AFC Fylde bid to consolidate their position in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier play-off zone in tomorrow’s mouthwatering top of the table clash with second-placed Hednesford Town.
The Coasters climbed into the top five on the back of a 4-0 midweek win at Whitby Town, described by manager Dave Challinor as their most complete performance of the season.
Fylde haven’t sat so high in the table since October and Challinor’s task now is to maintain the form which has seen them win nine of their last 10 league matches over a hectic run-in of 12 games in five weeks.
An own goal from Alex White a minute before half-time made sure an excellent first-half performance didn’t go to waste before Adam Farrell scored twice in the second half, either side of Sean Cooke’s headed goal. If Saturday’s win at Grantham Town was difficult on the eye, then this was a much more pleasing display as both sides played excellent, open, end-to-end football throughout.
Whitby’s Craig Farrell sent the first shot on goal well wide of the mark, Dean then headed a corner inches wide before Farrell came just as close for Fylde, and then Tom Portas fired a blistering long-range effort into the outside of the corner stanchion which looked to have gone in – all inside the first 10 minutes.
The best chances throughout the remainder of the half came for Fylde. Barnes’ 16th-minute effort was saved by Nick Liversedge before a fantastic ball across the face of goal from Dean beat both Barnes and Farrell when a simple tap-in from either would have opened the scoring six minutes later.
Fylde’s man of the match Cooke saw two efforts missed – on 30 minutes he turned well on the edge of the box and his shot towards the top corner had to be tipped over the bar by Liversedge, and soon after he sent another effort wide.
The breakthrough finally came a minute before the break. James Dean did really well to fashion a shot under pressure from a defender and his effort cannoned off White and into the back of the net.
The visitors doubled their lead on 57 minutes, Sean Cooke was pushed to the ground from behind and the referee awarded a penalty which Farrell slotted into the bottom left corner.
Barnes came close to making it 3-0 just after the hour mark, when he did well to get a shot on goal under pressure from two defenders. Liversedge saved but the third goal did come soon after, when Cooke nodded home a pin-point cross by Barnes from just three yards out.
Fylde were well and truly in the driving seat and Liversedge had to be at his best to stop Barnes, Farrell and Cooke extending The Coasters’ lead midway through the half.
Whitby’s first shot of the second period came with 15 minutes to go but Tom Portas was restricted to a long-range pot-shot which sailed well wide of Ben Hinchliffe’s goal. Five minutes later, Farrell added his second to seal a fantastic team performance and claim another vital three points.
A tame back-pass from Ibby Hassan didn’t reach Liversedge as Farrell raced in, tapped the ball around the stranded keeper and tucked it in from five yards.
Challinor said: “Over the whole 90 minutes I thought we were fantastic, We played at a great tempo and deserved to be in front at half-time. We obviously missed easier chances before that and I challenged them at half- time to go out and see if they can do that again.
“I think the penalty was decisive and from then the game opened up. They had to change the way they played after that, and even though their heads went down we quite deservedly got a third and fourth goal.
“But it’s a really difficult place to come and play an experienced side at this level and it’s a fantastic result that we can take into Saturday.”
Hednesford have taken only one point from two games since beating Fylde at the start of the month. They lost 3-2 to leaders North Ferriby last weekend but could still catch them by winning their games in hand.
AFC Fylde: Hinchliffe, Haslam, Sumner, Hughes, Taylor, B. Barnes (Dunn 68), Farrell, Winter, Dean (Dorney 46), M. Barnes (McCarthy 77), Cooke; not used: Booth, Scott.