Ebbsfleet United’s Jekyll & Hyde approach to home and away matches continued in some style at the league leaders this afternoon as a Billy Bricknell double sent Boreham Wood tumbling to only their second home defeat of the season.
Second from bottom of the home form table, yet top of the away pile, Fleet nonetheless faced a mighty challenge against a Wood side whose 10 wins at Meadow Park gave them the best home record in the league. And the visitors’ task was made no easier with Kenny Clark unavailable, meaning they were down to the bare bones and preparing to set up in an unfamiliar 3-5-2 formation.
So it meant Dean Pooley, Anthony Acheampong and Joe Howe lining up across the back, with Alex Osborn and Sean Shields offering protection either side as wing backs. It served Fleet well in the early exchanges as they forced a couple of corners straight from the kick-off and kept the home side at bay.
But Boreham Wood came closest to scoring when a free-kick from Junior Morais whistled past the post and billowed the side netting to the premature cheers of the home fans. Anything they could do, however, the Fleet could match and on five minutes, after Tyrone Marsh saw his effort cleared to Daryl McMahon, the Fleet skipper’s ambitious shot came back off the post, hit the goalkeeper on the back and went off for a corner!
The home side carved out few chances but they broke speedily and in numbers, utilising the flanks and Howe and Shields in particular were busy keeping Matt Whichelow at bay down the left. And it was Shields who started the move for the opening goal on 17 minutes when he hoisted a diagonal ball to Marsh on the right. The former Oxford striker controlled it well and played a great low cross into the box, ideal territory for Bricknell who made no mistake in tucking it past James Russell.
Several times Fleet threatened to break through the Wood back line and both Bricknell and Marsh got clear only to be hauled back by the offside flag. Bricknell then produced some good hold-up play on 21 minutes to feed Anthony Cook but his shot was always rising and Russell watched it clear the bar.
The home side picked up as the first half wore on and Whichelow in particular looked dangerous any time he approached the box from the right wing. Former Fleet hero Ricky Shakes was playing just inside him but was kept quiet by McMahon and Matt Johnson. There was a big let-off for the visitors seven minutes from the break, however, when a Boreham Wood corner swung around Pooley at the near post and almost went straight in but Howe somehow rolled it clear as Lee Angol slid in to convert on the line.
And the Fleet had Osborn to thank in the final minutes as Graeme Montgomery surged forwards with four men in support, but the Fleet winger made a vital challenge to delay the counterattack until the visitors had men back in support.
What Fleet didn’t need was an early goal for the home side in the second half but unfortunately that’s exactly what they got. Boreham Wood had Jamie Day’s side under the cosh from the first whistle, winning two corners and a free-kick in the first five minutes and Brandon Hall had to tip over Whichelow’s free-kick from a central position. And on 50 minutes, it was little surprise when Wood drew level. Whichelow’s trickery on the right afforded him the space to send in a cross that Fleet half-cleared but the ball rolled kindly towards Montgomery who finished well, striking a rising shot into the roof of the net from the edge of the box for 1-1.
Three minutes later the ball was in the back of the net again as Angol converted a pass but the flag was up and Fleet breathed a sigh of relief. After that Boreham Wood dominated possession for a good 15 minutes, attacking at speed down the flanks and Osborn was booked for bundling over impressive left back Jordan Brown as he threatened to run clear.
At the other end, on 59 minutes, Marsh was ever so unlucky when he showed great skill to deceive the Wood defence and run clear into the box and he got his shot on target but it stuck underneath Russell who was fortunate not to see it roll away from him and over the line.
Fleet managed to weather the storm, however, and got their noses back in front on 70 minutes. McMahon’s free-kick from 30 yards didn’t quite carry the venom of his recent strike against Chelmsford but it was enough to cause Russell to flap at it and the ball rolled clear. Bricknell reacted quickest in the six-yard box, stabbing the ball just over the line as it came back off the post.
Given Wood’s ability for scoring, a third goal was desirable but no Fleet fan expected it within a few minutes of their second. And it came almost out of the blue, with Shields winning possession when he robbed Whichelow on the touchline and pumping the ball upfield where Cook gathered it, took a look up and floated what appeared to be an ambitious effort from distance that sailed round Russell and hit the back of the net.
That knocked the stuffing out of the home side and they appeared to run out of ideas, particularly when Whichelow and Montgomery were withdrawn with seven minutes left to play. Fleet still had to defend for all they were worth, however, and the efforts of Osborn and Shields were superb, while Howe, Pooley and Acheampong kept the white shirts clear of the box.
After the damp squibs of Basingstoke and Chelmsford, this was the fight the manager will have wanted to see as his troops fought tooth and nail to keep themselves in the hunt.
TEAM: Hall, Pooley, Howe, M Johnson, Acheampong, Osborn, Shields, McMahon, Bricknell, Marsh, Cook. Subs not used: Turner, Kiernan, Day, Miller-Neave, C Johnson