The Fleet took a giant step towards a play-off place with an excellent victory at one of their rivals for a top five spot. Today’s win eliminates Eastleigh as challengers to the Fleet and also puts Liam Daish within two points of a guaranteed play-off – meaning one more win from the final three games will do it.
Tom Phipp was back from injury and his reintroduction came at the expense of Giannoulis Fakinos while Derek Duncan returned at left back after the end of Ryan Blake’s loan period.
In bright conditions, the match began at a fairly stately pace, both sides probing for an advantage without taking any risks. An early Ricky Shakes cross was the best for the Fleet in a cagey opening but Ashley Carew couldn’t get on the end of it.
Carew made no mistake on 14 minutes, however, when Craig Stone’s cross from the right to the far post was perfectly flighted and the former Eastleigh midfielder headed home, earning a booking for his subsequent celebration.
That put a spring in Fleet’s step and Michael West shot over from distance, Stone tried his luck from further out and Duncan and West combined well to tee up Ricky Shakes but Eastleigh defender Chris Holland managed to clear.
Eastleigh looked a shadow of the attacking side seen at Stonebridge Road earlier this season but with their strength and power always looked to capitalise on set pieces. Tony Taggart and Jamie Slabber were their standout performers when they had the ball and Slabber forced Preston Edwards into a fingertip save with a dipping effort on 38 minutes.
And Fleet grasped the game by the horns three minutes before the break. Carew was again instrumental, his powerful shot from the right parried by goalkeeper Jason Matthews but only as far as Ricky Shakes inside the box who slotted home to make it 2-0 and potentially kill off the Eastleigh challenge.
The home side almost enjoyed some good fortune when Clint Easton was glad to see the ball trickle wide after brushing his leg. Shakes limped off on the stroke of half-time, presumably having taken a knock in scoring his goal.
Not that it upset Fleet’s rhythm as they needed barely 30 seconds after the break to put the game beyond their play-off rivals’ reach. West received the ball on the left and laid off a great ball into Carew and he barely paused before switching feet and firing home with his left foot.
It was little surprise that the game settled into something of a stalemate, Eastleigh seeming incapable of raising their game. Richard Gillespie wasted a chance, allowing Edwards to gather on 50 minutes, but it was about the only clear sight on goal they had. On 65 minutes, Fakinos played a wonderful ball into the path of his fellow substitute Jacob Erskine and he ran through to shoot just past the post.
And Erskine should probably have done better six minutes later on the break when he ran clear but instead chose to square for Calum Willock who shot straight at the goalkeeper.
Eastleigh came alive again towards the end and seven minutes from time Edwards made a superb low save from Jamie Brown. The Fleet broke immediately upfield and Joe Howe let fly from 25 yards, only the crossbar denying the visitors a fourth goal. Duncan cleared off the line from an Eastleigh corner in the final minute as the Fleet kept another clean sheet, having now conceded only two goals in six games. It was a deserved and huge three points, a repeat of which on Good Friday against Chelmsford will guarantee a place in the play-offs.
TEAM: Edwards, Stone, Duncan, Carew, Easton, Lorraine, West (Erskine 63), Marwa (Howe 58), Willock, Shakes (Fakinos 45), Phipp. Subs not used: Banim, Ginty.