Raphael Nade’s goal is not enough to prevent the Fleet’s unbeaten run slipping away…
TORQUAY UNITED 3-1 EBBSFLEET UNITED
Raphael Nade’s fourth goal of the season may well have been the first Torquay have conceded in 600 minutes of football, but the Gulls did more than enough at the other end of the pitch to send Fleet’s seven-game unbeaten record in the league spinning away.
With Ronnie Bull making his league debut at the expense of Mark Ricketts, and Liam Daish once again reverting to the Akinde-Moore partnership up front, the Fleet were hoping, despite having been in action less than 48 hours before, to extend their proud unbeaten record against a Torquay side pressing Aldershot close for top spot.
Moore in particular can only have been encouraged to see former Exeter goalkeeper Martin Rice lining up against him, recalling Rice?s nightmare during Fleet?s 3-1 victory at Exeter the previous season. And Torquay?s plans were upset as early as the first minute when Sacha Opinel and Lee Phillips challenged for a ball and Phillips crashed to earth and remained prone for some minutes before being stretchered away.
However, the effect was to be crucial, as Kaid Mohamed entered the fray and he was to have a major say in proceedings. On 16 minutes, D?Sane squirmed his way into space, playing in long-standing Fleet nemesis Tim Sills and the former Aldershot striker sent a shot whistling over Lance Cronin?s crossbar from 20 yards. The Fleet were struggling to make anything tell in the final third of the pitch despite some decent possession and the home side began to turn the screw with sufficient menace to make that opening goal inevitable.
But before it came, the Fleet defence were kept busy, as Chris Hargreaves twice had the goal in his sights and Chris Zebroski struck a decent shot just over the bar on 24 minutes. The opening goal took another 11 minutes to arrive, but when it did, Torquay made it look easy. Zebroski’s pace and alertness was again telling as he latched onto a weighty pass from midfield, rounded Cronin and squared the ball to substitute Mohamed who, unnerved by the attentions of Opinel, sent a strong shot high into the net.
The Fleet came within a whisker of an equaliser two minutes before half-time when Stacy Long outsmarted Mark Ellis in the Torquay defence, stabbed the ball towards Luke Moore and the young striker hit a curling shot past Rice only to see Lee Mansell arrive on the line to head clear.
The visitors came out in the second-half with a little more purpose and Chris McPhee should have done better on his old stomping ground on 49 minutes, missing the target with a header from Long’s corner. Typically, the home side capitalised on the miss to extend their lead five minutes later. Sills, a constant thorn in the Fleet’s side – and a pain in McPhee’s having elbowed him in an incident missed by the referee – was first to a stray wide ball and crossed from the right with such accuracy that Zebroski merely had to supply the power to head low past Cronin. Sills again threatened on 62 minutes, shaving the post with a crafty spinning shot and he also sent a shot past Cronin and the post minutes later.
Though on the back foot, the Fleet weren’t without their chances, and Michael Bostwick drilled a shot at Rice on the hour mark, while substitute George Purcell followed up but again Rice was equal to it. However, the seemingly impregnable Torquay defence was finally breached on 72 minutes when Purcell, adding some much-needed width down the right, eluded Rice with a cross that Nade powered high into the back of the net. What should have been the catalyst for a Fleet onslaught was something of an anti-climax, all the more so when D’Sane and Hargreaves combined to feed Sills and he in turn bamboozled the Fleet defence with a quick pass that Mohamed gobbled up and struck sweetly past Cronin.
With five minutes left on the clock, the home side saw out the remainder in comfort to deservedly end the Fleet’s recent run of victories and leave them facing a sizeable task in their bid for the play-offs.
TEAM: Cronin, Bull, Opinel, Smith, McCarthy, Barrett (Coleman 67), Bostwick, McPhee, Long (Purcell 59), Moore (Nade 57), Akinde. Subs: French, Hawkins.
** Report by Allan Main