A Danny Philliskirk header had seemingly clinched all three points for The Coasters who dominated proceedings at The Community Stadium, but a resilient Leamington outfit clinched an equaliser at the death to teach AFC Fylde a harsh lesson on what can happen if opportunities are spurned.
Jim Bentley temporarily handed over the reigns to his assistant Nick Chadwick on Monday, and his first test was away at in-form Leamington FC, who came into the game on the back of two eye-catching victories.
Chadwick made three changes to the squad that were defeated 2-0 by Curzon Ashton a week ago, in the hope of bouncing back to winning ways. Liam Nolan returned from his injury lay off and came straight in for the suspended David Perkins, whilst Jordan Hulme took Kurt Willoughby’s spot in the starting line-up and Jack Sanders replaced Reagan Ogle on the bench.
The Coasters started the game with energy and purpose, carving out two good chances inside the opening five minutes.
The first opportunity fell to Blackpool loanee, Nathan Shaw, who jinked his way past a Leamington defender, before drilling a low shot at the keeper from 20 yards out. Nick Haughton was the next to test Jake Weaver in the Leamington goal; his weaving run and effort was well blocked by The Brakes’ number one though.
On 10 minutes, Alex Whitmore nearly opened his account for the season. Haughton drilled a corner towards the penalty spot and it was Whitmore who rose highest to connect and direct the ball towards goal, but the impressive Weaver was on hand to save the day once more.
The Coasters’ dominance didn’t let up, as Ben Tollitt went close after 15 minutes with a clever chip that almost caught the keeper out.
The hosts recorded their first shot of the game on the 20 minute mark, when winger, Danny Waldron, pulled the trigger from range but Neal dealt with the effort comfortably.
AFC Fylde immediately responded through Danny Philliskirk, though. Some neat interchanging play between Haughton, Hulme and Conlan, released Philliskirk on the edge of the area, but his curling effort drifted inches wide of the post.
Nathan Pond was struck with another injury blow mid way through the first-half, hobbling off with what looked like a recurring groin injury. The skipper was replaced by Jordan Lussey, with Liam Nolan dropping alongside Whitmore in the centre of de-fence.
Pond’s presence wasn’t missed though, as The Coasters continued to control the game.
With 35 minutes on the clock, Nick Haughton was cynically hauled down 25 yards out, giving Ben Tollitt a good chance to test the keeper. The resulting free-kick was curled over the four-man wall but to the disappointment of Tollitt, agonisingly wide.
The remaining 10 minutes of the first-half ebbed and flowed without either team creating any opportunities of note, meaning both sides retreated to the dressing rooms level at the break.
HALF TIME: Leamington 0 – 0 AFC Fylde
Within minutes of the referee signalling the start of the second-half, The Coasters had the ball in the back of the net. A slick move began with Hulme holding the ball up just outside the 18-yard box and laying off to the overlapping Conlan on the left wing. The left-back then fizzed an inch-perfect cross across the face of goal which gave the unmarked Philliskirk the chance to head home from three yards out, which he did with aplomb.
Nick Haughton nearly extended Fylde’s lead shorty after, but the number 10’s long distance strike flew just over Weaver’s crossbar.
The hosts were reduced to ten men on the hour mark, when Callum Gittings’ late challenge in the middle of the park was deemed reckless by John Maskrey, the referee.
With an extra player on the pitch, Nick Chadwick’s side gained control of the game again.
On 70 minutes, Hulme’s strong hold-up play gifted Tollitt another glorious chance to put his name on the scoresheet, but the wide-man somehow missed the far corner with the goal at his mercy.
As the game approached the last 15 minutes, the visitors continued their search for a second goal, and it was Hulme who nearly grabbed it. A firm forward pass by substitute Lussey was controlled well by the number 9, who then worked some space to fire off the top off the crossbar.
In the final stages, the hosts generated some momentum, pumping long balls in hope of clinching an equaliser; and in the third minute of injury time that was exactly what they got in.
A searching cross wasn’t dealt with properly by The Coasters back four, which in turn allowed Leamington to strike the crossbar, before Sam Osborne turned home the rebound after some pin-ball in the six-yard box.
It was a sickener for Nick Chadwick and his players, who had dominated the entire game but failed to put the game to bed.
FULL TIME: Leamington 1 – 1 AFC Fylde