Another trying weekend away from home, another 1-0 win. Circumstances and opinion may have erred towards this game not going ahead but –undaunted – Kevin Watson, his players, and supporters too, put in another hugely proud showing.
Gozie Ugwu’s first-half strike was enough to secure back-to-back away wins to lift Fleet to their highest position since we kicked off against the same opponents on the first day of the season.
With Alfie Egan and Andre Blackman not travelling, Kevin Watson was forced into naming two goalkeepers on the bench and John Goddard replaced Egan in the starting lineup.
As would have been expected in Watson’s pre-match tactics, Halifax looked to make a quick start, as much to shake off the lethargy of their recent home defeat by Woking as anything else.
And for the visitors, there was pressure to get something out of the game as AFC Fylde’s earlier win saw them leapfrog the Fleet.
Jack Redshaw was the main man for Town, busy and tricky in front of the Fleet defence and his 11th minute effort had Jordan Holmes stretching. But from that attack, Fleet broke and Josh Umerah got past his marker to strike a shot against the outside of the post.
But that came at a cost and the Fleet striker limped back into the action only to retire minutes later. With questions over Alex Lawless’ fitness and options reduced on the bench, the last thing Watson needed was an enforced change that early.
However, it paid off quickly. On 16 minutes, substitute Tomi Adeloye chased a lost cause on the byline, dispossessed Halifax defender Jerome Binnom-Williams and slid a great cross into the box where Ugwu met it and struck a precise effort in at the near post.
On a wide pitch, both sides enjoyed the space and for the Fleet, Goddard made the most of it, providing good link-up play in the final third. He got a foot on to a corner to set up Ugwu for another effort but that move was eventually pulled back for an offside.
The home side had good cause to claim a penalty shortly before the half-hour when a weighted long ball fell to Redshaw. He attacked into the box and as Jack King and Jamie Grimes closed him down, the ball struck the latter on the side – or perhaps the arm as the home fans appealed.
Halifax pressed their claims for a period and Fleet had to stand up to the challenge but the home side were their own worst enemy at times with poor end product. A low cross from the right almost caught out Holmes and King as they went for the same ball, but the skipper got enough on it to clear the danger.
Frustrated by their own failings in the final third, Halifax were unable to press home their attacks, Devante Rodney having a couple of efforts off target from distance, Redshaw with a free-kick not too far off and Josh Staunton’s cross going into Holmes’ arms. That allowed Fleet to steer their way into the half-time break in relative safety.
Having scored only a penalty in four games, Halifax might have been expected to react to a half-time rocket but in fact it was Fleet who began the half on the front foot. Josh Payne slung a couple of balls into the box and rifled a free-kick just past the post after Adeloye was upended by Liam Nolan.
The Fleet were still venturing forward 10 minutes into the second half and Goddard pushed the corner count firmly in the visitors’ favour, winning another and sending that towards Grimes who steered a shot over.
After that, the game descended into a lull and that suited the visitors who were able to hold their line well at 40 yards out, Timlin and Payne breaking things up and Adeloye keeping Halifax’s defenders on their toes when he got the ball.
Adeloye had a couple of runs down the right with useful crosses, one of which was just cut out ahead of Ugwu’s run into the box. And the goalscorer himself enjoyed a 40-yard dash on the break but could only find the side-netting with his shot at the end of it all.
The home side continued to frustrate their supporters with a flat performance that threatened to spark into life but never quite did. Redshaw was still bright and Rodney a menace but the Fleet defence were superb in blunting everything Halifax tried.
One of the better attacks of the half by the home side saw Danny Williams fire a dangerous ball into the six-yard box and Grimes slid in to save Holmes the responsibility of pushing it away and King did much the same for his goalkeeper 20 minutes from time, heading over from Rodney’s strike.
Halifax’s afternoon was summed up when they finally found a path to goal only for the Fleet to buzz around Rodney as he attempted to get through and he turned around to hoist a ball rather inexplicably off the other side of the pitch.
Their only other attempts were either into Holmes or claimed well by the Fleet keeper. Lawrie Wilson succumbed to a hip injury late on, to be replaced by Lawless, and there were one or two mildly agitated moments around the Fleet box but the defence were calm under pressure and passing out to the front men to ease those.
Five minutes were added on but again Halifax failed to muster a firm assault on Holmes’ goal and home fans were streaming for the exits long before the Fleet goalkeeper could claim another clean sheet.
It was gone 7.15pm by the time the referee called time on what could potentially be English football’s final game for some time but through it all, Fleet maintained a steely determination and the applause from the rewarded 52 supporters said it all.
EUFC: Holmes, Wilson (Lawless 85), King, Grimes, Ekpiteta, McGlashan, Payne, Timlin, Goddard, Ugwu, Umerah (Adeloye 14). Subs not used: Achuba, Palmer, Gregory
FCHT: Johnson, Binnom-Williams, Clarke, Nolan (MacDonald 79), Staunton, J. King (Sho-Silva 69), Williams, Cooper, Redshaw, Maher, Rodney. Subs not used: Earing, Hanson, Appleyard
Attendance: 2,154 (52 EUFC)