For the second time in a week Notts County lost 2-1 in a game that they were on top in for long periods and even with the opposition this time down to 10 men for the final 20 minutes of the match.
Manager Shaun Derry made two changes to his starting line-up for the game, as Sean Newton and Kaiyne Woolery came in for Will Hayhurst and Balint Bajner, who both dropped to the bench, with Blair Adams moving into a left wing position to make way for Newton at full-back and Garry Thompson moving into the central attacking slot.
There was a new face on the substitutes’ bench with winger Paddy McCourt, whose loan signing from Brighton & Hove Albion was only announced earlier in the day, taking his place alongside Hayhurst, Bajner, Haydn Hollis, Hayden White, Shaun Harrad and Kevin Pilkington.
The game got off to a slow start, as both sides looked to size one another up, with no real chances forged in the first few minutes, but the monotony of the opening period was shattered in some style on 10 minutes, when a freekick just inside the Notts half was played forward and eventually fell to the edge of the box where Garry Thompson struck an unstoppable effort past goalkeeper Chris Maxwell from the edge of the area.
Having been rocked by the nature of the opening goal, Fleetwood were spurred into life and Liam McAlinden was the first to get a shot on target for the home side, hitting it from the edge of the area, after a good break down the right flank, but it was never threatening Roy Carroll who dropped to a knee to collect comfortably enough.
A moment of controversy shortly after saw Garry Thompson spoken to by the referee for an alleged push on Maxwell when challenging for the ball, much to the disdain of the Notts supporters behind the goal, before Fleetwood were back on the front foot minutes later, when a freekick deep inside the Notts half was delivered in well by Josh Morris and Mike Edwards had to head behind for a corner, from which the home side were able to work the ball into the area again, although Jeff Hughes couldn’t keep his shot down and it blazed well over the crossbar.
Having seen out that brief response from Fleetwood to going behind, Notts came close to doubling their advantage on 20 minutes, when Kaiyne Woolery broke to the byline on the right hand side and put in a cross at the last second that had Maxwell flapping and saw him drop the ball under pressure from Blair Adams, allowing first Garry Thompson and then Liam Noble to get shots away from close range, both of which were blocked inside the six-yard box by some frantic Fleetwood defending.
Notts continued to press and two minutes later a great ball in from the left by Blair Adams flashed across goal without any Notts player attacking it, when the simplest of touches would have led to a second goal for the visitors. Then, from the resulting corner, after Fleetwood had scurried the ball behind, Garry Thompson almost converted at the far post, only to see his effort again blocked behind, before Gary Jones’ delivery from yet another corner just missed the head of Sean Newton who had risen well in the area, but Notts were very much on the front foot and looking to take control of the game at this stage.
However, having failed to make their dominance tell in the form of a second goal, Notts were punished moments later when a great ball in from the right by Antoni Sarcevic flashed low across the face of goal and was met pretty much on the line by Liam McAlinden who had the easiest of tap-ins to draw Fleetwood back level in the 25th minute.
The first booking of the game came shortly before the half hour mark, when former Notts County man Jeff Hughes was shown the yellow card, before both sides had half chances to take the lead in the game, with David Ball hitting a shot on the turn inside the area that was well held by Carroll and then Adams getting a snap shot away from the edge of the area saved comfortably by Maxwell.
It was Notts who enjoyed the better of the closing stages of the first hald, with a great break down the right by Woolery on 40 minutes, beating his man before chasing the ball into the corner and pulling it back across the area, where Curtis Thompson cleverly stepped over it to leave Gary Jones with the shot that two Fleetwood players had to throw themselves in front of to block.
Then Notts should have retaken the lead just before the break, after another good ball in from the left by Adams picked out Garry Thompson on the edge of the six-yard box, but his diving header was wide of the target when he looked certain to bury it and that would be the closest either side would come to taking an advantage into the interval, although Notts would have been the happier of the two with their performance in the first half.
HT: Fleetwood Town 1 Notts County 1
Notts got off to a bright enough start in the second half, looking to push forwards, but again the early stages were a relatively quiet affair, until five minutes in, when Nick Haughton was booked for simulation after going down in the area looking to win his side a penalty.
The first chance of the second half for Notts came from a long ball forward by Carroll, headed on well by Garry Thompson to find Liam Noble and his well-struck effort from range wasn’t too far wide of the target, but it was an encouraging spell for Notts, who were again on the attack shortly after, with Woolery chasing through and had the beating of Crainey who bundled him to the floor, earning himself a yellow card in the process.
There was a moment of panic in the 59th minute for Notts though, as an overhit backpass by Hayden Mullins forced Carroll to chest and then hurriedly clear the ball upfield, allowing Fleetwood to press forwards and set McAlinden away, needing a fantastic last-ditch challenge by Sean Newton to deny the striker.
It would be a warning sign of what was to come for Notts though, as three minutes later the home side took the lead, after some good play by Haughton on the left hand side of the area, twisting and turning to make the most of the space he was afforded and play a lovely ball into the middle where David Ball turned it into the net.
Having taken the lead, Fleetwood continued to push forwards, with Morris having a crack from the edge of the area that looped just wide of the post and the continued threat posed down the Notts right prompted Derry to make his first change of the game, with Hayden White coming on to replace Mustapha Dumbuya.
The home side continued to press though and Gary Jones went into the book for a challenge on Haughton that stopped the Fleetwood man in his tracks as he looked to break inside the Notts half, but he dusted himself off to take the freekick and despite a slight deflection it was well gathered by Carroll.
Then came the moment that would shape the final 20 minutes of the game, as Crainey, already on a yellow card, put in a clumsy challenge on Curtis Thompson that quite rightly earned him a second booking and an early bath, prompting Derry to make his second change of the game, throwing on Shaun Harrad for Jones.
Further changes saw Fleetwood make a double substitution, with Ball and McAlinden coming off to make way for Stewart Murdoch and Jamie Proctor, before Notts introduced Balint Bajner for Mike Edwards in a final roll of the dice to try and make their one-man advantage count in their search for a way back into the game.
Woolery continued to be a constant threat down the right flank but it was through a Liam Noble break through the middle that Notts had their best chance to equalise, playing in Garry Thompson and forcing Maxwell to make the first of what would be a number of fine saves to deny the visitors.
Further breaks down the right by Woolery first called Maxwell into action at his near post and then setup Harrad whose shot on the turn was again well saved by the Fleetwood goalkeeper, with the home side making their final change in between these two chances, as Haughton came off to be replaced by Nathan Pond.
There was no lack of endeavour from Notts as they continued to push forwards in search of an equaliser that would have setup a thrilling finale to the game, but even with five minutes of added time the visitors just couldn’t find a way through the resilient Fleetwood defence, who spent much of the final exchanges camped inside their own area.
So it was that Notts were left to rue another disappointing defeat in a game that they had enjoyed much the better of for long periods, with attention now turning to the home game against Port Vale next weekend and another chance to get back to winning ways.
FT: Fleetwood Town 2 Notts County 1