MATCH REPORT | Fleetwood Town 4 – 1 Southport AET – Emirates FA Cup
There has been plenty for Southport fans to cheer about in recent weeks and, even in defeat, they left Highbury Stadium on Tuesday night with an over-riding sense of pride.
Having matched Fleetwood Town, their opponents from SkyBet League One, over the course of two games and 180 minutes of football, it was not until extra time in this Emirates FA Cup first round replay that the Sandgrounders bowed out.
Trailing to Aaron Amdai-Holloway’s first-half goal, Southport equalised in dramatic fashion when substitute Ashley Grimes found the target three minutes from the end of regular time to send the excellent 382 travelling fans into raptures.
At that stage, the Sandgrounders must have believed they could cause a cup upset, but no sooner had extra time started than Fleetwood scored three goals in the space of eight minutes to book their place in the second round.
The final scoreline may appear one-sided, but the story of the match was very different. As in the original tie at the Merseyrail Community Stadium eight days earlier, the gap of 53 league places and two divisions was barely evident as the teams proved themselves to be evenly-matched in another tight encounter.
Having enjoyed good periods of possession throughout the game before applying heavy pressure in the second half, the question was whether Southport would be able to make their promising play count.
With 87 minutes gone, they did get their reward, as Neil Ashton played in a deep cross from the left wing to the far post, where Callum Howe knocked the ball down, leaving Grimes to nudge it over the line from a matter of yards.
Manager Steve Burr said that his team needed to display more creativity than in the first match and, having forced the issue as the second half went on, there was no doubt that Southport deserved their equaliser.
Fleetwood had taken the lead 11 minutes before half-time, Devante Cole playing the ball in from the left to Amadi-Holloway, who made the most of the space afforded to him with a deflected low shot.
A cross from Ryan Higgins clipped the face of the Fleetwood crossbar during the early stages and Southport could consider themselves unlucky to have been trailing at the break.
But, having shown they were able to keep the ball well, Burr’s team then began to carry more of a threat. Liam Nolan should have done better with his header from a Jordan Lussey corner and Jamie Allen was denied by the feet of Alex Cairns with only the goalkeeper to beat after finding space in the area.
Yet having seemingly done the hard work to earn extra time through Grimes, Southport ran out of legs and the quality of their opponents finally told.
Goalkeeper Magnus Norman made a splendid save to deny Ashley Hunter, only for Cian Bolger to head home George Glendon’s resulting corner on 95 minutes.
Little more than 60 seconds later, Hunter applied a low finish to Kyle Dempsey’s through-ball to score on the counter-attack, before Amari’i Bell added a fourth from close range after a pass from Hunter.
There was still time for Norman to make a number of fine saves, and the goalkeeper was one of many impressive performers in a Southport shirt on a night when Burr’s team left with their heads held high.
Fleetwood Town (4-2-3-1): Cairns, Nirennold, Pond, Eastham, Bell, Dempsey, Glendon, Ball (Hunter 60), Grant (Jonsson 72), Cole, Amadi-Holloway (Bolger 78).
Subs not used: Neal, Davis, Sowerby, Jakubiak.
Southport (4-4-2): Norman, Higgins (White 106), Howe, Thompson, Ashton, Ferguson (Grimes 69), Weeks, Nolan, Lussey, Allen, A Jones (Gray 84).
Subs not used: Crump, Cofie.
Referee: David Webb
By Alan Jones