Williams pen 5
AFC Fylde 3
Tunnicliffe 26, 78
A DESPERATE night for United and a defeat that takes us to the brink.
All looked bright and hopeful when Brett Williams notched an early penalty, but Fylde took control with two goals in quick succession from Jack Muldoon and Jordan Tunnicliffe, who then sealed the deal with a late third.
United boss Gary Owers made three changes from the side controversially beaten at Dover last, two enforced in attack by harsh dismissals and one in defence, where Michee Efete came in for Conrad Balatoni.
The suspended duo of Elliott Romain and Rhys Healey were replaced by Jamie Reid and Tommy O’Sullivan, while Ryan Clarke kept his place in goal, despite Vincent Dorel returning from the mild knock that kept him out of the Dover trip.
Fylde arrived at Plainmoor with their tails up after recovering from a goal down against Sutton to secure three more valuable points in their bid to reach the play-offs. After two pitch inspections, the biggest relief was getting the game on and credit again to the groundtsaff for their fantastic hard work.
Conditions were not helped by the game starting amid torrential rain and United adjusted best to the situation, dominating the early stages and taking a deserved lead on just minutes after a foul in the box gave Williams to slot home a confident penalty.
While Williams sent visiting goalkeeper Jay Lynch the wrong way from the spot, all credit to the Fylde custodian for denying United’s main marksman a second moments later, as he flew across goal to tip wide a fabulous curling effort from distance.
Apart from a snap-shot by Muldoon that Clarke held with ease, United were the side in the ascendancy. Williams and O’Sullivan were linking well in forward areas, and a pleasing tempo to the performance.
A super tackle from Liam Davis repelled the next Fylde foray but the visitors were then level in disputed circumstances, as a deflected shot fell nicely for Muldoon to steer a shot past the exposed Clarke.
The United players understandably asked the question of an offside decision and, if Muldoon was onside, it was very tight. Fair play to the Fylde forward, however, for an assured finish and it was down to United to produce the right reaction.
Unfortunately, the opposite happened and it was sleepy defending from a deep corner that allowed Tunnicliffe the room to send a stooping header into the corner of Clarke’s net for a complete reversal in proceedings.
A breathless game took another twist from the next attack, as a clever ball over the top picked out Williams, who cushioned the ball on his chest and then steered a lobbed volley inches past the far post.
The frustration for United was the control they had on the game before four minutes of defensive slumber and Fylde did a decent job of quelling home enthusiasm for the remainder of the first period.
The rain, on the other hand, was unrelenting and causing some areas of serious concern on the pitch. To the credit of players from both teams, there was a sensible approach in the tackling department.
United entered the second half knowing that a victory was a virtual must at this stage of the season and the Yellow Army did their bit trying to rouse the troops on a dank and gloomy night at Plainmoor.
A quiet restart was not top of the menu and United’s best opening of the first 15 minutes was a deep free-kick from Luke Young headed tamely wide by Josh Gowling.
A surging run forward from Efete produced a deflected effort that was easy for Lynch. Davis attempted to raise the intensity with a run down the left and did well to cut the ball back for Young, who fed a pass to Connor Lemonheigh-Evans, but the final shot was screwed well wide.
The time was ripe for a change and Owers turned to Ruairi Keating and George Dowling for Aaron Barnes and O’Sullivan. Almost immediately, Young rifled a deflected effort narrowly wide but the corner came to nothing.
Fylde, meanwhile, were happy to shut up shop, removing top scorer Danny Rowe for defender Jake Lawlor. The reality was a decisive third and there was far too much space for Tunnicliffe to nod home his second.
United stirred to create an opening for Williams but he was thwarted by a fantastic save from Lynch and then Dowling’s run into the right channel and low drive bravely by a sliding Fylde defender.
Nothing left in the tank and anything less than three points at home to Halifax could see United relegated from the National League.
United (3-4-3): 1 Ryan Clarke; 2 Michee Efete, 6 Josh Gowling, 5 Sean McGinty (capt); 21 Aaron Barnes (10 Ruairi Keating 71), 8 Luke Young, 29 Connor Lemonheigh-Evans, 3 Liam Davis; 19 Jamie Reid, 39 Brett Williams, 17 Tommy O’Sullivan (24 George Dowling 71). Substitutes (not used): 14 Jakub Sokolik, 26 Conrad Balatoni, 30 Vincent Dorel (GK).
AFC Fylde (4-3-3): 13 Jay Lynch; 6 Andy Bond, 5 Jordan Tunnicliffe, 15 Simon Grand, 22 Luke Burke; 2 Lewis Montrose, 3 Zaine Francis-Angol, 8 Sam Finley; 11 Jack Muldoon (20 Serhat Tasdemir 81), 9 Danny Rowe (30 Jake Lawlor 73), 18 Jonny Smith (17 Matt Blinkhorn 87). Substitutes (not used): 7 James Hardy, 14 Jason Taylor.
Referee: Savvas Yianni
Attendance: 1,416 (Away 38′)