Fleet produced a clinical display to run up five goals in a Boxing Day feast for the travelling fans that has seen the side score 12 goals in their last three away games.
Jamie Day fielded new signing Tyrone Marsh in a formation that saw Billy Bricknell play in an advanced role, with Marsh, Anthony Cook and Matt Godden in support. It meant Alex Osborn and Brendan Kiernan dropped to the bench following Tuesday night’s heroics at Welling.
Fleet started well and had the ball in the net on four minutes when Marsh and Cook combined to set Bricknell free but he was adjudged to be offside as he fired past Bradley Watkins. The home side saw plenty of the ball in the final third, however, and Michael Cheek had a free header from a corner that flashed across goal and when Rohdell Gordon played the ball back in, Harry Hickford this time headed against the bar.
Fleet looked vulnerable to City’s wide play and their ability to attack quickly with the ball on the ground but took some pressure off themselves with the opening goal on 10 minutes. Matt Johnson had a succession of shots blocked, the final one going behind for a corner. Former Chelmsford man Cook took it and another ex-Claret, Kenny Clark, got above everyone else to direct a header into the net.
City came back and won a succession of corners that troubled the Fleet defence who often resorted to last-ditch clearances to protect Brandon Hall. On 18 minutes Cook could have made it 2-0 when Godden sent over a cross to the far post and the Fleet No.11 produced an excellent overhead kick that Watkins at a stretch had to force behind his goal.
But it was end-to-end stuff and Gordon got past Shane Huke to deliver a low ball along the Fleet goalline that was crying out for just a touch. Bricknell was denied after he did well to bring down a Marsh pass and loosed off a shot that Watkins saved before Clark headed just over from a corner.
Again play swung to the other end and Hall made a hash of a clearance that allowed Joe Ward to race forwards but the Fleet goalkeeper redeemed himself with a decent block. City should have made it 1-1 moments later when Ward’s cross bounced invitingly for Yado Mambo free inside the box but he swung at it and missed, with Fleet eventually forcing the clearance.
And the visitors celebrated that escape by extending their lead when Mambo sent Clark tumbling in the box from McMahon’s corner and Bricknell drilled in the resulting penalty. But it was a busy closing period and Chelmsford deservedly got a goal back five minutes later, Rohdell Gordon again attacking down the left and whipping in a delivery for West Ham loanee Jaanai Gordon to head home.
There was still time for more drama when McMahon smacked a shot against the post from 20 yards and Godden pounced to send the rebound beyond Watkins but he was flagged offside, with some debate about whether he was in such a position when McMahon had let fly.
The second half seemed destined for more goals and the home side looked more likely to provide them in the opening spell as they went about their task for an equaliser with more purpose than the Fleet. But when Rohdell Gordon was booked for what was his second dive of the afternoon on 52 minutes, City seemed to lose their heads with the referee. McMahon hit a free-kick straight at Watkins on 53 minutes but had fine-tuned his radar two minutes later when he struck a much better set piece beyond Watkins for Fleet’s third.
The City faithful were unhappy with the decision that led to that goal and they bemoaned every decision from the referee after that. Cook saw yellow for an unnecessary trip and push as tempers flared a little and he was sensibly substituted almost immediately. Joe Howe checked Ward on the edge of the box – legally – but there were howls for a penalty, which were repeated when Cheek blasted a shot against a Fleet shoulder inside the penalty area. Cheek then almost hauled his side back into the reckoning when a cross from the right fell to him inside the six-yard box but he somehow sent it wide.
Fleet showed less mercy in front of goal and substitute Sean Shields scored a fourth on 71 minutes. Hall launched a goal kick that appeared to be far too long to be of any use and his opposite number came to gather but fumbled the ball into the path of Shields. The Dagenham loanee still had plenty of work to do but he picked a spot and lobbed Watkins from outside the box, sending the ball into the top corner.
And Fleet made it five just five minutes later. Rob Girdlestone’s crossfield ball from defence ended up at the feet of substitute Kiernan and he battled to get the ball free, advanced into the box and bamboozled the City defence before playing in Bricknell who steered the ball past Watkins for his second. Clark, who could have had three or four goals such was his presence today, almost added a sixth at the end when he tried his luck from distance with a shot that went just over the bar.
Fleet are top of the away form table and if they can serve up this sort of effort at home, then that 10-point gap is definitely within sight. With Basingstoke and Chelmsford coming up next at the PHB Stadium, the opportunity is there.
TEAM: Hall, Huke, Howe, Johnson, Acheampong, Clark, Marsh (Osborn 77), McMahon, Bricknell, Godden (Shields 63), Cook (Kiernan 60). Subs not used: Turner, Pooley