Fleet boss Steve Brown admitted he was “devastated” by his side’s exit from the FA Trophy but refused to blame Billy Bricknell’s disallowed late goal for the defeat.
“Billy’s a striker so he honestly believes he came from an onside position,” Brown told BBC Radio Kent’s Ben Croucher. “In all fairness to the linesman, the flag went up straight away so it wasn’t like he took his time and was in two minds about it. It was a very quick free kick from Daryl McMahon that caught their back four asleep and Bill finished as Bill does.
“It didn’t look offside from where we were but those decisions go for you sometimes and sometimes they don’t. It was a shame because we were applying a deal of pressure in the second half and Havant were really only affecting us on the counterattack in those last 15 minutes when we were just putting more and more bodies in that box to try and get the equaliser.”
And Brown was left rueing the “small mistake” that he believed made the difference on the day. “Both sides were willing to go for the win, it was end to end stuff and it was a deflected goal that decided it. It looked like it was going to be that kind of thing that settled it, a wonder strike or an own goal or a mistake was going to lead to the loss. Did we do enough to win? Their keeper was a little busier than ours but I certainly don’t think we deserved to lose today.
“I thought second half we applied enough pressure to at least come out of this with a draw. [Their goalkeeper] made a great save in the first half and Westy went through one v one and you think that’s going in the bottom corner and it drifts wide. I can’t remember in the second half other than their two set pieces, one where they scored and then where we had a little wobble, I can’t remember Preston actually having to make a save. It’s disappointing, but that’s what cup ties are all about. We made a mistake on the corner and we left an area unmarked. It was a small mistake but it got punished.
“It was a cup tie that we said before the game the conditions would make a difference. Very heavy pitch. No wind and rain so a perfect day in that respect, but the pitch was heavy and we knew it was going to be competitive and there wasn’t going to be a great deal of football played because the pitch wouldn’t allow it.”
And the Fleet manager refused to subscribe to the theory that a Trophy exit might benefit his players’ play-off charge. “The remit at the start of the season was to put together a side capable of reaching the play-offs but I would rather have stayed in the Trophy and tried to get a play-off position. I’m not a believer of putting weaker sides out in cup competitions and I’m not really a believer of thinking, well, that’s gone so great, now we can concentrate on the league. I’m absolutely devastated we haven’t gone through today and so are the players.
“In the dressing room, we’re deflated. But what I have to do, as much as we are disappointed – and we are, it was a great opportunity to progress in this competition – we’ve got Farnborough on Tuesday and we have to go again. So we have to shelve this one and move on very, very quickly.
“As much as you’re full of confidence in a good run, confidence does get knocked when you have a couple of back-to-back results that don’t go your way. We’ve lost to good sides. The run we’ve had over Christmas – Sutton, Bromley, Dover, Bromley and Havant here who are very competitive on their home ground – it’s no disgrace. We’re not losing to sides in the bottom half of the table, we’re losing to sides that are in and around us, something we’ve got to address quickly. We’ve got to get back to a winning run as soon as we can.”
On Michael West’s return to action in a Fleet shirt, Brown was impressed with the midfielder’s contribution but admitted – after replacing him with Alex Osborn 15 minutes from time – that he needs more game time.
“Westy’s just rusty, it’s fair to say that. His movement was good, he’s got good pace. He’s been hitting free-kicks in and after training and looking very dangerous. Today he gets a real good opportunity to put one of those in and it hits the wall – but it was a good opening performance. I just want him to start playing games again, put a smile on his face because he’s had a tough 18 months up at Crewe. But he just ran out of steam today.”