Chukki Eribenne’s 88th-minute equaliser caps a remarkable comeback by 10-man Fleet
NORTHWICH VICTORIA 3-3 EBBSFLEET UNITED
Report by Allan Main
Chukki Eribenne’s first goal for two months was enough to haul the
Fleet back to parity to complete an outstanding comeback that hardly
looked achievable only 20 minutes earlier.
With Liam Daish juggling his pack and giving starts to Ronnie Bull and
Gary MacDonald in defence and George Purcell in midfield, the Fleet
boss was clearly hoping his squad’s strength in depth would show you
through against one of the division’s strugglers. But it was the home
side who, buoyed by the wind at their backs and seeming less out of
kilter than the Fleet with the blustery conditions, set about with more
purpose, Lee Steele having a goal disallowed early on and Danny
Williams cracking a free-kick with enough venom to worry Lance Cronin.
The Fleet best oppotunity came on the half-hour mark when James Smith
twice delivered headers from Stacy Long’s corner in quick succession,
the first met well by former goalkeeper Scott Tynan, and the second
flying wide of the post.A fairly even first half was turned on its head
six minutes from the break when Cronin could only knock Michael Byrne’s
long-range shot as far as Luke Horrocks and he squared the ball for
Steele – who had been threatening the Fleet defence on a number of
occasions before that – to convert with ease from inside the six-yard
Things got worse within three minutes of the restart, Gary MacDonald
seeing red for his clumsy challenge on Aaron Burns and Danny Williams
lashing his penalty past Cronin. The goalscorer, who with Steele was
giving impetus to Northwich’s forward play, succumbed to an injury
seven minutes later and together with a double substitution by Daish –
Raphael Nade giving way to Mark Ricketts and Chukki Eribenne coming on
for John Akinde – it allowed the Fleet to finally get their act
Smith led the charge and gave the Fleet some hope on 63 minutes
sparking a mad seven-minute spell as he rose highest to put away Stacy
Long’s corner on 63 minutes. But – as had happened at Torquay – the
Fleet’s chances looked to have gone west five minutes later when Jamie
Mullan launched himself down the right-wing, skipping past the
challenges of Peter Hawkins and Smith, before crossing for Steele to
tuck away his second and Northwich’s third.
But rather than let their heads go down, Fleet hit straight back as
Purcell followed Mullan’s example and surged down the right wing,
feeding Long on the edge of the box and the former Notts County man
hammered the ball home before the home side had time to draw breath.
With the clock ticking down fast, the Fleet could have rued missed
chances from McPhee on 75 minutes and twice in two minutes as Purcell
tested Tynan with two decent efforts late on but the Vics defence stood
Such resolve did not last the full 90 minutes, however, as the home defence were found seriously lacking. Substitute Luke Moore duly took advantage finding the time and space down the right to pick out the well-positioned Eribenne in a central position and he coolly slotted home past Tynan. An unlikely victory even looked on the cards as the game entered time added on when Moore won a free kick and Long fizzed it towards goal, forcing the ever-impressive Tynan into a low save.
Such a spirited performance couldn’t hide the fact that the Fleet fell a further two points behind in their play-off challenge but foremost in the manager’s and fans’ minds was a late hamstring injury to Smith that could rule the young defender out of the Trophy semi-finals.