Clarke’s late strike sees Rovers claim crucial win
December 23, 2018
The Rovers right-back’s intervention came in injury-time in a second half dominated by the sending off of Ched Evans, which led to the Gas huffing and puffing in search of victory.
The sides were level after a first half that saw Ashley Hunter curl Fleetwood in front, and Gavin Reilly nod the home side level.
The second half was breathless, at times frustrating, occasionally comical, but ultimately so, satisfying; Graham Coughlan’s first home game as interim manager will not be forgotten in a hurry.
Fifteen seconds in, Ashley Hunter fluffed a shot, and Jack Bonham gathered gratefully. Thirty-nine seconds in, after Alex Jakubiak could not quite get enough force behind a shot, Ed Upson rifled one in that was blocked by a defender inside the six-yard box.
There was still fewer than 150 seconds on the clock when Alex Rodman skipped past his man and cut back for Jakubiak, but he shot over the bar, leaning back.
A minute later, Hunter shot goalwards from 20 yards, just wide of the post, with Bonham beaten.
So, a quiet start, then.
Holmes-Dennis picked up a loose ball and drove forward, eventually flicking to Jakubiak, to his left. His effort was charged down, but fell to Ollie Clarke, only for the midfielder to pull his effort down and wide.
On 20 minutes, an extraordinary sequence somehow left the scores unchanged, but it is hard to see how. A partially cleared long throw, with Rovers on the attack, was clipped back by Ollie Clarke, towards Holmes-Dennis, who nodded down to Reilly. The Scottish forward took the ball early on his left foot and drove it past Alex Cairns. The ball, however, cannoned off of the post, shot across the six-yard box and into the on-running Rodman, who had not time to react; the ball simply struck him, and rolled wide.
Despite the disbelief at not going ahead, this roused the Mem faithful, but they were riled shortly afterwards, when referee Brett Huxtable gave a free-kick – and a yellow card – for what the majority in the ground seemed to think was a perfectly good tackle by Ollie Clarke.
After plenty of agitation in the wall, Ched Evans smashed a free-kick beyond it, but found the strong hands of Bonham took much to pass.
He could not, though, stop the curling effort of Hunter, who was teed up by Paddy Madden, following the latter’s run into the left-hand channel.
The goal felt harsh on Rovers, especially after going so close to taking the lead, but they showed an admirable resilience to going a goal down, and soon regained parity.
An errant backpass led to a corner kick, which Holmes-Dennis swung in under the bar, and a Fleetwood head nearly deflected the ball in for a comedy own-goal. Instead, it was a corner from the other side, well delivered again by Holmes-Dennis, that was flicked on into a dangerous area by Rodman. Reilly was first to react, stooping to nod past Cairns and bring Rovers level.
Before half-time, Hunter went in to the book for a lunging tackle on Rodman, before Evans followed for an off-the-ball tussle with Tony Craig. The second half was less than a minute old when Jason Holt joined them for kicking the ball away following a free-kick given away by Dean Marney.
Fleetwood has the first chance of the half, with one of their inventive corner-kick set-ups leading to a low ball delivered to Hunter, who curled at goal but got his angles wrong.
Rovers again responded, with Reilly and Holmes-Dennis involved in a swift break down the left that ended with Rodman’s shot deflected wide.
The game-changing moment then came ten minutes into the second half, when Evans appeared to plant a forearm when challenging Tom Lockyer from a ball forward. Both players received treatment from the collision, and everyone waited patiently to see Mr Huxtable’s decision. When he got to his feet, Evans was greeted to the sight of, not a second yellow, but a straight red card.
Rovers, predictably, flooded forward when attacking the North Terrace, and the first incident saw screams for another red card, as Ashley Eastham challenged the clean-through Jakubiak. In fairness, despite the Mem’s howls, Eastham did look to have got a toe to the ball.
Marney was luckier, getting just a yellow after fouling then stepping on James Clarke.
Lockyer had a header from a corner that struck Jakubiak and went wide, while Jakubiak himself, along with Reilly, tried to get shots away but were denied.
Coughlan replaced Reilly with Nichols with just under 20 minutes to go, with Sam Matthews following shortly afterwards, in place of Holmes-Dennis, who had put in another strong shift, but had understandably began to tire.
Unfortunately, the bombardment towards the numerically disadvantaged never materialised. Rovers had all the play, but Fleetwood’s line of yellow jerseys blocked any central incursion, and seemed to win ever header from wide deliveries.
Chris Lines came on for Ollie Clarke to offer a bit of guile, and almost had an amazing effect, volleying back from a non-cleared corner, and striking the angle of post and bar.
Moments later, as injury time had begun, Matthews swung a ball to the far post, and James Clarke, falling, hooked the ball against the near post.
Rovers earned a free-kick near the halfway line, which Ross Wallace tried use all his experience to have delayed. In the end, a pantomime season exchange saw Wallace fall to his backside, Lines get booked, and then dust himself off to take the free-kick.
Lines went along the line, to Nichols, who returned the ball. Lines delivery pinballed a little, before falling to Clarke. This time, he had his eye in, and conjured the ball past Cairns.
Cue delirium in the Mem, and then mildly unsavoury nonsense in front of the benches, as Fleetwood manager Joey Barton was sent off, and benches and players got involved in a daft pull-apart melee.
Let’s not let them overshadow the result though. It was worth four points. Three in the league, and the turning one of the season.
Rovers XI: Jack Bonham; James Clarke, Tom Lockyer (capt), Tony Craig, Michael Kelly; Alex Rodman, Ollie Clarke (Chris Lines 88), Ed Upson, Tareiq Holmes-Dennis (Sam Matthews 78); Gavin Reilly (Tom Nichols 72), Alex Jakubiak.
Unused Subs: Adam Smith (gk), Stefan Payne, Tom Broadbent, Joe Partington.
Booked: O Clarke 23, Lines 90, J Clarke 90.
Fleetwood XI: Alex Cairns, Lewie Coyle, Nathan Sheron, Ashley Eastham (capt), Ross Wallace; Conor McAleny (Harrison Biggins, 57), Dean Marney, Jason Holt (Craig Morgan 65), Ashley Hunter (Ryan Taylor 85); Ched Evans, Paddy Madden.
Unused Subs: Paul Jones (gk), James Hill, Gerard Garner, Ryan Rydel.
Sent Off: Evans 54, Barton 90.
Booked: Hunter 40, Evans 43, Holt 46, Madden 60, Marney 65, Wallace 79, Coyle 90.
Referee: Brett Huxtable.
Attendance: 7,159 (68 away)