Report by Allan Main
Michael Gash and Luke Moore went neck and neck at the top of the scoring charts as they combined to see off Barrow in the Fleet’s longest away trip of the season. And with the Fleet boasting the division’s best goal difference – alongside Crawley – the two strikers’ partnership – and rivalry – can only be good news for Liam Daish.
For this 630-mile round trip, Daish handed Danny Slatter his first start since last autumn and saw two of his players reach centenary milestones – with Stacy Long’s 100th appearance for the club and Luke Moore’s 100th start. Moore celebrated in perfect fashion by netting the opening goal, but not before the Fleet had to withstand a quickfire start to proceedings from a faltering Barrow side playing in front of their lowest crowd of the season.
Mark Boyd loosed off a wild shot from distance on 7 minutes and six minutes later supplied a cross for Carlos Logan to head over the bar. Jason Walker also made room for a shot on 23 minutes and shortly after that Andrew Bond came closest with a drive that went just wide of the post. The most the Fleet had to show was a similar effort from Moore while Daish also had to juggle his pack when Sacha Opinel went off on 26 minutes, giving Dean Pooley his first chance to impress the hardy band of Fleet travellers at Holker Street.
And it was Pooley combining with Darius Charles who helped Fleet get off the mark on 32 minutes. Pooley supplied Charles who played in Luke Moore down the left and the Fleet’s top scorer advanced on a hesitant defence to shoot past on-loan goalkeeper Alan Martin for his sixth goal of the season. Barrow refused to throw in the towel though, and the livewire Steve McNulty had two headers in quick succession that Lance Cronin was forced to punch away and then tip over the bar as the first half came to a close.
But any thoughts the Fleet might have had of a Barrow onslaught in the second half proved to be exaggerated. The Fleet defence had far less to do after the break as the home side created little of danger and seemed more content to hit hopeful balls that Charles and Paul McCarthy were more than equal to.
Moore and Jamie Hand forced Martin into saves before the visitors made the game safe on 63 minutes. Paul Black’s foul on Slatter gave the Fleet a free-kick and Long floated a teasing ball into the area where Gash rose highest to head it home. Slatter made way for Ricky Shakes shortly afterwards and the Fleet winger impressed as he put the Barrow back four under pressure, crossing for Gash to attempt another effort on goal on 73 minutes.
For Barrow, substitute Nick Rogan should have done far better against Cronin with a shot from close range but rather shanked his shot well wide, which just left Gash to catch up with Moore in the scoring charts, netting his second of the game on 87 minutes. Hand supplied the cross from the right and with the Barrow defence all at sea, Gash had an easy chance to slot home from eight yards.
Much like the Fleet’s last three-goal victory on the road – at Forest Green – Daish’s men weren’t firing on all cylinders throughout the 90 minutes, but they didn’t need to be such was the lack of application from the home side after the break and this valuable and hard-earned three points sees the Fleet finally break into the play-off positions. It also marked the Fleet’s first victory at Holker Street at the fourth attempt – having been relegated from the equivalent of the Conference there back in 1982 – making that long trip home suddenly much more appealing.
TEAM: Cronin, Opinel (Pooley 26), McCarthy, Charles, Ricketts, Long (Stone 74), Barrett, Hand, Slatter (Shakes 67), Moore, Gash. Subs not used: Ibe, Mott.