Fleet may have avoided losing a game and a man as is traditional on the opening day of the season… but they didn’t escape that fate for long as Patrick Ada’s dismissal, coupled with Kenny Davis’ 70th minute winner, left them empty-handed in Stonebridge Road’s 2012-13 curtain raiser.
With Craig Stone still unavailable, Liam Daish named an unchanged side that, in contrast to previous seasons, was more than a match for Braintree physically.
While goals might have been expected after Saturday’s affair, the opening encounters of this match were quite the opposite with neither side venturing into the opposing penalty area with any regularity. Fleet’s first effort of note arrived on 14 minutes when Liam Enver-Marum found Nathan Elder in a central position inside the box but his shot was low and goalkeeper Danny Naisbitt collected it.
Braintree offered little up front and when they did have half chances, they were wasted – as James Mulley’s sky-high shot on 16 minutes demonstrated. Enver-Marum was full of running down the right and he left Sam Habergham for dead with one sweet move but his cross flashed across goal with no one to apply the finishing touch and Naisbitt cleared.
Braintree had another effort from a free-kick but Edwards gathered and from the half-hour point, Fleet started to boss proceedings. They thought they were in front on 42 minutes when Braintree scrambled away a Moses Ashikodi effort only as far as Tom Phipp and he sent a thunderbolt slamming low against the post as the ball looked like it must surely go in. The visitors appealed vociferously for a penalty when Josh Dawkin took a tumble but the officials remained unmoved.
Fleet briefly took up where they’d left off after the break, Neil Barrett running onto a delivery from Liam Bellamy and sending a good shot at Naisbitt. But five minutes into the second half the game changed. A long ball caught the previously unflappable Patrick Ada out and as Sean Marks got past him, Ada’s tug on his shirt was enough to earn him a red card as the last man.
It was an unfortunate challenge given how far outside the box it was and it forced the Fleet into a shake-up, Elder being sacrificed and Phil Walsh coming on to plug the defensive gap. For 15 minutes, Fleet didn’t look unduly unsettled by the sending-off and Barrett sprayed several good crossfield passes to the front runners but they couldn’t get beyond the Braintree back line.
But the visitors gradually increased the pressure and on 70 minutes the Fleet defence could only half clear Daniel Sparkes’ dangerous ball in. It fell to Kenny Davis who had far too much time to pick his spot, though he still had the hard work to do, curling a decent shot past Edwards.
Fleet looked flat-footed as Braintree found an extra spring in their step and but for wayward finishing could have added to the single-goal cushion. Edwards saved well from substitute Bradley Quinton and Sparkes hit the post from close range as Fleet clung on. Sparkes hit the post a second time with five minutes left, Edwards saved low from Kaine Sheppard and Mulley somehow fired into the side netting when well-placed.
It wasn’t all one-way traffic and Walsh hit a rather weak low shot that Naisbitt saved but Fleet just couldn’t find a way through Braintree’s back line which remained solid and picked up every second ball.
With four minutes of time added on, Marks got his marching orders for clattering into Paul Lorraine, a second yellow following an earlier one for his continual haranguing of the officials in the first half, but the frustrated Fleet just couldn’t dig themselves out of the hole.
TEAM: Edwards, Howe, Blake, Ada, Lorraine, Barrett, Bellamy (Greenhalgh 74), Phipp, Enver-Marum, Elder (Walsh 53), Ashikodi. Subs not used: McNeill, Folkes, Williams
Vote for the man of the match here. Tom Phipp won the vote v Nuneaton.