A spirited AFC Fylde slipped to a narrow defeat against League One Rochdale last night, but there was plenty of encouragement for manager Dave Challinor.
Rochdale established a two-goal lead early in the second half, but a fine goal from ex-Burnley youngster Jason Gilchrist put the Coasters back in contention and, right at the death, Matt Hughes shot wide from a great position.
Challinor said: “It was a really good exercise for us. It was a much bigger and tougher test for us than Friday night against Stranraer and I felt like we got a lot more out of the game in terms of sharpness. We were pressed by a good team who move the ball around well.
“There were lots of positives for me and it was another good run out in terms of fitness. A few of the lads had to play 90 minutes, which isn’t ideal, but we have had a couple of little niggling injuries last minute before the match and we didn’t want to risk anyone.
“We would have liked to change everybody at some point but thankfully they have all come through unscathed. We will have a look this week at switching it around for the weekend to spread out how many minutes people play.”
The Coasters matched their experienced opponents for long spells and had a claim for a penalty in the third minute when Matty Hughes, in pursuit of a hopeful ball from Adam Sumner, appeared to be unfairly blocked by Jim McNulty. Despite confident appeals, the referee decided against a spot kick.
Rochdale responded for James Hooper to twist and turn on the edge of the box before seeing a half-hit effort easily saved.
The lively Hughes was in the thick of things again only to scuff his shot as the home side continued to look threatening. Trialist Chris Churchman was then unlucky to see a speculative volley from distance cannon off the crossbar.
Rochdale’s back line was tested again when the gangly Bohan Dixon went on typically powerful run down the left. Dixon side-stepped two challenges before bringing a fine diving save from Johny Diba with a well-struck right foot shot from 20 yards.
Danny Rowe then watched a decent header fly high from Brendon Daniels’ left wing cross.
A rare Rochdale attack produced a surprise opening goal on 23 minutes when an innocent-looking cross from the left caught a deflection to fall into the path of Nathan Eccleston. The former Liverpool and Blackpool striker, back from a spell in Hungary, kept a cool head to guide a right foot shot beyond Fylde keeper Tony Thompson from 16 yards.
The Coasters wasted an immediate opportunity to level. Sam Finley’s floated free kick found Steve Williams totally unmarked, but the big defender directed his header straight into the grateful clutches of Diba.
Matty Hughes then found space to burst clear on a dozing Rochdale defence, but Diba was again well positioned to deal with a weak finish.
Six minutes after the break, Rochdale added to their lead through marksman Ian Henderson, who controlled a through ball on his chest before keeping a cool head to flick a shot over a stranded Paul White, on as a half-time replacement for Thompson.
Calvin Andrew then blazed over from a good position as Rochdale began to take a firm grip on the game.
The Coasters responded to piece together a flowing move – Rowe eventually bringing a smart save from Josh Lillis with a firm, low shot.
After making five substitutions, a re-shuffled Fylde pack were back in the game on 66 minutes when one of the newcomers, Gilchrist, showed neat skills to sidefoot beyond Lillis from the edge of the box.
It could – and should – have got even better on 72 minutes when Gilchrist was denied by Lillis’ brave block and only a wonderful goal-line clearance by sub River Humphreys prevented Matty Hughes forcing home the rebound.
The Coasters continued to press and should have been rewarded with the last kick of the game when Matty Hughes broke free down the left only to push his shot wide.
Thompson (Sub Paul White 45), Hughes (C), Sumner (Crainey 62), Langley, Williams (Collins 62), Churchman, Hughes (M), Finley (Baggie 62), Rowe (Blinkhorn 62), Dixon (Gilchrist 62), Daniels (Howell 62).
First Half: Diba, Rafferty, Canavan, Lund, McNulty, Allen, Camps, Hooper, Gillam, Eccleston, Robinson.
Second Half: Lillis, Vincenti (Lenihan), Holness (Humphries), Tanser, Cannon, Mendez-Laing, McDermott, Andrew (Stewart), Henderson, Barry-Murphy.
Referee: Richard Wild.