Chukki Eribenne finds the back of the net again as Fleet beat Salisbury City…
EBBSFLEET UNITED 2-1 SALISBURY CITY
By Ed Miller
Chukki Eribenne netted his seventh and eighth goals of the season as the Fleet took all three points against fellow play-off contenders Salisbury who hadn’t lost in their last 12 matches. With one eye on Saturday’s FA Trophy semi-final, Liam Daish chose to rest John Akinde who picked up a groin strain and dropped Raphael Nade to the bench while Mark Ricketts and Sacha Opinel returned to defence.
In front of a sparse crowd and on a bitterly cold night, it was to the Fleet’s credit that they didn’t let their minds wander to the weekend and instead concentrated on the more mundane task of the job in hand. And mundane it looked for the opening half hour and neither side set about their opponents with much gusto. Salisbury, however, had the better of the early exchanges and twice warmed Lance Cronin’s hands in the opening five minutes with shots from Liam Feeney and Robbie Matthews, though that was to be the latter’s only contribution of the game as he was taken off on 9 minutes after clashing with Cronin in the penalty area.
Stacy Long again proved to be the most influential outlet for the Fleet going forward but his crossing only troubled Salisbury once in the opening half hour and Ryan Clarke grabbed that one out of the air. It was Long who supplied the ammunition on 31 minutes, however, for Eribenne’s seventh goal of the season. The Fleet striker, who has had to settle for a place on the bench lately despite being second in the goalscoring charts this season, met Long’s deep cross from the left as he ghosted in at the far post to steer the ball past Clarke.
Goalscoring chances weren’t exactly ten a penny all evening so it came as something of a surprise when the Fleet doubled their lead only five minutes later, Eribenne again getting the crucial touch as he looped a header over the stranded Clarke from Luke Moore’s knock on. The Fleet looked comfortably in control until the break, with Moore and Eribenne both getting clear shots on goal as they sought to extend the lead still further.
The Fleet maintained the upper hand after the break, with Michael Bostwick attempting an audacious scissors kick on 48 minutes but as the hour mark approached, Salisbury stepped up a gear and began to look more threatening. Feeney was finding room to turn and shoot and generally outshining his more prolific colleague Matt Tubbs who was well-marshalled by Paul McCarthy and Sacha Opinel. It was Robbie Sinclair who almost dragged his side back into the game on 61 minutes when he skipped through the challenges of two defenders and surged into the box only to be thwarted by the ever-alert Cronin who saved at his feet.
Cronin came to the rescue five minutes later, denying Tubbs’ low shot after Salisbury had vociferous appeals for handball against Ricketts waved away by the referee. Salisbury’s tails were up but it seemed their most potent threat had come and gone inside 15 minutes as the Fleet wrestled the initiative back and almost added a third on 87 minutes when Long raced clear of the defence down the left and hit a diagonal shot that beat Clarke but rolled agonisingly wide of the far post.
But just as it seemed the Fleet had finally weathered the City storm, Darrell Clarke set up a nervy finale by guiding a deft header past Cronin from yet another decent Feeney cross. It was to no avail for the in-form visitors, however, as they could muster no more in three minutes of extra time and left without a point for the first time in more than a thousand minutes of football.
TEAM: Cronin, Ricketts (Bull 90), Opinel, Hawkins, McCarthy, Barrett, Bostwick, Long, McPhee, Moore, Eribenne (Nade 86). Subs not used: Mott, Stubbs, Maskell.