time in four days to send the Montgomery Waters Meadow underdogs back to the top of the pile yet again to answer more claims they were ready to fall away.
It was a stylish and accomplished performance from Salop who were well worthy of the spoils after creating numerous chances against the struggling hosts.
The deadline day pursuit of Thomas, who had been courted for more than a year, paid dividends as he sent the ecstatic and die-hard travelling Town souls into bedlam.
In Town’s bid to secure a first win at the home of the Cod Army in the fifth attempt Hurst made five changes from the side that lost against Plymouth.
Dean Henderson returned for a three-match suspension to take over in goal from Craig MacGillivray.
Also included were Bryn Morris - his first league start since January 1 - and just a second Town start for Luke Hendrie. Whalley and Omar Beckles completed the changes.
Out went MacGillivray, Thomas, James Bolton, Ben Godfrey and Max Lowe.
Uwe Rosler’s men, beaten in the play-off semi-finals last season, have found life tougher this time around. Home comforts had been few and far between with no league wins at Highbury since October 28.
Incredibly it was Hurst’s sixth meeting with Fleetwood in less than 16 months as Town boss. The former non-league club had not been a happy stomping ground for Hurst in the early months of his reign.
In front of some good early backing from the travelling Salop fans, the visitors started in encouraging fashion. Whalley and C Morris in particularly looked in the mood and it was a cute pass from Whalley that set the roving Beckles free from left-back unmarked into the United box.
Beckles opened his body up with the composure of an attacker but curled his effort just wide of the far top corner.
Aside from a couple of first balls from corners the hosts were not troubling Town’s goal. Former Shrews man Bobby Grant saw a volley blocked after an uncharacteristically poor punch from Henderson.
Skipper Abu Ogogo, whose last goal was in April 2016, drilled one wide from distance before Jon Nolan mesmerized the Cod Army defenders, dancing around challenges before sliding wide of the far post.
Nolan found himself in the middle of the action as Town dominated and the midfield schemer should have had his side capitalising on their pressure and taking the lead.
Carlton Morris found the left-sided run of namesake Bryn and the returning midfield found Nolan’s late unchecked run into the box but he could only help wide again.
Aside from not breaking the deadlock, the only other sour note was the loss of Rodman, who limped off clutching his lower back and was replaced by Thomas.
Some of Town’s football was far too good for their hosts and, following another fine move, C Morris could only head wide while back-peddling on to a Whalley cross.
Just as it seemed Town would regret going in goalless at the sign of the assistant’s board signalling three minutes. The encounter stormed into life.
Hendrie endeared himself to the Salop faithful right in front of them with a stunning last-ditch goal-saving challenge to prevent Madden from handing the hosts an undeserved opener.
Thirty seconds later, after a Beckles burst and devilishly wicked Thomas cross from the left, Whalley was whisking away celebrating his 10th goal of the season.
He stole a march on his markers and sent a bullet header beyond the helpless Cairns. The outstanding cross from Thomas created it though, and Whalley’s neck muscles added yet more power. Full credit went the way of Hendrie for his block just seconds prior.
Rosler made a couple of challenges 10 minutes after the break and his side netted an equaliser shortly after. Henderson had saved low from Madden but the resulting corner evaded his grasp and was helped back across goal to Madden who bundled home.
Hurst’s men responded and laid siege to the Fleetwood box after the hour, creating fine positions - particularly from the wide areas through the lively Thomas - but were unable to apply the final cross or pass.
Bryn Morris had keeper Cairns rattled with a lashed curling effort that flew inches wide of the top right angle.
Town were flying forward at every chance and, after more fine Thomas work, Ogogo could only power one down the throat of Cairns as another chance went begging.
The persistence paid off. And it was a man they patiently waited some 12 months to sign that did the business. Whalley and C Morris powerfully broke, spread it to the left side of the box for Thomas to cause more mayhem, he cuts inside and powerfully prodded home to seal yet another memorable three points in this quite astounding campaign.
Fleetwood Town (4-3-3):
Cairns (gk); Jones (Coyle, 78), Eastham, Pond ©, O’Connor; Diagouraga (Hiwula, 56), Dempsey, Sowerby (McAleny, 56); Grant, Madden, Hunter
Subs not used: Neal (gk), Burns, Oliver, Schwabl.
Shrewsbury Town (4-1-4-1):
Henderson; Hendrie, Nsiala, Sadler, Beckles; B Morris (Godfrey, 85); Whalley, Ogogo ©, Nolan, Rodman (Thomas, 35); C Morris (John-Lewis, 89)
Subs not used: MacGillivray (gk), Lowe, Bolton, Payne.
Referee: Ross Joyce