Wanderers ended 2023 on another high as they rode out a storm at Fleetwood to complete a hat-trick of victories and move back into the League One automatic promotion places, writes Pete Oliver.
Ian Evatt’s men defied horrendous conditions at the Highbury Stadium to reach the half-way point of the season with an impressive haul of 48 points thanks to a seventh away win of the season.
What could have been a treacherous night on the coast proved anything but as the Whites mastered the wet and windy weather and anything Fleetwood could offer to run out controlled and comfortable winners.
It took until the second half for the goals to come but Dion Charles’ 16th goal of the season just after the break and a late second from substitute Victor Adeboyejo ensured a victory that was never really in much doubt.
Wanderers have found such occasions tough going at times in the past but underlined the progress they have made over the past 12 months by winning in such an accomplished manner to move within two points of league leaders Portsmouth with a game in hand.
With a triumph in the EFL Trophy thrown in, it’s been a big 12 months for Wanderers and as they head home on New Year’s Day to face Burton Albion with so much to look forward to.
The promotion push is firmly back on track following a blip earlier in the month with the re-discovered resolve and confidence clearly on show against a Fleetwood side struggling against the drop.
The home side was never given a sniff as Wanderers would it up before the break and went close to scoring a couple of times through Charles, a Jon Dadi Bodvarsson effort which hit the post and a shot from Gethin Jones on his final appearance before flying out with Australia to compete in the Asian Cup.
Playing against the wind in the second half could have posed questions had Fleetwood’s physical presence from set-pieces come into play.
But Wanderers negated any potential threat with the opening goal four minutes into the second half.
Charles was a constant concern for the Town defence and when they again failed to deal with his persistence in the penalty area, the striker sent a low strike across Jay Lynch via a slight deflection into the far corner to undo his former club.
Wanderers then never looked likely to relax their grip as they defied the conditions to control possession and defend superbly when required.
A second goal was always likely to be welcome, though, and it came seven minutes from the end.
Kyle Dempsey – another Town old boy to impress – won the ball and delivered a low cross which Charles cleverly dummied for Adeboyejo to calmly slot home.
The striker had scored a hat-trick in the first meeting between the sides this season but this solitary striker meant nearly as much as it rubber-stamped the three points to send the visiting fans home soaked but happy and Wanderers within touching distance of the top at the end of the year.
Wanderers: Baxter; Jones, Almeida Santos, Toal; Sheehan (Morley 75); Dacres-Cogley, Dempsey, Thomason, Williams (Ashworth 90+1); Charles (Jerome 87), Bodvarsson (Adeboyejo 75). Substitutes: Coleman, Adeboyejo, Forrester, Morley, Maghoma.
Fleetwood Town: Lynch; Lawal, Heneghan, Teale (Marriott 75), Earl; Dolan (Asamoah 81) Vela; Wiredu; Quitirna (Tshimanga, HT), Stockley, Patterson. Substitutes: McMullan, Johnston, Holgate, Hayes.
Booked: Wiredu, Asamoah
Referee: Ollie Yates