Ebbsfleet United dropped two points in their promotion campaign after enduring a frustrating 90 minutes against a side that got 10 men behind the ball at every opportunity. Unchanged from the starting line-up at Welling on Tuesday, the Fleet wrestled territorial advantage from the kick-off but lacked the guile to apply any kind of clinical finish to a succession of overhit long balls and misplaced passes.
Ashley Carew fired a low shot off target early on and was involved in a good move after Calum Willock had forwarded a pass across the middle of the box but too often play was stretched and the Fleet resorted to hopeful punts that lacked direction.
Flat on and off the pitch, the game had an end-of-season finality about it but when Tom Phipp finally warmed the goalkeeper’s hands on the half-hour mark, spectators sensed their team might just have come alive. With an added spring in their step, the Fleet pushed Stortford further back and Michael West had two opportunities, the second a low rising header from Craig Stone’s floated ball in.
That was the highlight such as it was of a turgid first half with both sides sloppy in their passing and Stortford showing so little endeavour that even their strikers were doing an effective job in defence.
There was the promise of something better in the second half as the Fleet opened with more urgency, Tom Phipp easing past four defenders and scooping his shot over the bar. And on 55 minutes, Fleet spurned their best chance when Stone delivered a low cross from the right and with Jacob Erskine and Willock queuing up on the six-yard line, Willock somehow cleared the bar with his interception.
That was enough for Daish who introduced Ricky Shakes and Gareth Williams and Williams looked a good bet to grab his first league goal with a low shot that Ross Ketteridge parried and then another that Willock diverted off target with his header. Then on 70 minutes Willock raced on to a long ball but was checked by Mo Habu 18 yards out. Willock went down and Habu got his marching orders as last man.
This upped the urgency levels another notch but in their eagerness, Fleet suddenly left gaps at the back and finally Stortford ventured forth with enough intent to almost grab an unlikely goal. Staffan Gaisie broke and threaded a ball through an unguarded middle for Reece Prestedge who was in acres of space 12 yards out but he fluffed his lines and struck the ball wide. The visitors then had a handball appeal as a Fleet arm was raised in a goalmouth clearance.
Fleet went 3-4-3 when Giannoulis Fakinos was introduced on 81 minutes and from his setup, Willock struck a rasping low shot that Ketteridge somehow saved before the striker headed wide at the death from an inch-perfect Carew cross.
There was some final drama after Gaisie went in late on Phipp and indulged in probably the longest drawn-out and most petulant sending-off seen at Stonebridge Road for quite some time, but having already picked up yellow for a foul and thrown the ball away in another incident, the substitute could have few complaints.
It provided scant consolation for Fleet fans who will want to forget that game, and indeed much of March, as they head into the final month of the season knowing their side has to do a lot better than this.
TEAM: Edwards, Stone (Fakinos 81), Duncan, Carew, Easton, Lorraine, West (Shakes 58), Marwa, Willock, Phipp, Erskine (Williams 58). Subs not used: Howe, Pooley.
Ashley Carew was man of the match v Welling. Vote now for today’s.