Fleet got the morale-boosting win the fans have craved throughout August as they kept Boreham Wood at bay to move off the bottom of the table.
Ten-man Wood pushed the Fleet all the way after a third-minute sending off and early goals by James Ball and Gozie Ugwu. That looked like it had wrapped up the points but a penalty for the home side in the second half set up a grandstand finish.
Garry Hill made three changes, clearly with one eye on the scorching 32-degree temperatures, Frankie Sutherland, Ayo Obileye and Gozie Ugwu coming in, Aswad Thomas, Alex Lawless and Bondz N’Gala rested.
There was a touch of familiarity about both sides with Ugwu, Josh Umerah and Sean Shields having represented the home side last season while in white shirts were former Fleet players Mark Ricketts, Ricky Shakes and Tyrone Marsh.
Beneath the unforgiving sun, both managers likely advised a measured start but the opposite happened with action aplenty in the opening three minutes.
With Fleet on the front foot, an arrowed crossfield ball to the right saw Lawrie Wilson furthest forward. He cut inside and got goal side of Femi Ilesanmi to race in on the target but was tripped just outside the box.
Referee Daniel Middleton issued Ilesanmi a straight red card and Wood had the unenviable task of running around in those conditions with only 10 men.
The resulting free-kick saw Myles Weston bend a shot just around the wall, a deflection and block denying Fleet the opening goal as it spun away for a corner.
Both Umerah and Ugwu picked at half chances before the 11 men took the lead on 15 minutes. It was fine individual play rather than the extra man that broke the deadlock, James Ball having the space to take stride from Jhn Goddards’s lay-off and aim a cracking shot into the top corner from 25 yards.
One became two within only three minutes. A Goddard corner from the left was floated in and with Obileye being tightly marked, Ugwu barely had to break sweat to plant a shot beyond former Bromley goalkeeper David Gregory.
Two goals to the good, Fleet’s play was neat and controlled. Jordan Holmes looked for the short pass or throw out, the back three defended as a unit with Obileye calm and collected in looking to find his men in midfield and from that base, the visitors seemed almost carefree in the first period.
There were some danger signs, however, with a scrappy period midway through the half when Fleet gave the ball away a little too often and Holmes had to be alert as a Keiran Murtagh free-kick bent towards the far post and the Fleet goalkeeper pushed that away and out of play.
Ball had two chances to extend the lead, trying to outfox Gregory with a shot to his near post that edged wide on 19 minutes and shortly before half-time in a similar position from an excellent pass by Wilson but it was at Gregory.
Tom Champion was booked late on in the half for taking Ugwu’s ankles and the referee had to call skipper Ricketts over as he gave the former Dartford man a final warning as half-time closed in.
The second half began in an untidy fashion and largely carried on in that manner. Yet Fleet could have put the game out of sight seven minutes after the restart when Goddard’s direct free-kick cannoned off the crossbar. Two minutes after that, Ugwu bundled the ball over the line from Weston’s delivery as premature cheers went up from the Fleet end but that was ruled out as the referee spotted a handball.
But the game turned in the next five minutes or so. Boreham Wood took off Kabongo Tshimanga who had succeeded in pulling Fleet defenders wide but without much luck otherwise and Justin Shaibu replaced him.
Murtagh then found himself with room to size up a strike on goal and it was heading for just beneath the crossbar but Holmes climbed well to divert it over the bar with a strong wrist.
On 66 minutes, former teammamtes Ugwu and Champion – who had been enjoying an increasingly physical dual – tangled and the Boreham Wood man went rolling over clutching his face. Home fans screamed for a red card for an elbow, with blood coming from a cut under Champion’s eye, but Ugwu later maintained he had made unintentional contact as the two came together. The referee issued a yellow card, Wood manager Luke Garrard claiming it should either be “red card or no card” as tempers boiled over on the touchline.
The bout of bad feeling seemed only to galvanise the home side and they began to string passes together, Kane Smith dictating play from his wing-back role down the right and Sorba Thomas engaged in a battle for supremacy with Jamie Grimes.
With 20 minutes left, Smith beat Goddard to a ball down the right and with Holmes committed to coming out of his six-yard box, the ball came flying across the penalty area, Wilson needing a calm head to bring it down and clear his lines. The same player headed another effort off the line
Shaibu then headed off the post from Wood’s next attack before Marsh replaced McDonnell on 75 minutes and he was only on the pitch a minute when he handed his side a lifeline.
Thomas cleverly played the ball wide of his marker inside the box and Marsh fell over Ball’s outstretched leg. The referee took a long look before pointing to the spot and Marsh fired past Holmes to give the home side plenty to play for.
And play they did, forcing Fleet into a reshuffle of personnel. Ugwu was taken off before too much retribution came his way and Obileye had to go up front, with Fleet reverting to a back four. The makeshift striker did his best to hold the ball up but with Smith still dictating things, the home side kept coming.
With six minutes of time added on, Wood forced a couple of corners and Gregory came up from goal, almost getting on one set piece to the far post. Holmes claimed another corner under great pressure and as the ball pinged about the box in the final Wood attack, Fleet threw everything they had in the way.
It was enough and the three points returned with the jubilant travelling contingent.
EUFC: Holmes, King, Grimes, Obileye, Wilson, Weston, Ball, Sutherland, Goddard (Shields 85), Ugwu (Lawless 83), Umerah (Thomas 62). Subs: N’Gala, Egan
BWFC: Gregory, Smith, Woodards, Ilesanmi, Stephens, Ricketts, Champion (Thompson 67), McDonnell (Marsh 74), Murtagh, Thomas, Tshimanga (Shaibu 56). Subs: Shakes, Huddart
Attendance: 533 (172 EUFC)