Simon Thomas turns from villain to hero to give the Fleet their first win of the season…
Despite missing a first-half penalty, Simon Thomas turned match-winner for the Fleet with a goal deep in injury time that gave Liam Daish’s side their first three points of 2009-10.
The Fleet boss was forced to shuffle his pack with Scott Shulton returning in midfield and Dean Pooley moving back into defence to cover for the absent Darius Charles. And his charges seemed to benefit from the enthusiasm of youth as they got down to business immediately, refusing to let Saturday’s last-minute defeat play on their minds.
Ishmael Welsh had Fleet’s first opportunity on 8 minutes, forcing Danny Knowles into a save and the Fleet tried to utilise a wide pitch with Jordan Collins and Ricky Shakes showing early willing. Two minutes later, however, and Eastbourne should have led when Andy Atkin and Matt Crabb combined to outwit Will Salmon and Dean Pooley, allowing Jamie Taylor through on goal but his shot was well stopped by Lance Cronin.
A similar move on the half hour mark saw the tricky Crabb again get free down the Boro left and outpace Leon Crooks before crossing towards Atkin who could only shoot straight at Cronin. Fleet were more than a measure for their opponents though Boro looked as if they might take the game by the scruff of the neck as their wide players, Crabb in particular, caused the Fleet problems. But Pooley and Crooks were well organised against a pacy and skilful player in Taylor and kept their heads.
The game exploded into life five minutes before the break with two fairly unlikely incidents producing major talking points. First, Crabb’s corner looked to be sailing high over the box until Taylor did very well to hook a shot at goal that took everyone by surprise and cannoned off the Fleet bar. Then five minutes later, Thomas raced onto a long ball that Boro should really have dealt with but he got the better of some casual defending before being upended by Garry Elphick. Thomas himself took the penalty but Knowles guessed right and produced a decent save to knock the ball away to his left.
Still refusing to be downhearted, the Fleet came out looking to make amends and it took them just eight minutes. Magno Vieira, again looking one of the Fleet’s most dangerous players with his power and running, used both to outmuscle Marc Pullan until he was bearing down on goal. Knowles raced out of his goal and sent Vieira tumbling just as the Fleet striker looked to play the ball around him and referee Creighton – who had a fine game – had no hesitation in awarding a second penalty and sending Knowles off.
After a brief argument between Shulton and Vieira over who was going to take the penalty, the Brazilian prevailed and he struck his shot past new keeper Michael Jordan to give the Fleet a lead for the first time this season. And the visitors should have wrapped things up on 65 minutes when Welsh got away down the left and with three Fleet players in the clear ahead of him, crossed for Shakes who hit a wild shot way over the target.
The Fleet were left to rue that chance as four minutes later, Boro equalised. Defender Ben Austin beat Welsh to a ball inside his own half and launched a fine long ball which sailed over Collins and found Jamie Taylor who showed great level-headedness to slide a shot under Cronin.
Daish threw on Scott Ginty as he went 3-4-3 and the Fleet midfield stepped up a gear, desperate to find a win. Collins and Gavin Heeroo kept working to find an opening and Welsh, quiet up to that point, found another gear – though everything the Fleet threw at Boro was mopped up by the excellent Austin. Welsh almost powered through the defence but couldn’t finish with a strong shot, while Vieira and later substitute Kane Wills had efforts blocked. Thomas, too, showed excellent technique with a shot on the turn from outside the box that whizzed goalwards.
Boro had half-chances of their own but when six minutes of injury time were called, the Fleet answered the challenge in the dying moments. A last, desperate long ball reached Vieira and his shot seemed to scuff off Thomas as the Crystal Palace loanee stuck a knee out and to the delight of fans and players, the ball slid over the line.
Thomas, having been on the receiving end of some stick from a section of the home crowd, revelled in his matchwinner status – no more than he deserved in a game where he put himself about and showed the genesis of a partnership with Vieiria – and the Fleet held on.
The celebrations at the final whistle, reminiscent of wins in similar circumstances at Canvey Island and St Albans in the past, showed how much it meant to the Fleet to get that first win under their belts.
TEAM: Cronin, Salmon (Ginty 75), Collins, Pooley, Crooks, Heeroo, Welsh (Wills 85), Shulton, Shakes (Forshaw 79), Vieira, Thomas. Subs Not Used: Lamprell, Read.
See Magno Vieira’s penalty below: