Mark Ricketts starts for the first time since August but Fleet’s unbeaten run ends at Aldershot.
ALDERSHOT TOWN 2-0 EBBSFLEET UNITED
Fresh from upsetting the form book against league leaders Torquay on Saturday, Liam Daish’s men came to Hampshire looking to extend their five-game unbeaten run. With Mark Ricketts deployed at right-back and John Hastings dropped to the bench, the Fleet’s starting XI was the same that finished the game against the Gulls.
And they almost started where they’d left off after Neil Barrett let loose a shot from 20 yards that cannoned off the inside off the post. The Fleet were quicker to settle but urged on by their vocal home support, the Shots came back into things with Louis Soares and Ben Harding looking dangerous when they got the ball at their feet, and with Kirk Hudson and Rob Elvins doing plenty of running, Fleet were probably fortunate that they’d opted for four at the back.
Indeed the Shots started to pick up the pace on 20 minutes, Soares having two shots inside a few minutes that he rather hurried, though Sacha Opinel was to be credited for the interception on the second. It was Soares again who should really have broken the deadlock on 21 minutes as he found himself one-on-one with Lance Cronin 25 yards from goal and despite the opportunity to take it a few more yards, he lobbed the Fleet keeper but the ball looped well wide.
But in a pacy first half, the Fleet played their part in some end-to-end stuff with Luke Moore stretching the Shots defence, and he supplied a useful cross for Raphael Nade on 25 minutes, but Rhys Day got himself in front of the Fleet number 9 in time. As ever, Aldershot looked extremely useful up front but couldn’t quite find their composure as Elvins got himself into space but shot straight at Cronin on 28 minutes when Soares was better positioned. And with Opinel and Ricketts providing bite and balance either side of the Fleet defence, the Shots struggled to get into their stride.
The Fleet refused to buckle and had the better of the closing stages of the first half, with Paul McCarthy in a great position on 42 minutes but he couldn’t get his head over the ball and nodded it over the bar. A minute later, and the Shots were living on their luck as a McCarthy ball upfield found its way to Chris McPhee whose shot was blocked by a defender and as Moore pounced on the rebound, goalkeeper Nikki Bull somehow spread himself in front of the shot.
Aldershot drew first blood in the second period, Harding shooting from distance which Cronin did well to save. But the Fleet refused to lie down and on the hour mark, Nade drove with pace at the Shots defence, squaring for Mark DeBolla, but the Fleet midfielder was unable to repeat his heroics of the previous season and with a touch too many, blasted the ball over the bar. The wobbly Shots defence looked momentarily on the ropes and the Fleet had a second chance when a poor clearance fell to Stacy Long who delayed his shot long enough for Day to block, before Nade and Moore both had attempts on target but found the excellent Bull equal to them.
Typically, the Fleet were left to rue their missed opportunities and on 68 minutes, Soares crossed to find Elvins in the box and as Ricketts made the minimum of contact, the Shots striker eventually tumbled to the ground and the referee – who also officiated Fleet’s 3-0 home defeat against the Shots in 2006 – pointed to the spot. Day made no mistake with the penalty and the home side had their noses in front. They could have doubled their lead minutes later when the otherwise solid Harding had what appeared to be an easy effort from close range but he fluffed his lines.
Daish introduced John Hastings on 73 minutes and the Fleet sacrificed their previous solidity as they went about the search for an equaliser. They almost found it on 82 minutes, seconds after useful substitute Daniel Hylton had worried Cronin with a shot from 12 yards. The Fleet cleared and Hastings made space for himself and played Nade into a good position but the striker’s shot from eight yards was excellently saved by Bull. Once again, the let-off proved to be disastrous and minutes later, as Anthony Straker cleared upfield, he found Hylton down the right who played the ball through to a suspiciously offside Soares, and he gleefully outpaced Opinel and rammed a shot past Cronin into the bottom right of the net. Game over.
TEAM: Cronin, Ricketts (Hastings 73), Opinel, Hawkins, McCarthy, McPhee, Long, DeBolla, Barrett (Bostwick 52), Nade, Moore. Subs not used: French, Luke Coleman, Goodhind.
Report by Allan Main
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