Fleet took full advantage of their rivals’ day off by seizing all three points at the ProKitUK Stadium to go 11 clear at the top of the Vanarama Conference South. And the man who made all the difference to that points total last weekend did it again today, Aaron McLean netting two goals on his first start.
His inclusion for Matt Godden was Fleet’s only change and it more than paid off for Fleet in the first half. On an extremely boggy pitch, the action took a while to materialise, Fleet coming to grips with the surface and the wind which blew across the stadium. The home side showed intent to get forward and Morgan Ferrier was busy cutting in from a wide position to harry the Fleet defence.
It was eight minutes before Fleet mustered a meaningful attack and McLean served intent as to his hunger for goals by slipping his marker, firing beyond goalkeeper Chris Fitzsimons but the ball didn’t carry enough pace and defender Chris M’Boungou was always favourite to reach it, slipping it just wide of his own post.
But the former Hull City man was only waiting for three minutes to get one on target. As Stortford threatened to break, Bryan van den Bogaert made a vital interception and delivered a long ball behind the Stortford defence. McLean was on to it in a flash, shrugging off the attentions of M’Boungou and showing his quality with a cool finish past Fitzsimons.
There was little room on a small pitch to play, even without the surface, and Fleet did their best to string short passes together as imposed themselves on the game in the first half. On 26 minutes, Kedwell’s dogged persistence got him a clear sight for a pass and Stuart Lewis ran on to the delivery but was stopped in his tracks by two defenders as he shaped to shoot.
Stortford had their moments, however, and continued to get forward, having two rather half-hearted penalty appeals waved away. Brandon Hall was forced to push away Ashley Miller’s drive after Johnny Herd’s long throw had caused the Fleet defence to back off but then the visitors were straight back on the attack.
Cook broke at furious speed down the left and cut inside, in a similar position to last week’s goal, but he delayed his shot and Kenzer Lee halted him in his tracks. Seconds later, Dean Rance threaded a pass through a ponderous home defence and there was McLean once more, running through to send another low shot past the goalkeeper.
Fleet should have gone in two goals to the good, with Stortford really only having clear sight of goal on one occasion but with their second chance, they reduced the arrears. It came on the stroke of half-time, Fleet losing possession in their own half and the home side putting a couple of decent touches together. The ball fell to Ferrier on the edge of the box and he turned and let off a shot that got past Hall for 2-1.
Given that lifeline, the Blues were more purposeful in the second half but five minutes in, it was Fleet who had the first chance when Anthony Cook got clear down the right and whipped in a cross at pace that was a good height for Jordan Parkes but a defender headed clear as the midfielder went up for the chance.
The home side saw Miguel Suarez whip a shot just wide before an intense goalmouth scramble at the other end saw M’Boungou eventually clear his lines. On the hour mark, McLean raced towards goal having got behind Lee and swept a ball across to Lewis whose shot was palmed over by Fitzsimons. Danny Haynes’ introduction a minute later saw him advance down the right and into the box but he couldn’t get past the last man.
The home side began to get the upper hand in midfield with 20 minutes on the clock and Elliott Buchanan slid a shot across the face of goal and caused some danger with a couple of set pieces. Lewis and substitute Godden both saw shots float over the upright and deflected behind respectively as Fleet kept a tight ship at the back.
Ferrier was causing some problems for Stortford and his tenacity got two players booked, though both were dubious: the first against van den Bogaert for a foul when Ferrier had in fact handled and the second when the striker crumpled to the ground after Acheampong had barely made contact. Indeed it was Acheampong who got in a vital block in the six-yard box in the final minute as anxious Fleet fans checked their watches.
But their team stood firm and dug out what could prove to be a massive result as the season’s end draws near.
BSFC: Fitzsimons, Miller, Herd, Abdullahi, Lee, M’Boungou, Moore, Merrifield (Lawrence 78), Suarez, Buchanan, Ferrier. Subs not used: Vanderhyde, Allen, Milbourne, Lovelock
EUFC: Hall, Fish, Van den Bogaert, Lewis, Acheampong, Bonner, Rance, Parkes (Haynes 61), Kedwell, McLean (Godden 72), Cook. Subs: Miles, Kissock, Howe