Fleetwood Town 1, Wycombe Wanderers 0.
IF Wanderers fail to survive the drop, they will look on today as a massive missed opportunity.
This was a game that was there for the taking as Blues had a man advantage from as early as the 12th minute, with Town defender Alan Goodall being needlessly dismissed for stupidly kicking out at Reece Styche as he lay injured on the ground.
They took to the field already aware relegation rivals Bristol Rovers had been beaten by Rochdale – meaning avoiding defeat would give Wanderers a bit more breathing space in the battle to remain in the Football League and leave them with their destiny in their own hands.
With the odds stacked in their favour, Wycombe simply failed to respond and were condemned to another defeat that keeps them firmly in trouble thanks to a great strike from Josh Morris.
The midfielder capped a man of the match display with a glorious low shot that fizzed into the bottom corner – and the sad truth is it could have been much, much worse for the eleven men as they failed to muster up much of a challenge to the Cod Army.
Injuries meant Wanderers were only able to name six substitutes – one of whom was manager Gareth Ainsworth – with Matt McClure and Steven Craig missing out despite travelling with the rest of the squad.
But the hosts were in no mood to feel charitable, needing a victory themselves if they were to entertain hopes of going up automatically, and Iain Hume kept Matt Ingram alert with a rising angled effort that the Blues keeper kept out, before David Ball wriggled his way into the box from the right touchline before shooting into the side netting.
However the game took an interesting change of complexion with 12 minutes on the clock as Goodall kicked out at Styche as the striker lay prone on the floor from an aerial challenge, and referee Darren Drysdale showed him a straight red card after consulting with fourth official Paul Tierney.
Ainsworth opted to remain cautious however, keeping the extra holding midfielder and persisting with Styche on his own up front, and Fleetwood continued to be the side more likely to create something.
Clear chances were very much a rarity, as Gareth Pond stretched to reach Josh Morris’s free kick and Ingram stretched to pluck the ball away from the top corner of the net.
All too often Styche looked isolated in attack, with the tall, strong home skipper Mark Roberts beating him to most aerial challenges, but from a corner keeper Chris Maxwell flapped the ball clear and Stuart Lewis had an effort scrambled away.
Town thought they had taken the lead as Ball tapped home at the far post, but Hume was offside in the build-up and the effort was ruled out.
It said much about Blues’ approach to the game that the closest they came to taking a first half lead was from a miscued Nick Arnold cross that landed on the top of the net with a panicking Maxwell backpedalling.
And the ten men were inches away from going in front just before the interval as Matty Blair took a Morris pass in his stride before curling his effort narrowly wide of the upright from the edge of the area.
Ainsworth opted to change things at the break but his substitution didn’t give an indication of whether he would stick or twist, as Dean Morgan replaced Styche in a straight swap leading the line.
A Max Kretschmar free kick in the opening minute of the second period lacked the power or direction to seriously trouble Maxwell, before Town broke down the other end and Ball was similarly lacking in end product as he fired limply straight at Ingram.
Danny Rowe, still being employed in midfield, scooped a header from a corner comfortably over the bar, but it was the hosts who continued to create the clearer opportunities as Blair snuck in round the back to get on the end of a clever Conor McLaughlin pass. Ingram was quickly off his line though to make an excellent smothering block.
The Wanderers keeper was a beaten man two minutes later though as Morris skipped forward unchallenged and blasted a stunning low shot into the bottom corner, giving Ingram no chance.
It was the boost Town needed and by now you’d have been forgiven for thinking it was the visitors who were a man light, as Antoni Sarcevic teased Sam Wood before having a cross-shot expertly blocked by Ingram and Blair’s effort from distance was well stopped by the increasingly overworked Wanderers keeper.
Junior Morias was brought on from the bench and he looked to inject a bit of life into the Wanderers attack as he turned his man before sending a curling effort goalwards, drawing a flying save from Maxwell as the home keeper was stretched for the first time in the second half.
Anthony Stewart headed wide from a corner and Morias blasted the wrong side of the post, but by the time Wanderers had woken up it was far too late.
Wanderers: Ingram, Rowe, Pierre, Stewart, Wood, Arnold (sub Jeffrey), Scowen, Lewis, Bloomfield (sub Morias), Kretzschmar, Styche (sub Morgan). Substitutes not used: Horlock, Ainsworth, Dunne.