FLEET SO NEAR YET SO FAR AS STEVENAGE CLINCH PLACE IN TROPHY FINAL…
EBBSFLEET UNITED 0-1 STEVENAGE BOROUGH (2-4)
Report by Ed Miller
The Fleet’s grip on their cherished FA Trophy finally loosened this
afternoon as Stevenage’s late single-goal victory mirrored the Fleet’s
own path to victory in the semi-final last season – and by the same
But by the time Peter Vincenti’s goal in injury time crossed the line,
it had already become immaterial due to the Fleet’s inability to turn
dominance and possession into hard and fast chances in the preceding 90
As if Liam Daish’s midfield plans were not in enough disarray before
the start of play, the withdrawal of Derek Duncan with migraine and
blurred vision before kick-off must have seemed like one spanner too
many in the works.
As a result, Ricky Shakes won a recall to the starting line-up
alongside Mark Ricketts in midfield with the Fleet defence resembling
that which had ended the match at the Lamex Stadium – though the
deployment was more 3-5-2 than 4-4-2.
New boys Luis Cumbers and Jamie Stevens found places on the bench, as
did Ramsgate returnee George Purcell. With the kick-off delayed by 10
minutes to ease the queues and congestion outside the ground, the Fleet
eventually went about their task in the opening minutes with gusto,
determined not to make the same mistake against a Boro side sporting an
Forcing a couple of early corners, they went at the visitors’ back line
which looked shaky from the first whistle. Long’s first corner troubled
Chris Day, then James Smith and Michael Gash both had headers go close
while Gash poked a loose ball through a flurry of feet into the
six-yard box but no Fleet boot could connect in the ensuing scramble
and Boro cleared.
Luke Moore and Ricky Shakes were doing most of the harrying, exploiting
the Stevenage left where Scott Laird was not looking completely secure.
But Graham Westley’s troops weathered the storm and while never looking
on top of events, were content to stem the Fleet tide outside their own
box, which they accomplished to good effect.
Their main outlet was Mitchell Cole who when he got under steam looked
to have the beating of Leon Crooks, though in fairness to the Fleet
defender, he didn’t allow Cole to better him all afternoon.
Boro’s front men, Morison and Boylan, rarely looked a threat though the
ex-Canvey hitman did fire off a shot from a corner when he found space
that Cronin needed to be alert to at the foot of the post.
David Bridges did get beyond the Fleet line a couple of times but on
both occasions was hauled back for offences, while Cole almost skipped
through a flattish Fleet defence but a combination of Crooks’ attention
and Cronin’s save thwarted him.
With the second half barely seconds old, and with the taunts of the
halfway line still ringing in Andy Drury’s ears, it was the ex-Fleet
winger who nearly nudged Boro in front, capitalising on Boylan’s pass
and space down the right to get beyond his marker but he smashed the
ball into the side netting with Morison screaming for a cross in the
It was Drury’s last contribution – to the glee of his detractors, he
went down holding his ankle and was substituted. The blow to Stevenage
lifted the Fleet and the crowd – and a clever Sole turn and low cross
in the box almost evaded Day, but Michael Bostwick cleared as Moore
Bostwick again denied the ever-disciplined Mark Ricketts after the
makeshift midfielder flicked on Shakes’ through ball with Day
More good build-up play from the right saw Long cut the ball back for
Moore on the edge of the box and the Fleet striker lofted a shot high
over the defence and goalkeeper but it rose too high over the corner of
It was Long who had the best opportunity minutes later when he advanced
on a retreating Boro defence and smashed a ferocious volley that Day
did very well to stab clear with one hand as Fleet fans leapt to their
feet in sure certainty it was going in. Day again rescued Boro as the
Fleet enjoyed their best though short-lived spell, lively substitute
Cumbers and Gash getting involved, striking against the goalkeeper’s
legs as Moore tried desperately to get on the end of it.
Typically, Fleet won their first dangerous free kick minutes after
Sole’s exit though Long’s floated cross caused enough problems,
requiring two men to knock Sacha Opinel off his stride as he shaped to
head into the corner and Crooks stabbed the loose ball just wide.
By this stage Charles was taking it upon himself to cruise past
Stevenage players to force some creativity but Fleet legs were tiring
and their efforts becoming less robust. Purcell’s introduction for
Shakes made little impact and while the Fleet continued to camp in the
Boro half, the visitors’ defence could at last see the daylight.
With Bostwick and Mark Roberts growing in stature as time went on and
Gash visibly tiring against a succession of long balls, it seemed only
a piece of magic would unlock things for the Fleet. Unfortunately, with
their midfield cut to the bare bones, Fleet’s flair players were having
as much work to do just to keep possession that they had little time or
energy left to apply the finesse into Fleet’s game.
Indeed it came as little surprise when Boro took a leaf out of Fleet’s
book from last year and killed the game in the dying moments.
Substitute Peter Vincenti collected a wide ball and exploited the
far-advanced Fleet line to cut into the box and stab a rather tame shot
which had accuracy more than power and bounced into the goal off the
Fleet heads went down and fans made for the exits as the dream died
there and then without time for any kind of response. The similarities
to the defeated Aldershot last season were threefold: same aggregate
scoreline, same last-minute killer goal and the same consolation prize
of the Setanta Shield remaining. Only at least the Shots also had the
small matter of the non-league title to wrap up as well.
For the Fleet it is all about league survival – which shouldn’t be
beyond their grasp – and a close season to take stock and decide on a
future that may be more dictated than optional given the financial
impact of defeat today.
TEAM: Cronin, Opinel, Crooks, Charles, Smith, Ricketts, Long,
Shakes (Purcell 83), Sole (Cumbers 67), Moore, Gash. Subs not used:
Mott, Slatter, Stevens.