It was back-to-back clean sheets for the Fleet and they shut out Barrow for the second time this season as both sides settled for a point at Holker Street this afternoon. Garry Hill’s side couldn’t quite recreate the late heroics from Harrogate seven days earlier, but they ground out this result despite naming just four players on the bench and that must surely please the manager.
Hill was hit with the news that Cody McDonald is set to miss the season with a cruciate injury while Dean Rance was handed a retrospective three-match ban after an incident as he left the field against Solihull Moors, meaning Corey Whitely and Ebou Adams came back into the starting lineup.
The Fleet boss refused to dwell on that however, reminding his players that they still have the top seven very much in their sights. Not quite as near to that line were Barrow but Ian Evatt’s in-form side were hoping to reel in the Fleet and edge closer to it themselves.
And they certainly went about their task with enthusiasm as the match kicked off, with Josh Kay and Jack Hindle looking to get in behind Fleet’s back line. The game was only five minutes old when Dior Angus played midfielder John Rooney in behind the Fleet defence but his effort cleared Nathan Ashmore before dropping on to the roof of the net. It was a warning to Fleet that Barrow had the guile to get crosses and passes into their danger men and three minutes later Josh Kay had the ball in the net only to see a flag disappoint him.
The lively Kay was in action again moments later when he gained space down the right and hit a low shot that Ashmore had to block with his legs. At the other end, Fleet were slow to test the home defence but Myles Weston’s cross for Michael Cheek saw him penalised for an illegal challenge on goalkeeper Joel Dixon. Cheek drew a temperamental reaction from Jason Taylor moments later to earn the game’s first yellow card and the referee proceeded to issue cautions to Jack Barthram and Connor Brown, plus one for Cheek, as he kept himself busy.
Fleet gradually stamped their own identity on the game and were neat in midfield with Andy Drury, Jack Payne and Adams playing tidy stuff but unable to fashion much for Cheek and Whitely. Barrow were happy to mix up play with long balls and more considered tactics in and around the Fleet box but ultimately it was a half of little excitement.
The visitors’ best chance came 10 minutes from the half-time whistle, a corner skimming into the box helped on by Chris Bush and Sam Magri – much like at Harrogate seven days ago – finding himself inches from scoring, Dixon down low to get in the way of his effort.
Adams saw a shot deflected wide right on half-time, just as relations between the two sides was becoming a little testy, and Fleet seemed grateful to go in at half-time with something to build on.
Barrow toiled to break the visitors down in the second half and Fleet rarely looked too troubled as they built on their improvement. A tepid opening came to life 11 minutes in with a couple of Fleet corners seeing Drury get half a sniff at the far post but Dan Jones managed to hook clear with Cheek lurking.
And three minutes later came Fleet’s best chance when Ashmore showed good vision to pick out Whitely with a long-range kick. Whitely brought it down well, left two Barrow defenders for dead but then skewed his shot the wrong side of the post.
Hindle and Rooney became the fourth and fifth Barrow players booked as the home fans grew frustrated with their lack of chances up front and lack of understanding from an unsympathetic referee but they had few causes for complaint when Rooney’s shot past Ashmore was ruled out for offside once more.
Bush received the yellow card that his manager was hoping to avoid with 20 minutes left that rules him out of the next two games, as he then got in a tangle with Kyle Jameson. That was pretty much it as the game eased to its predictable conclusion though Barrow might have nicked the points when Lewis Hardcastle’s drive was blocked by Ashmore’s chest as he attempted to get a firm grasp on the ball and as Hindle went down in following up, there were unsuccessful shouts for a penalty from home fans. Fleet had a goal of their own disallowed but as with Barrow’s two, the officials had called play back in plenty of time.
EUFC: Ashmore, Wilson, Bush, Magri, King, Payne, Drury, Adams, Weston, Whitely (Kedwell 81), Cheek. Subs not used: Omar, Moncur, Miles
BAFC: Dixon, Jones, Taylor, Jameson, Rooney, Hardcastle, Brown, Kay (Blyth 46), Angus (Burgess 67), Barthram, Hindle. Subs not used: Jennings, Sloan, Molyneux.
Attendance: 1,058 (57 away)