AFC Fylde 3 Lowestoft Town 1
Lowestoft Town put in a phenomenal work rate and can take positives from a 3-1 defeat in which they were ultimately outclassed by AFC Fylde.
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AFC Fylde: Hinchliffe, Hughes, Sumner, Langley, Hannigan (Denson 70 mins), Bradley Barnes, Booth, Tomsett (Wilson 76 mins), Rowe (Blinkhorn 70 mins), Lloyd, Allen
Subs not used; Michael Barnes, Potts
Lowestoft Town: Jones, Ainsley, Jarvis, Gaughran, Adam Smith, Mason (Marsden 61 mins), Fisk, Eagle, Bammant, Woods-Garness (Radomski 66 mins), Reed (Zielonka 79 mins)
Subs not used; Jessup
In what was already going to be a tough test for the Trawlerboys, they went into the game with a few injuries and a suspension picked up over the festive period. Gleeson was out with his ongoing back/hamstring issues, Okay was suspended and Haynes-Brown failed a late fitness test on his back. This meant that Jarvis remained in defence alongside Gaughran, with Eagle taking up a central midfield position, Bammant moved out to the left and Woods-Garness getting a start up top.
With the overnight frost having melted the game was in the balance when the officials arrived and could have easily been called off. However, the go ahead was given and the match got underway on a very soft and soggy pitch.
Both sides had great chances in the opening minutes of play to take an early lead. Firstly it was Lowestoft and Reed and with the striker getting onto a ball and the Fylde defensive line flat footed, he ran into the area and got his shot away but the keeper, Hinchliffe was equal to it and saved really well to put it just round the post.
Then it was the hosts with a free-kick near the corner flag leading to a scramble in the Lowestoft box but fortunately for the blues, Jones was at hand to smother on the goal line. It may have been a soggy surface but both sides had started the game with a high tempo, in a real end to end game that was seeing the ball being moved around quickly.
In the Lowestoft goal, Jones was giving his usual vocal instructions to his teammates. However, in the space of just two minutes the hosts showed exactly why they're rightfully in top position in the table so far. After having a couple of efforts on goal blocked, a resulting Lloyd corner was met with a Rowe header to send Fylde into a 1-0 lead (12 mins). Then just a minute later and pretty much right from the restart, it was two; as Allen was nicely touched in and produced a good, powerful finish from a tight angle to flash the ball past Jones and into the net for 2-0 (13 mins). The two goals in quick succession had really knocked the stuffing out of an energetic start by the blues, with the hosts and Lloyd in particular looking full of pace and danger. As a result of Lloyd carrying such a threat of pace down the left, Ainsley was having to keep tabs on him and was therefore finding it hard to support Mason down the right.
The league leaders thought they had a third when a Booth header from a whipped in ball by Hughes was saved by Jones but with Lloyd following up and firing home, the goal was ruled out for offside. It was already clear to see exactly why Fylde were sitting at the top of the table with their forward line of Lloyd, Rowe and Allen looking very threatening, stretching the play and showing a real abundance of great movement, pace and skill.
The hosts were looking like running away with the game but out of the blue a ball from the left saw Reed get on the end at the far post but much like in the first minute, he was denied by another good stop from Hinchliffe, saving well with his body. It was a chance that lifted Lowestoft and with Mason looking confident with the ball at his feet, Reed bustling up front and Woods-Garness looking to work something, the Fylde back line were having to defend. The home side were two goals to the good and even though they had carried the greater threat, Reed and Lowestoft had worked a couple of good chances but had been denied by two good saves. This frustration was added to even further for the travelling blues when after doing well on the left, Woods-Garness sent a ball across to Reed who shaped his body to connect with a great header to beat the keeper but suffered the unfortunate agony of watching it come back off the post.
As Lowestoft were left to rue their misfortunes, Fylde showed their pace again with a burst down the right ending with Allen being found at the near post by Tomsett but his shot was stabbed the wrong side of the post. The Coasters were now back on the front foot and were exhibiting some good passing as halftime approached and Allen dragged an effort wide when he probably should've slipped in a better placed Lloyd.
As the whistled sounded for the break it had been a half in which Fylde had certainly flexed their muscles. However, even with Hannigan and the Fylde defence looking sharp, Lowestoft had forced a couple of good saves out of Hinchliffe and were unfortunate not to have a goal or two on the board themselves.
It took a few minutes for the sides to find their feet again at the start of the second half but once they did it was the hosts who were looking to use the full width of the pitch again. It wasn't just Lloyd and Allen either, as they were being supported on the flanks by the wing backs, Hughes and Sumner.
Lowestoft were certainly showing a fantastic work rate in the team and even though Eagle was visibly having an off day with some loose passing, that work rate started to see a return with the blues wrestling back some possession of their own.
Mason had put in a number of fuel injected performances of late and with him starting to tire on an energy sapping pitch, Lowestoft made their first change with the introduction of Marsden just after the sixty minute mark.
Fylde were looking for a match defining third but the blues defence was holding out fairly well with make shift defender Jarvis not looking out of place alongside Gaughran. On top of this both Ainsley and Adam Smith were putting everything into keeping the wide men and wing backs at bay as best they could.
A second change for Lowestoft saw Radomski come on for Woods-Garness and with Lowestoft continuing to roll their sleeves up and get stuck in, Fisk was harshly booked after making a good challenge in the air.
Lowestoft didn't really deserve to fall further behind after all of their effort but with the quality and danger that Fylde have in their ranks, a third came. Lloyd touched a ball from the left into the path of Langley and with him putting his laces through it, it was 3-0 (69 mins).
A double change soon followed for Fylde with Rowe and Hannigan being replaced by Blinkhorn and Denson. It was a change that the home side thought would help them see out the game but one thing you always get from the Lowestoft players is a determination to never give up and never stop trying and this was clearly evident.
Marsden was getting himself involved since coming on and was trying his luck from distance, forcing the keeper to get behind one of his efforts from range.
Fylde made their third and final change with Wilson replacing Tomsett and this was soon followed with a third change from the blues as Zielonka replaced Reed.
Zielonka had been on the pitch for a matter of seconds when he latched onto a beautiful back heel from Fisk and with his first touch of the game he fired a great finish home to make it 3-1 (80 mins). You really couldn't fault the attitude and commitment being shown by the Trawlerboys, and with both Marsden and Zielonka coming on with great effect, it was the blues who were now on the front foot.
Marsden was imposing himself on the game and with him getting round Sumner at left back, he sent a dangerous ball across the box but Denson was there to cut it out. Then with just under five minutes remaining, Marsden was at it again as let fly from fully twenty-five yards, forcing the keeper to arch full stretch to turn it over.
The game was now into four minutes of stoppage time and most teams would probably have given up the ghost by now but not a chance with Lowestoft. They continued right until the final whistle and even though a miss from a couple of yards out by Allen nearly gave the scoreline an unfair reflection, the blues had done well and had a number of positive to take away from the game.
It was always going to be a tough ask against the unbeaten at home, table topping Fylde but if the league was based on fight and determination alone, the blues would be right up their.
Reed was unlucky not to have come away with a goal or two against his name and had put in another workmanlike performance up front, while also tracking back at times to help out. While midfielder Jarvis didn't look out of place in a central defence and both Marsden and Zielonka made a great impression when coming on.
When it comes to Man of the Match though it was a close run thing between Reed and Ainsley. Ainsley isn't just a player who is great at penalties and who can support down the right; he's also become the most improved player for Lowestoft from last season and is now a consistent performer, which he showed today in edging his battle on points up against a dangerous wide man. Therefore my Man of the Match, even though he's number one culprit for playing a prank on me in the hotel (haha), is yet again Jack Ainsley.
Lowestoft Town now have the missed luxury of a midweek break and will next be in action on Saturday when they travel to Hednesford Town.