Fleetwood Town were left ruing missed chances after a 1-1 draw with ten-man Walsall at Highbury and the Conference Premier outfit should have sent the struggling League One club crashing out of the cup.
The result piled more pressure on under-fire Saddlers boss Chris Hutchings and with the away fans chanting ‘w******’ and ‘Hutchings you dimwit get out of our club’ as he made his way to the dugout it was clear they didn’t want him.
But Hutchings’ side got off to the best possible start inside five minutes thanks to a great strike by Matt Richards. The midfielder was allowed too much time on the edge of the box and his left footed drive found its way passed Scot Davies in the Fleetwood goal.
The opening goal seemed to be the wakeup call the home side needed and they sparked into action with Nathan Pond forcing Walsall goalkeeper James Walker into action for the first time with six minutes played. The Saddlers number one was at full stretch to palm away the home midfielder’s effort.
Fleetwood began to dominate proceedings in front of a boisterous home crowd but against the run of play it was Walsall who had the game’s next real chance with 12 minutes played.
Ryan McGivern looped a high cross to the back post towards Jon Macken who found himself unmarked ten-yards out. But the experienced centre forward was unable to direct his header on target and will be disappointed that he couldn’t even force a save from Davies.
Fleetwood then enjoyed a great ten minute spell that saw Gareth Seddon and Ian Craney blast just over from outside the area. Right back Shaun Beeley continued to be a threat down the right wing and the Cod Army were outclassing their football league opponents all over the park.
The League One side were becoming frustrated despite being one nil up and that appeared to boil over when Saddlers midfielder Martin Devaney squared up to Fleetwood manager Micky Mellon. The ball had run out of play and a thrown in was awarded to Walsall but as Devaney ran over presumably to take a quick throw Mellon had kicked the ball back to him. Devaney reacted by carrying on his run into Mellon and grabbing the manager by the scruff of the neck, Mellon responded by returning the favour and the big Scot wasn’t going to back down, shoving Devaney back the way he came.
The home crowd was obviously backing their manager but it would have been interesting to see the reaction of the Walsall fans if the roles were reversed.
Walsall were finding it hard to compete with the strong partnership of Steve McNulty and on-loan Shaun Greegan from Oldham at the back for Fleetwood with the former Leeds United and Preston North End defender dominating aerially.
Fleetwood had their best chance of the first half to equalise when they were awarded a penalty after Craney was softly pushed over in the area in the 23rd minute. It was left to captain McNulty to step up in front of the away fans but the big defender could only smash the ball off the crossbar and over in typical centre half fashion.
More chances fell Fleetwood’s way before Macken had another opportunity to double the visitors lead just after the half hour mark but his right footed strike was routinely tipped over by Davies.
Five minutes before the break came the decision that handed Fleetwood en even better opportunity to create a cup upset when McGivern was shown a red card for a dangerous two-footed lunge on Craney.
The second half saw the introduction of Jamie Mullan for the home side and it improved an inspired substitution by the home manager as the quick winger netted the equaliser in the 53rd minute. The former Manchester United trainee cut in off the right flank and looped a dipping shot over a rooted Walker in the Walsall goal.
The Cod Army was bouncing more than ever and Fleetwood continued to dominate. Beeley and Mullan linked up well down the right and caused all kinds of problems for the Walsall defence in the absence of left back McGivern.
With Fleetwood looking to switch the ball right on every attack it was becoming a tough day for stand in replacement left back Aaron Lescott and it was Beeley again who calved out another opportunity for his forwards. This time pulling the ball back for Adam Warlow in the 71st minute but the young striker failed to convert, sending his effort just wide from six-yards out.
Walsall had a rare chance after a neat one-two between Lescott and Dickinson minutes later which resulted in Dickinson dragging his shot wide. That was all the away side could create in the second half and they had to rely on a combination of outstanding goalkeeping from Walker and missed chances from Fleetwood as they held on for the draw.
The ex-West Ham stopper produced a flurry of fine saves as the game entered the final 15 minutes that ultimately kept his team in the hat for the second round. Firstly he tipped over a fiercely driven Nathan Pond effort and then was on hand to deny Pond again after a great attacking move.
Seddon played in Warlow whose clever backward flick found the path of Pond who looked to curve the ball into the bottom right corner but Walker got down early to parry the ball away from danger.
Walker saved his best till last when he reacted superbly to deny Lee Thorpe from close range five minutes from time after the substitute deflected a Peter Cavanagh effort goalwards.
The replay will take place on Tuesday November 16th with the winner facing a trip to League Two side Torquay United.
Many thanks to Sam Ross for this article, you can see more of his work here.