Luke Moore’s opening goal isn’t enough as Fleet fall at the first hurdle.
EBBSFLEET UNITED 1-3 EXETER CITY
For the fourth time in four years the Fleet exited the FA Cup at the first opportunity as they let slip an early lead, Exeter coming back to win 3-1 after a controlled and industrious second-half performance. However, it looked as if things might be going the home side’s way when Luke Moore notched the Fleet’s first goal in the competition for three seasons, latching on to Stacy Long’s exquisite 11th minute through ball and calmly rounding Paul Jones to score from an angle.
Fleet had a period in the ascendancy either side of that goal, with Exeter’s only real chance coming inside the first two minutes when Lance Cronin was forced to give away a corner from Bertrand Cozic’s low shot. But that was as good as it got from the Fleet and eight minutes after Moore’s goal, the visitors clawed their way back into the game. Exeter were already finding width down the channels, where Wayne Carlisle was giving Sacha Opinel a few headaches, but it was the opposite wing where they made the breakthrough, Matthew Gill eluding Mark Ricketts and finding time to send in a cross that caused all sorts of confusion in the Fleet box and, as Lance Cronin failed to grasp the loose ball, Jon Mackie pounced to thrash the ball into the back of the net.
The Fleet had an opportunity for a second with their own goalmouth scramble, Purcell sending in a cross that Long, Raphael Nade and Chris McPhee all had stabs at, but the commanding Rob Edwards was on hand to clear.
It almost got worse for the Fleet on 31 minutes when referee Mike Bull intervened in an innocent-looking tussle between Peter Hawkins, Warren Goodhind and Steve Basham on the edge of the box and blew for a penalty, much to the amazement of at least the home support in the ground. Fortunately, Mackie’s resulting penalty was weak and low to Cronin’s left, and the Fleet keeper gathered it well.
The incident certainly woke the fans up as the noise level rose – most of it in Mr Bull’s direction for the official had been giving a few bizarre decisions as it was up until the penalty – but any hopes that it would have an effect on the pitch were dispelled as the Grecians finished the half on top, their corner count growing with every attack.
Indeed it was Exeter who emerged the more positive and wrapped up the tie with two set-piece goals that found the Fleet defence wanting. On 48 minutes, referee Bull awarded a free-kick down the Exeter right and Moxey launched a long kick that eluded everybody in a red shirt and sat up conveniently for Matt Taylor to glance past a stranded Cronin. If that wasn’t bad enough, Exeter repeated the trick four minutes later. Another Moxey free-kick – and another one greeted by the Fleet fans with growls of disbelief as Hawkins’ challenge appeared to be 50/50 – was sent in from the right and a Fleet defender this time managed to get a head to it: alas Hawkins’ powerful effort flew in the wrong direction and straight past Cronin.
With almost 40 minutes for the Fleet to get involved, hope hadn’t evaporated but Exeter refused to sit back and defend, continuing to pressure the home defence with set pieces. On 57 minutes, one such corner saw Opinel tangling with Basham and a mini argument ensued, but neither the referee nor linesman saw any incident – a theme that ran throughout the afternoon – and no cards were produced.
Yet as time ticked on, Fleet failed to produce anything that could have been termed a shot on target with Liam Daish resorting to bringing on midfielders Liam Coleman and Lee Maskell in a bid to change things round, Moore moving up front in a 3-4-3 formation. His opposite number had the luxury of sending on two forwards in the shape of Adam Stansfield and Richard Logan, the latter almost making it four with a near-post header on 80 minutes that should really have hit the target. The Fleet offered little in reply and the second half petered out with little resemblance to the cup tie it was supposed to be, Exeter controlling the game without getting out of second gear, but in truth the Fleet barely gave them a reason to do so.
TEAM: Cronin, Ricketts (Liam Coleman 61), Opinel, Goodhind, Hawkins, McPhee, Barrett (Maskell 79), Long, Moore, Nade, Purcell (Luke Coleman 88). Subs not used: Sam Mott, James Smith.