Cambridge 1-0 Fleet



Report by Allan Main

The Fleet are still looking for their first-ever win at the Abbey Stadium following this afternoon’s 1-0 defeat, the home side’s Scott Rendell proving the difference with a goal – yet again – on the stroke of half-time.

Given the miserable goals record Cambridge have at home and the seeming lack of killer instinct on the Fleet’s part, today’s game was always likely to be a low-scoring affair though Liam Daish resisted the urge to switch his squad around, keeping faith with the same 11 who started the Kettering match last Sunday.

Cambridge, for their part, dropped experienced duo Jon Challinor and Mark Beesley to the bench while young wingers Felino Jardim and Robbie Willmott came in to give Gary Brabin’s side more balance across the middle. Fleet made a lively enough start in foggy conditions with a couple of early corners though Cambridge looked the sharper and made the first meaningful attack when Rendell’s 11th-minute header was saved by Lance Cronin.

Five minutes later the home side almost took advantage of some poor Fleet defending. Darius Charles slipped going to meet a loose ball and Danny Crow took advantage to burst through but he snapped off a shot that Cronin did well to palm round the post for a corner. The home side’s most likely avenue was down the left with winger Willmott forcing Mark Ricketts to work hard for his weekly wages, and the Cambridge man got in a shot from the edge of the box on 21 minutes that flew just wide.

Willmott was also cutting into the middle with good effect, troubling former Cambridge trainee James Smith with his ball control, and twice he almost sent Crow and Rendell through on goal. Fortunately for the Fleet, the home side didn’t look quite as sharp as when they visited Stonebridge Road earlier in the season and the longer it remained goalless, the more encouragement the Fleet drew from it. On the half-hour mark, the visitors picked up their game and enjoyed a spell of pressure, Stacy Long forcing Danny Potter into a save before Gash tried the same from close-range but his attempt ricocheted off a defender.

Minutes later, Long found Luke Moore who got the better of Mark Convery but his useful effort didn’t get past Bolland who got the block in and Barrett’s follow-up shot went wide of the post. But with those chances gone, the U’s regained the initiative, Willmott again getting the better of Ricketts and Charles managed to get a foot in as Paul Carden attempted to finish the move.

By now an animated Liam Daish was urging his team to observe their defensive responsibilities, with Matthew Delicate earning an earful for not closing down players in their own half. And despite Cambridge ending the half the better side, the Fleet looked to have done enough to see themselves through to half time. However, it was not to be. In the second minute of stoppage time, Barrett conceded a corner from a free kick. Convery swept the ball into the box and it was half-cleared as far as Wayne Hatswell who drilled it back across for Rendell at the far post to convert.

That sucker punch knocked the wind out of the Fleet’s sails and Cambridge came out the more purposeful in a lacklustre second half where both sides appeared to be waiting to get in from the cold and fog. Impressive defender Dan Gleeson went close early on and was thwarted only by a combination of Cronin and the post. Rendell’s power and running off the ball was also troubling the Fleet defence, while Smith – having breathed a sigh of relief as Willmott looked to have run out of steam – now had to be alert to the threat of Dutchman Jardim who was beginning to cause problems.

The Fleet rarely got a sniff at the other end, Craig Stone having a shot at goal on 51 minutes and Ricketts deep cross 15 minutes later almost catching Potter out as he scrambled back to make a save from beneath his crossbar. But those chances aside, the visitors as an attacking force were largely impotent. The introduction of George Purcell, Karl Murray and eventually Ricky Shakes did little to alter that fact and the home side were encouraged as much by the Fleet’s lack of cutting edge as they were by their own efforts.

Rendell received a yellow card for diving on 83 minutes while manager Brabin seemed to be venting his spleen over the Fleet defenders’ challenges on Crow, though his protestations were more muted when the former Peterborough striker got away without punishment following a nasty challenge on Sacha Opinel.

On 87 minutes the U’s should have wrapped things up when substitute Courtney Pitt, making his first appearance of the season, showed his rustiness when Smith and Cronin misjudged a long ball but with only the goalkeeper to beat, Pitt lifted his shot over the bar. That was the last chance of note and Cambridge took the plaudits as they remained fourth but cemented their place in the play-off positions.

For the Fleet, it was less a bad day at the office as much as one where they may as well have phoned in sick. The attacking edge was less than sharp and some uneasy defending could have delivered more goals for low-scoring Cambridge. The home side weren’t as slick or powerful as they have been in previous seasons but then they weren’t exactly forced into extending themselves for much of this game.

TEAM: Cronin, Ricketts, Smith, Charles, Opinel, Moore, Stone (Murray 67), Barrett, Long
(Shakes 81), Delicate (Purcell 58), Gash.
Subs not used: Pooley, French.
Att: 2,807


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First-Team Squad