It may have been out of season for a trip to Blackpool, but
the Bucks put in a towering performance on the Fylde coast, illuminated by a
debut goal for Lee Hughes. His all-round display showed exactly why the Bucks
management sought his signature, with the recent arrival from Worcester City
putting in a terrific exhibition of centre-forward play, capped with a goal.
The Bucks made the trip north off the back of a home defeat
by Gloucester City, and Fylde themselves were smarting, having been spanked 5-0
at play-off contenders Salford City a week earlier. Rob Smith rung the changes,
and Hughes came in to replace Connor McCarthy, loaned to Warrington Town a day
earlier. Dropping out also were Elliot Hodge and John-Paul Kissock, the latter
not risked after leaving training early for treatment, thought to be
precautionary. Jonathan Royle and Joel Dielna stepped in, stiffening the
On a very cold and windy overcast day it was the home team
who looked to take charge early on. Dan Bradley took aim from range but cleared
Matt Urwin’s crossbar, the on-loan Fleetwood keeper having kept goal for the
Coasters last season. Fylde’s Danny Rowe, top scorer in National League North
with an astonishing 35 goals, struck the Bucks’ defensive wall from a good free-kick
opportunity, and you sensed the game’s pattern was being set. The Bucks had
other ideas, and Hughes was the central figure. A cross aimed at him by Dielna
was put behind for a corner, and from that kick Jones’ sidefooted effort at
goal was saved by Rhys Taylor, who then had to react to save again as Hughes
pounced from 6 yards out when a goal looked certain. That was all in the first
six minutes, and both sides continued to probe, Fylde shooting from range, the
Bucks putting bodies in the way to stop efforts from Caspar Hughes and Brendon
Daniels. Josh Wilson then forced a save from Taylor from 25 yards and a Wilson
free-kick was glanced over by Hughes’ head as Taylor came for the ball but
didn’t make it.
The Bucks could have been deflated when Fylde took the lead
on 17 minutes. A deep cross from their left swirled high into the Lancashire
air and onto the head of Andy Bond at the back post. His presence had drawn two
Bucks’ defenders and when he headed the ball back to Dan Bradley the
ex-Alfreton Town man had space and time on the edge of the box to set himself
and smash a powerful shot through a crowd and past a flailing Urwin.
Despite that blow, the Bucks stayed on the offensive. Bond
took Wilson down to concede a free-kick which Dielna struck narrowly over the
angle of post and bar from 30 yards, then Wilson himself read a poor header
back to Taylor from Fylde’s Hughes and nipped into hit a right-footer on the
run which Taylor turned around the post. The home crowd weren’t comfortable,
neither was Fylde boss Dave Challenor, and his discomfort increased when
skipper Josh Langley had to go off with an injury just past the half-hour. His
replacement, Bohan Dixon, went into midfield and Bond dropped to centre-half to
partner loan signing Dan Jones.
The Bucks were winning corners with regularity, and five
minutes before the break they should have been level. A deep corner was met at
the back post by Lee Hughes and amidst consternation his header back into the
six-yard box was met by Royle. Amazingly, he hit the bar when a goal seemed
certain, unable to control his close-range effort. Within minutes Hughes drew
another save from Taylor from 12 yards out with a smart turn in the box, and
the home side were happy to go in ahead at half-time, though they were looking
for a second goal when referee Paul Graham halted proceedings.
HALF TIME: AFC Fylde 1 AFC Telford United 0
The home side started the second half as they had the first,
looking to test Urwin without looking genuinely threatening. They forced a
couple of corners, then Rowe shot over from 30 yards out on the left, being
kept to that distance by the Bucks’ back line. Josh Wilson tumbled, perhaps
looking for a penalty but then, on 57 minutes, the away side got a deserved
reward. A free-kick for the Bucks was cleared back to Luke Higham and the
Blackpool loanee, who presumably made the shortest of journeys to Mill Farm for
the game, struck an inviting ball into the box. Lee Hughes read the flight and
his movement earned him a yard, allowing him to bury a close-range header past
Taylor. The travelling supporters rejoiced, however rather than seeing their
side look to consolidate the Bucks then continued to attack.
More corners came, and there was also a fractious incident
when Caspar Hughes caught the impressive Higham with a late challenge. Dielna,
also once of Blackpool, got into a game of push and shove with Hughes and saw a
yellow card for his remonstrations. Signalling their belief that the game was
there to be won, Rob Smith sent on Dave Hibbert for the again excellent Eddie
Jones, Wilson dropping deeper to accommodate him. The game opened up, and play
went from end to end, with Dan Jones curling a shot past the post from the edge
of the box when a corner was cleared to him. The Bucks’ Hughes also tried his
luck, another great turn to find space giving him room to test Taylor from
around the penalty spot, and both sides won corners and free-kicks near to
goal, but without being able to really make anything of the opportunities.
John-Paul Kissock came on with less than five minutes to go
and showed his commitment to the Bucks’ cause by hurling himself to block a
drive from Bradley after he made room to cut in across the edge of the box as
time ebbed away for the hosts. That proved to be pretty much the last action of
the game, and at the whistle Mill Farm emptied rapidly, probably as a result of
fans wanting to escape the clutches of a perishingly cold wind as much as in
disappointment at the result.
The home side’s sponsors gave keeper Rhys Taylor the man of
the match award, a measure of how busy he had been. The Bucks, with the entire
back four outstanding, had restricted the league leaders’ much vaunted
attacking options to a single Bradley strike, Rowe’s threat snuffed out by
captain Luca Havern. Singling out one player in such a great effort from 1-11,
it was Lee Hughes who made the difference for the Bucks. At 40 years of age he
is fit but not quick, however it was his know-how and movement that had Fylde
occupied, the home side looking fairly pedestrian and lacking in ideas. His
on-field presence looks set to provide a huge boost just when the Bucks needed
FULL TIME: AFC Fylde 1 AFC Telford United 1
Bucks: Urwin, Samuels, Higham, Havern, McCone, Rea, Royle,
Jones (Hibbert 69), Hughes, Wilson, Dielna (Kissock 86).
Unused subs: Bailey, Hodge, Lilly.
Scorers: Hughes (57)
AFC Fylde: Taylor, Wilson, Kennedy, Langley (Dixon 34),
Jones, Bond, Hughes (Blinkhorn 74), Rowe, Bradley, Daniels (Baker 85).
Unused subs: Thompson, Holland.
Scorers: Bradley (17)
Referee: Paul Graham.
Assistants: Nikolas Storey, Daniel Hitchell.