Cambridge make Fleet pay with clinical second-half performance..
Fleet succumbed to another away-day defeat at mid-table Cambridge in a match where once again the final score belied the early promise shown by the visitors.
Injury to Dean Pooley meant Gavin Heeroo continued in the right-back position he assumed in the second half against Crawley. Debutant Peter Holmes was handed a berth in midfield with Luis Cumbers a lone striker ahead of Ricky Shakes and Ishmael Welsh.
Holmes looked comfortable immediately and indeed the Fleet edged the first quarter, Cumbers forcing Danny Potter into a save on 11 minutes after good work by the Gillingham loanee.
But Cambridge woke up on 15 minutes when Paul Carden clattered into a challenge on the halfway line to release Chris Holroyd down the right and the Cambridge top scorer floated a great cross into the Fleet penalty area but Danny Crow thudded a shot against the crossbar from close range.
A minute later and the Fleet were on the back foot again, Courtney Pitt meeting Robbie Willmott’s cross at the far post but finding the legs of Lance Cronin in the way. But the visitors were matching whatever Cambridge threw at them and still found outlets in Holmes and Scott Shulton to attempt shots from distance.
But as at Stonebridge Road earlier in the season, Carden’s midfield contribution was telling and his rough and ready approach seemed to unsettle his opposite numbers. On 37 minutes he drove a path through the middle but rather pulled at his shot as it failed to trouble Cronin.
It seemed the first half was drawing to a goalless close but the Fleet could have snatched a lead on 45 minutes when Shulton embarked on a run, skipping past two challenges before letting fly with a fine shot that Potter had to tip round the post
Yet there was still time to register on the scoresheet and Fleet fans could scarcely believe their luck again when Holroyd took advantage of some hesitant defending and flicked the ball across goal for Pitt to despatch with his head.
One goal swiftly turned into two the other side of half-time when Holroyd and Pitt combined again and Paul McCarthy was adjudged to have fouled Pitt – though Fleet fans behind the goal seemed stunned that the whistle had gone. Holroyd struck the panelty above Cronin for his 13th goal of the season and there only looked like one winner at that point.
Pitt now began to cause the Fleet defence all sorts of problems with a powerful and skilful display and McCarthy saw yellow on 57 minutes after kicking out at the Cambridge midfielder’s ankle. Antony Tonkin blasted over the bar on 58 minutes, while Fleet responded at the other end when Cumbers, starved of much service in the second half, had a shot blocked by Brian Saah.
Daish, having already replaced Shulton with Michael West, threw on Scott Ginty and moved to three at the back. But the switch predictably left the visitors shorn of cover when Cambridge attacked and nine minutes from time it was 3-0, Pitt again excelling and supplying Willmott who calmly outfoxed Cronin with a shot that went in off the post.
Ricky Shakes thought he had ended Fleet’s goal drought late on but a push on Daniel Gleeson rendered it disallowed and to rub salt into the wound, the home side made it four in stoppage time, substitute Lee Phillips shooting against the bar and as luck would have it for the Fleet the rebound fell to Crow. But he still had plenty of work to do and he sent a curling shot over Cronin to disturb the net for the fourth time.
So once again the quandary for the Fleet is how they make their early possession tell and give their opponents a reason to fight, because once that first goal goes in at the other end, there is always a mountain to climb. Holmes added bite to the midfield but he was short of match fitness and the problem is still in taking chances, half-chances and any crumb that comes the way of Fleet’s luckless front men.
TEAM: Cronin, Heeroo (Ginty 69), Crooks, McCarthy, Charles, Wills, Shulton (West 55), Holmes (Abbey 90), Welsh, Shakes, Cumbers.
Subs Not Used: Lamprell, Salmon.