IN gale-force conditions, York City knocked the wind out of the sails of promotion hopefuls Fleetwood Town with a surprise 2-1 win at Highbury.
Following their 2-0 midweek humbling against Fleetwood’s high-flying rivals Chesterfield, many were predicting a battering for Nigel Worthington’s men at the home of the Cod Army.
With City having never previously tasted victory in the coastal town and failed to score in the last five meetings between the clubs, the omens looked even bleaker ahead of Saturday’s contest.
But, much like Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s Big One rollercoaster nine miles down the seafront, highs have often followed lows during the Minstermen’s 2013/14 campaign.
And a goal at the end of each half – one put past his own ’keeper by Fleetwood right-back Conor McLaughlin and the second scored by City’s leading marksman Wes Fletcher – saw the visitors get back to winning ways, having kicked off the New Year with a hat-trick of consecutive triumphs before going three matches without a victory or a goal.
In between City’s goals, on-loan Sunderland striker Mikael Mandron had levelled for the hosts after 71 minutes following a Nick Pope error, but the stubborn visitors snatched maximum points from their only goal attempt of the second period.
Fletcher’s late strike was reward for the selfless work that the Minstermen’s 12-goal top scorer and attacking partner Ryan Bowman put in for Worthington’s side.
The pair might not have dropped deep and held the ball up as well as former Bootham Crescent frontman Jon Parkin did when the hosts were playing into the elements during the first half but Fletcher and Bowman’s constant harassment of the Fleetwood back four proved just as important after the break.
Earlier, Adam Reed forced the first save of the afternoon when Scott Davies kept out the City midfielder’s angled third-minute drive at his near post.
Lanre Oyebanjo, restored to right- back, also fired into the sidenetting with a firm 20-yard drive just before the half-hour mark.
On 44 minutes, Town centre-back Nathan Pond dragged his team’s best first-half chance wide having sidestepped a Reed challenge following Pope’s weak punch.
But, seconds later, the visitors went ahead when full-debutant Will Hayhurst curled in a dangerous corner from the right and McLaughlin could only divert the ball past Davies with what looked like a combination of his head and left arm.
After the interval, Fletcher allowed Pond to recover and block his eventual shot when he was briefly presented with an open goal after Davies had misjudged his charge to the edge of the penalty box.
Alan Goodall’s 35-yard drive was then pushed over by Pope at the other end before the Fleetwood midfielder supplied the right-wing free-kick from which the home side equalised.
A clumsy challenge, just inside the touchline by Ben Davies, gave Goodall the opportunity to whip in a dangerous centre that Pope allowed to spill from his grasp at stomach height.
The subsequent scramble went on to present Mandron with a six-yard chance that he converted confidently.
City were temporarily teetering and, from another dead-ball delivery, David Ball headed against the bar following Junior Brown’s flag kick.
The visitors, led by new central-defensive partners Keith Lowe and John McCombe, fought a strong rearguard battle throughout the afternoon, however, laying the foundation for their final push for three points.
With the blustery weather showing no signs of ceasing, Michael Coulson’s 83rd-minute introduction from the bench also seemed to serve as a second wind for the visitors.
Just after the fourth official’s board was raised to signal a minimum of four added-on minutes, the former Scarborough winger, smarting a little after being left out of the starting XI for a second successive fixture, latched on to a headed flick-on by Bowman and set off on a purposeful run down the left flank.
He burst past McLaughlin to reach the byline and then pulled the ball back for Fletcher, who stole in front of his Fleetwood markers to prod the ball past Davies from six yards.
Ecstatic celebrations ensued in front of an exuberant away end as City became only the second side to win at Fleetwood since October.
Fleetwood Town 1 (Mandron 71), York City 2 (McLaughlin og 45+1; Fletcher 90)
Nick Pope 6
Difficult conditions for a goalkeeper and the gale-force wind perhaps played a part in his spillage for Fleetwood’s equaliser.
Lanre Oyebanjo 7
Often stopped in his tracks when he tried to raid forward but not troubled too much defensively down his flank.
Keith Lowe 8
Got his head and boot in first to most things and stayed focused right until the final whistle.
John McCombe 8
STAR MAN – very steady with a safety-first policy at the back and matched Parkin’s physical threat.
Ben Davies 7
A little rash with the challenge from the free-kick that led to Mandron’s goal but got tighter to winger Ball in the second half.
Josh Carson 7
Competed well and worked hard, winning his fair share of tackles as he refused to duck out of a single challenge.
Russell Penn 8
Shielded the back four with determination and proved a strong adversary for Fleetwood’s midfield three.
Adam Reed 7
Plugged away even if the heavy ground made it difficult for him to make an impression and, at times, keep his footing.
Will Hayhurst 7
Carried the game to Town when he got the chance and his dangerously delivered corner helped break the deadlock.
Ryan Bowman 7
Never allowed Fleetwood any respite and challenged for anything thrown up to him, playing a key role in the winning goal.
Wes Fletcher 7
Got very little change out of the hosts’ back four, but showed typical desire to get on the end of Coulson’s cross.
Subs: Michael Coulson (for Hayhurst, 83). Not used: Sander Puri, Chris Dickinson, Tom Platt, Michael Ingham, Tom Allan, Shaq McDonald.
Scott Davies, Conor McLaughlin, Mark Roberts, Nathan Pond, Charlie Taylor, David Ball, Alan Goodall, Stewart Murdoch (Mikael Mandron, 65), Steven Schumacher (Junior Brown, 66), Antoni Sarcevic, Jon Parkin. Subs not used: Gareth Evans, Liam Hogan, Ryan Cresswell, Stephen Jordan, Chris Maxwell.
Star man: Parkin – held the ball up well, especially against the gale.
Referee: Chris Kavanagh (Stanford-le-Hope).
Rating: 7/10 – refereed sensibly in difficult conditions.
Booked: Reed 62.
Sent off: None.
Shots on target: Fleetwood 5, City 2.
Shots off target: Fleetwood 7, City 2.
Corners: Fleetwood 8, City 7.
Fouls conceded: Fleetwood 4, City 8.
Offsides: Fleetwood 3, City 0.