John Akinde scores a late equaliser to give the Fleet a point…
GRAYS ATHLETIC 1-1 EBBSFLEET UNITED
Substitute John Akinde’s third goal in as many games rescued a point for the Fleet with a late strike that was threatening never to materialise. Liam Daish had pinned his hopes on his starting front men, Chukki Eribenne featuring in his first league match since suspension and Luke Moore who moved forward from midfield but the Fleet were slow to get into the game and the home side seemed more bright after yesterday’s Christmas dinners.
Liam Coleman, however, tested Ross FLitney as early as the ninth minute with a long-range shot, while Danny Kedwell had an effort blocked by James Smith just after the quarter-hour mark. Having posted his intent, the former Welling top scorer made sure of his second chance minutes later when he nodded home Simon Downer’s cross from the right. The troublesome Ben Watson had another effort on 20 minutes as Grays sought to stamp their authority on the game and while the Fleet did find themselves in useful positions, such as when Smith tried his luck from a Stacy Long corner and via Coleman and Chris McPhee shots, both of which Flitney parried, there looked to be no sharp edge to the Fleet’s attacking play.
The second half seemed much the same story and as the Fleet found chances at a premium, it was Lance Cronin who found himself in the thick of it, intercepting a dangerous Downer cross early on and then pushing away Ian Selley’s effort on 53 minutes. Watson could have doubled the lead on 55 minutes but headed against the post from 10 yards. Watson was again on target on the hour mark, but again the impressive Cronin dealt with it.
Daish then brought on Akinde with half an hour to spare, Coleman making way, but still the Fleet goal led a charmed life as Aaron O’Connor loosed an overhead kick off-target as the Grays pressure mounted. Santos Gaia was next up for Cronin, as he headed a good corner goalwards but the Fleet custodian was across his line quickly and kept the ball out yet again. Grays were left to rue their missed chances on 77 minutes as the Fleet responded with good combination work between their two substitutes – George Purcell, on for Eribenne, made room down the left and found Akinde ahead of him and the striker drilled home a shot from 16 yards that beat Flitney at his near post.
The game suddenly lifted but the Fleet looked to have shot themselves in the foot five minutes later as Karl Murray skipped down the right, found Gavin Grant in space and from a central position, Grant smashed a shot past Cronin which only missed the target courtesy of Paul McCarthy’s handball. The Fleet skipper immediately received his second marching orders of the season and O’Connor stepped up to look to win it for Grays. Yet as he has done so often before, Cronin rose to the occasion and, as against Exeter in the FA Cup, dived low to gather the ball.
Purcell’s 12-minute cameo was ended abruptly as Daish looked to shore up his 10-man side, and Opinel came on to add some steel. Grays weren’t done, however, and Cronin still had to be alert to a Downer shot on 88 minutes. But the Fleet held on and were pressing themselves as the referee signalled the end of the Boxing Day encounter. So it’s all to play for in the return encounter at Stonebridge Road on New Year’s Day, although before that the Fleet have the chance to get their first league win since beating Stafford a month ago ? in the return fixture with the Marston Road club on Saturday.
TEAM: Cronin, Ricketts, Smith, McCarthy, Hawkins, McPhee,
Coleman (Akinde 58), Bostwick, Long, Eribenne (Purcell 73, Opinel 85), Moore. Subs Not Used: French, Barrett.