It won’t do Fleet fans with a nervous disposition much good to travel to Concord Rangers this coming Saturday if the last two games against Essex opposition are anything to go by. After coming from behind to win against Bishop’s Stortford two weeks ago, Steve Brown’s side did it again at Chelmsford tonight to prevent the Clarets earning a season double.
There were a couple of changes for the visitors, with Michael Thalassitis replacing Ben May and debutant Anthony Acheampong taking advantage of a knock to Paul Lorraine to give Fleet fans an early taste of what he has to offer.
Fleet caught early sight of goal with Daryl McMahon’s free kick deflected behind, while Acheampong and Thalassitis saw efforts come to nothing and Billy Bricknell forced a low save at the foot of the post from Carl Pentney. But the home side pushed on, taking the game to their visitors, and they were rewarded on 26 minutes when Matt Lock powered a shot against the Fleet crossbar and Rob Edmans was on hand to head home the rebound.
Thalassitis almost dragged his side back into it with a decent shot that Pentney had two bites at before he safely gathered while at the other end, Edmans had the ball in the back of the net once again – but that was ruled out by an offside flag.
Then came an extraordinary let-off for Chelmsford when ex-City pair Anthony Cook and Bricknell hit a post and then had a shot cleared off the line respectively, while midfielder Christian Smith then somehow managed to dive in to prevent Dean Rance’s follow-up going in.
But despite those chances, Fleet still looked a little rusty and they almost let the game slip away from them when Osei Sankofa misjudged a back pass and Aaron Greene nipped in, Edwards coming to the rescue with a leg that blocked the Chelmsford player’s effort.
Fleet came out with a little more purpose and Cook had a speculative shot fly towards its target but Pentney got down late to turn it behind. The home side carried a potent threat, however, and Edwards saw the ball cross his line for a third time, only to be disallowed once again. Then Kieron St Aimie and ex-Fleet midfielder Tom Davis combined to tee up a chance for Greene whose powerful drive was parried by Edwards.
But just past the hour mark, the visitors were right back in it. Rance’s neat cross found its way to Thalassitis and he hit a sweet volley that sailed past Pentney. Buoyed by that filip, Fleet sensed the win. Bricknell tested Pentney again and within six minutes, the game was turned around.
A free kick from the right courtesy of McMahon took a slight deflection off a City body and Pentney was stunned to find himself picking the ball out of the net once more.
Fleet withstood a City counteroffensive, Edwards saving from Greene and then Mark Hughes firing over – both solid chances that could have swung the pendulum back the other way. That effort from Hughes, however, was to be his final contribution as he received his marching orders on 75 minutes after a melee involving several players that had been sparked by a challenge close to the visitors’ dugout.
That gave Fleet the breathing space they needed as City and their fans directed their anger at the referee. Thalassitis and substitutes Ben May and Michael West could have put the game beyond the Clarets, though Edwards was called into action one last time when Lock and Joe Ward had chances to equaliser but Fleet held on for a huge win that now gives them an eight-point play-off cushion.
TEAM: Edwards, Sessegnon (Howe 74), Palmer, McMahon, Acheampong, Sankofa, Osborn (West 87), Rance, Thalassitis, Bricknell (May 69), Cook. Subs not used: Hall, Corcoran