Luke Moore scores Ebbsfleet’s and the Blue Square Premier’s first-ever goal as nine-man Fleet hold on for victory.
EBBSFLEET UNITED 2-1 NORTHWICH VICTORIA
The Fleet recorded their first opening-day victory since a 1-0 win over Kingstonian back in the promotion season of 2001-02, but it came at a cost as injuries and suspensions look set to take their toll on Liam Daish’s defence.
But with Stonebridge Road bathed in sunshine, and the Fleet off the blocks quicker than a high-speed Eurostar train, things looked rosy enough for the first 20 minutes. It was Luke Moore who looked keenest to shake off the close-season lethargy and he was almost on the scoresheet inside a minute after skipping clear of the Northwich defence and flashing a shot just wide of the post.
Moore wasn’t to be denied his place in the history books, however, netting both Ebbsfleet United’s and the Blue Square Premier’s first-ever goal just over a minute later as he met Chukki Eribenne’s cross and drilled home from 10 yards out. It was Moore again on six minutes who forced a save from visiting keeper Andy Murphy, who palmed away the effort for a corner as Fleet threatened to turn rampant.
However, the home side took their foot off the gas, though never looked threatened as the first half petered out towards a stalemate. Replacement goalkeeper Scott Tynan was a mere spectator for much of the half, not even troubled by the Vics’ solitary shot on 39 minutes, Paul Tait’s effort dealt with by Peter Hawkins. Five minutes earlier, Mark Ricketts had limped off following an earlier challenge by Kevin Townson, to be replaced by the clearly versatile Chris McPhee who slotted into an unaccustomed defensive midfield role.
Fleet’s spell in the ascendancy was short-lived, as five minutes after a roasting from manager Neil Redfearn, the visitors grabbed an unexpected equaliser. Michael Battersby eluded George Purcell down the left and threaded a pass through to debutant Simon Rusk, and he struck a clean shot past Tynan. Purcell made way for Sacha Opinel and within 15 minutes, the Fleet had woken up again. James Smith went close with a header and then on 67 minutes, Stacy Long’s shot was parried clear by Murphy, only for Moore to flick on the loose ball which Chukki Eribenne pounced on at the far post to restore the initiative.
The confidence among the home fans was tempered minutes later as Smith became involved in an altercation on the left touchline. Flying into a challenge on Townson, the Vics man retaliated, sparking a brief mass brawl in which referee Stewart decided both protagonists were equally culpable and sent them both off, despite Smith’s challenge appearing to warrant only a caution.
Daish threw Raphael Nade on for Luke Moore as he looked to expose the flagging Northwich back line, but the substitution backfired when Gary MacDonald pulled up with a serious achilles injury and had to be helped from the field. Despite the setback to nine men, Fleet pushed on even stronger, De Bolla sending in a free-kick that was blocked , Eribenne hitting a post and Long testing Murphy with a 20-yard shot. Northwich failed to put the nine men under sufficient pressure and the Fleet bagged the win, albeit at high cost.
TEAM: Tynan, Smith, MacDonald, Hawkins, Purcell (Opinel 54), Long, De Bolla, Barrett, Ricketts (McPhee 36), Eribenne, Moore (Nade 73). Subs not used: Liam Coleman, Mott.