Two of this season’s promoted sides shared the spoils this afternoon in a game both could have done with winning – but Fleet fans were left wondering how they were relieved to get a point after leading 2-0 at half-time.
With Joe Howe passing a late fitness test but then breaking down in the pre-match warm-up, Lanre Azeez made his second start but the big news for the travelling fans was the inclusion of skipper Paul Lorraine on the bench after his long lay-off.
Both sides looked to gain forward momentum in the opening spell but it took the Fleet only five minutes to nose ahead. A throw-in found Liam Enver-Marum inside the box, with his back to goal, and he spun quickly to fire into the bottom corner.
The goal gave the Fleet confidence and they largely controlled possession and created a couple of additional chances, notably Craig Stone’s piledriver on 22 minutes that was blocked in the penalty area. Three minutes after that, Calum Willock broke clear and rounded goalkeeper Dan Lowson who stuck out a leg to bring the Fleet striker down right on the edge of the box. But with a covering defender, Lowson was fortunate to get only a yellow card and Alfreton were lucky to concede only a free kick.
For all Fleet’s control, the home side gradually upped their game. Josh Law’s free-kick gave Matt Wilson a free header from close range but he was off-target and, on 33 minutes, Tom Phipp cleared another free kick off the line as it flew clear past Preston Edwards.
A minute later Edwards was forced to tip a Paul Clayton corner over the bar as Fleet conceded far too much ground and gave away set pieces too easily. The Alfreton pressure eased as the half closed and Fleet, having lost Enver-Marum to injury, took advantage by extending their lead seconds before the break from their own set piece. An Azeez corner was floated in and Willock rose to plant a header over the line despite a defender hacking it clear.
With a vital victory a mere 45 minutes away, Liam Daish must have impressed on his side to hold it together early on in the second half. But, as they did against Fleetwood, the visitors conceded within four minutes of the restart. Clayton forced a ball through a scramble of bodies as Fleet cleared off the line for a corner. But from that, Andy Holdsworth’s chip in found Anton Brown at the near post and he snuck a header past Edwards.
It was all one-way traffic after that as Alfreton sought an equaliser. Edwards halted a break from the impressive Nathan Jarman on 54 minutes and five minutes after that clawed away Clayton’s header. Seconds later Jarman whistled a shot past the post but the Fleet’s luck just couldn’t hold.
On 64 minutes, Ian Simpemba fouled Jarman. Holdsworth’s free-kick was only half cleared and in the confusion, Jarman nipped in and shot low through a crowd to make it 2-2.
Still Alfreton didn’t let up and Fleet were reeling. Edwards made a superb save from Jamie Mullan on 69 minutes and three minutes later Jake Moult saw his effort headed off the line by Johnny Herd as the purple shirts clung on for their lives.
The confusion was the signal for Daish to risk Lorraine’s return and the captain arrived to steady the ship in an unorthodox back line. Fleet were fortunate to escape penalty on 78 minutes when Moult’s ball in struck Simpemba on the arm and their luck held out to the end, with Alfreton’s one last chance a Theo Streete shot that hit the side netting.
After the game,tThe Fleet boss was naturally disappointed and bemoaned his side’s static setup and concession of set pieces. “We didn’t clear our lines well enough,” he said. “And Alfreton had good delivery and caused problems. But we’ve got to be better in both boxes.”
The Fleet will need to take that advice into Tuesday’s clash at home to Bath as hopes of victory need to be translated into reality.
TEAM: Edwards, Stone, Herd, Simpemba, Mambo, Marwa, Phipp, Shakes (Lorraine 72), Azeez (Fakinos 64), Enver-Marum (Ginty 41), Willock. Subs not used: Welch, Stavrinou.
Preston Edwards won man of the match v Cambridge. Vote for today’s via the drop-down panel above.