Mark Perrow reports from Highbury StadiumCity were held to a draw for the first time in five games as hosts Fleetwood Town battled back from 3-1 down to steal a point courtesy of Stephen Dobbie’s 89th minute equaliser.
City had trailed for ten first-half minutes after Josh Morris’ 25-yard daisy cutter flew past Frank Fielding before Kieran Agard struck the equaliser on 32 minutes.
Agard was on target again three minutes after the break, while Aaron Wilbraham added another close-range finish to his collection almost straightaway to extend the lead.
But substitute Jamie Proctor headed Fleetwood a lifeline just after the hour mark before Dobbie curled a stunning equaliser into the far corner with just a minute to go.
It was a fast start to the action at both ends with City twice threatening an opener inside the first five minutes.
First Joe Bryan surged into the box only to scuff his shot wide, before Luke Freeman pierced the Fleetwood defence to put Agard clean through on goal.
As goalkeeper Chris Maxwell raced from his line, Agard did the right thing in trying to round the Fleetwood stopper only for Maxwell to get a big right hand to the ball and stop the striker in his tracks.
It was a golden opportunity, but in between times the home side had their moments too. Fielding was skating on thin ice when referee Scott Mathieson had to turn down claims for a penalty on David Ball, before Dobbie was denied by an instinctive Fielding tip over.
Then City worked the ball cleverly from left to right to find Mark Little in space only for his low cross to elude the hordes of purple shirts arriving.
There seemed no end to the chances, as Fleetwood went down the other end and spurned their best opening to date as Matty Blair dragged his shot wide when left alone on the right corner of the penalty area.
The hosts were undoubtedly a threat, and caused a stir by getting their noses in front midway through the first half – the first goal City had conceded in 369 minutes.
Blair’s run down the left culminated in a low cross into Dobbie on the edge of the box, who unleashed a fierce drive tremendously blocked by Derrick Williams.
But when the ball ran loose to Morris
in space, the midfielder took aim and dispatched a firmly struck shot into the bottom corner past the rooted Fielding from 25 yards.
City’s response was almost immediate, as Agard showed a clean pair of heels to Fleetwood skipper Nathan Pond only to drag his left-footed shot inches wide of Maxwell’s far post.
The August arrival could easily have had a hat-trick by the time he levelled the scores on 32 minutes in what was proving his most promising performance in a City shirt.
His goal finally arrived in true poacher’s fashion, as Bryan shifted the ball on to his left foot and delivered an enticing low cross for Agard
to get across the front of his man and convert at the near post from six yards.
It was just reward for City’s enterprising attacking play throughout a very watchable first half both sides had more than played their part in.
It looked like the Robins might even go in at the break in front when Wilbraham tucked away another good cross from the left, this time from Williams, only for the offside flag to intervene.
A recent pattern of City’s success has been starting second halves quickly, and the same trend was responsible for seeing another Steve Cotterill team talk have the desired effect as his team struck twice in the first six minutes of the second period.
It would take a clever piece of thinking from a corner to put the visitors in front for the first time, as Freeman took his kick short to Wade Elliott, whose cute backheel left his team-mate with acres of space to carry the ball menacingly along the byeline.
When Freeman’s driven cross ran loose, Agard
was on hand to tuck home his second of the day with a firm side-footed finish through a crowd of bodies.
City tails were up and two became three in double-quick time, as Wilbraham
pounced on an Agard knockdown to notch his eighth goal in nine league games in customary opportunist fashion six yards out.
The second half was only six minutes old but it would soon be time for Fleetwood boss Graham Alexander, once signed by Cotterill in his Burnley days, to throw caution to the wind by introducing supplementary striker Proctor from the bench.
City’s warning arrived on the hour mark when Fielding saved brilliantly from Dobbie’s 20-yard curler, diving high to his right to get fingertips to the deliberately placed shot.
It was a warning not heeded, as a minute later Proctor
scored against City for the second time in three months having netted for Crawley Town on the final day in May, guiding a left-footed cross beyond Fielding with an excellent header to halve Fleetwood’s deficit.
From then on there was defending to do but nothing to drastically unsettle the visiting supporters, who came close to seeing another goal in front of the away end when Korey Smith beat two players with an injection of pace to force his way into the box only to see his shot well saved by the stooping Maxwell.
But the twist in the tale was to arrive with just a minute of normal time remaining, as the classy Dobbie
picked his spot from outside the area to arc a superb curling shot away from Fielding’s dive and find the far corner to finally break City’s winning run.