STAGS achieved last night’s 1-1 home draw against title hopefuls Fleetwood Town the hard way with a below-par side and a 91st minute equaliser.
Not only was midfield ace Gary Roberts suspended for the big game at Field Mill but boss Paul Cox revealed afterwards that several of his side were playing on through a flu virus that had struck the club this week.
Nevertheless, despite going behind to Jamie Vardy’s 81st minute striker, defender Exodus Geohaghon headed home a late, late equaliser for the never-say-die home side
Cox said: “It wasn’t the best preparation for us tonight to go out against the best team in the league - and they looked like it by a country mile - so it was a good point and I am happy with it.
“It was Adam Murray’s first game back and he was badly ‘flued up’ as were several of the lads. We have had a bit of a virus in the club this week and several of them had to be medicated to the through the game.
“With Gary Roberts suspended we were also missing probably the best midfield player at this level. And we knew Jon Worthington wasn’t going to last 90 minutes after he was brought in out of the cold, though he performed very well.”
Cox hopes his side can learn from Fleetwood, who are now 23 games unbeaten.
“Look at us now. We are in the infancy of what we want to achieve here,” he said. “You look at Fleetwood and they look totally geared to go up to League Two and to be successful there. I am convinced they will go on to win the championship.
“That’s where we want to be and, if we can’t get up there this season, I hope we can learn what we need to do from Fleetwood.
“Credit to the lads tonight, they have worked extremely hard, which is all I ever ask of them, against a good team and no one could begrudge us the point.
“We looked anxious and tentative at times which would be my only criticism. We just lacked a bit of composure and a bit of self-belief.
“Most of the game, there was nothing much in it. But you could see what quality they had throughout their side. They were good in possession but, out of possession, they were out of this world and closed us down very quickly – the sign of an excellent side.
“Their goal came just as we were going to change things and really go for it. The lads might have crumbled earlier in the season. But they are now showing a desire and a fight.
“It took Fleetwood scoring for us to finally believe in ourselves in the last third. I thought there were two handballs in the build-up leading to their goal, but the less said about the referee the better.”
Then came that magic moment when the equaliser rocketed into the net at the Quarry Lane end which saw players and ecstatic fans celebrating together on the pitch.
“It’s what we are all in this game for – that adrenalin rush for players, manager and supporters. You can’t recreate that reaction,” smiled Cox.
“Credit to the supporters again tonight. They were trying to suck the ball into the net near the end and you saw the celebrations. The players can feel that love.”
But the manager also warned: “We have taken a step forward to tonight so let’s not then take two steps back on Saturday against Barrow.
“I now feel that is our biggest game of the season and everyone has to believe that. If we can beat Barrow then we can really make strides if other results go for us.”