You don’t leave Fleet games before time added on this calendar year as yet another late story unfolded, this time seeing referee Peter Gibbons dish out four red cards and deny the home side a good shout for a penalty, all ini the final minutes.
Mr Gibbons, the same man who caused controversy at Wrexham last season when he awarded a goal that Nathan Ashmore was certain he’d saved on the line, stole the limelight as Fleet pressed for an equaliser, denying Dean Rance a penalty and instead issuing a second yellow card for simulation. This was after substitute Bagasan Graham and Solihull’s Luke Maxwell had walked for their part (we must assume) in a melee. And following Rance’s controversial exit, Danny Wright then got his marching orders for a kick on Chris Bush.
It was a tumultuous climax to an occasionally bad-tempered but largely scrappy 90 minutes in which Solihull proved their promotion credentials with a solid, physical and determined display that earned them their 10th away win of the season.
Predicting a physical battle against a team of 6ft-plus men, Garry Hill made three changes adding Rance’s bite in midfield and naming Corey Whitely and Cody McDonald ahead of Ebou Adams, Graham and Cody McDonald. There was an early delay when Moors goalkeeper Ryan Boot pulled a muscle stretching for a save but without a sub keeper on the bench, he soldiered on and seemed to run off whatever complaint he did have. It was a shame Fleet failed to test him in that period as Solihull dug in and never really gave any quarter after that, the home side struggling to exploit the small pockets of space they could find.
The game exploded into life on the quarter-hour mark when Kyle Storer dropped a cross right into the six-yard box where Jermaine Hylton met it with a point-blank-range header that Ashmore pushed away superbly. The Fleet goalkeeper was up again to claw away a rebound heading towards the top corner and he was down well behind Jamey Osborne’s long-range effort moments later.
Both sides were quick on the counter-attack but both sets of full-backs were equal to the forays from the flank and there was little opportunity for either set of forwards to make their impression. Danny Kedwell tried to get McDonald away but both Fleet strikers were well-contained on the odd occasion they were supplied with the ball to feet.
Chis Bush received a yellow card for an exchange with Adi Yussuf but the referee didn’t want to know when Darren Carter clipped Jack Payne’s heels minutes later and the first signs of anger crept into the game. Six minutes before the break, Whitely twisted past Alex Gudger on the edge of the box and went down under the next challenge but play was waved on and Fleet’s only other chance of note came from a corner that Bush headed low past the post.
Goalless at the break, that was certainly the scoreline the match deserved and it took a while for the second half to get any more lively. Fleet had Ashmore to thank again for keeping the scores blank when, on 49 minutes, Wright found Hylton whose quick-thinking effort seemed certain to catch out the Fleet goalkeeper as it went over his head and arced towards goal. An off-balance Ashmore did ever so well to back away and arch himself into a position where he just got a hand on the ball.
With former Premier League midfielder Darren Carter seeming to just have the edge when it mattered, it was he who opened up the game enough to carve out a chance for the opening goal. From a Fleet free-kick on 52 minutes, Solihull roared out of their own half led by Carter who surged into space and rampaged upfield, winning the visitors a corner. He took it and the ball curled into the penalty area was met by the head of Yussuf with enough power to force it through a crowded six-yard box, though there was certainly suspicion of a push on Kedwell in the build-up.
Having barely given the Fleet an inch all game, Solihull managed the remaining 40 minutes with real self-assurance. With a little more fortune, Fleet might have found an equaliser on the hour mark. Jack Payne’s free-kick from the right was met by Bush with a firm header. Boot scrambled that one away, McDonald’s follow-up was blocked in the box by Jamie Reckord and then Andy Drury fired the loose ball over.
Payne was unfortunate to see two shots blocked and Rance was a willing outlet, looking to break into the area and feed Whitely on several occasions but nothing was quite sticking for the home side. Rance saw his first yellow as he lunged in on Carter, though without any real intent, before a run of substitutions by both sides ate up the minutes. Cheek wasn’t far away from getting something on Bush’s long throw six yards out but Gudger was very quick to steal the ball off his toes.
Solihull should have added to their lead 10 minutes from the end when Sam Magri was caught in possession and Hylton squared a pass for Wright who miscued a shot over the bar that took a deflection to help it off target. With considerable time due to be added on anyway for a head injury to Terry Hawkridge, a touchline fracas by the old stand was sparked by Moors’ Tyrone Williams going to ground. With players from both sides involved, it seemed Graham was physically lifted into the air during the altercation but he was first to be shown a red card and Solihull’s Maxwell followed. Ashmore was booked after advancing into the centre circle but that was mainly in a role as peacemaker while Moors substitute Nathan Blissett also received a caution.
That should have been the end of it but Fleet mustered one last attack, Rance running on to a header from a cross on the penalty spot and as he shaped to shoot he appeared to be felled from behind but the referee had other ideas, immediately racing from a position behind play and reaching for his yellow card to book the Fleet midfielder for simulation and he was the third man off.
The six minutes of time added on seemed somewhat miserly but Mr Gibbons still managed to squeeze another red card into that, Solihull striker Wright issued with the fourth sending-off of the game for kicking out at Chris Bush in the corner. There was precious little time added on after that by a referee only too glad to retire to the dressing room to a chorus of boos.
EUFC: Ashmore, Wilson (Weston 75), Bush, Magri, King, Rance, Drury (Graham 64), Payne, Whitely, Kedwell (Cheek 64), McDonald. Subs not used: Adams, Miles.
SMFC: Boot, Williams, Reckord, Daly, Gudger, Osborne, Storer, Carter (Maxwell 66), Wright, Hylton (Blissett 85), Yusuff (Hawkridge 69). Subs not used: Carline, Vaughan