The Fleet’s last win came at Macclesfield but there was no perfect symmetry tonight as the long-overdue revival was put on ice for a further week, Liam Daish’s new-look side crashing 4-0 at home to the visitors from Cheshire.
With debutants Gareth Gwillim, Josh Scott and Stefan Payne all in the starting line up, together with Jack Saville – plus Tobi Alabi and Dammy Shitta on the bench – hopes were high that Fleet could reignite their season after a long winter-enforced lay-off.
Those hopes were dashed inside the first three minutes when Payne was somewhat aggrieved to give away a free-kick after an apparent foul on Waide Fairhurst and ex-Woking man Kieran Murtagh drilled in a low free-kick past the Fleet wall and Preston Edwards.
That early blow gave the visitors plenty of confidence and winger Jack Mackreth and top scorer Matthew BArnes-Homer gave the new-look Fleet defence much to think about. On a heavy pitch, the Fleet struggled to get going and there was little to suggest the game was going to entertain for the TV cameras – though John Paul Kissock’s dive in the box on 22 minutes, which earned him a yellow card, was certainly worthy of note.
Fleet’s best effort was a Tom Phipp volley on 26 minutes that he struck well but flew wide of the near post while Payne’s trickery was the main talking point. Scott started well and almost got on the end of a Craig Stone cross, while Payne played him in on the edge of the box but these were half-chances and not unduly worrying for Macclesfield. They relied on Kissock’s driving, energetic approach from midfield and the quick feet of Mackreth down the Fleet left but seemed content to protect their lead in an unremarkable opening half.
The Silkmen’s defensive strength effectively nullified any hopes of a second-half Fleet revival with Nathan Elder and Scott unable to profit from the high balls sent in their direction. Stone’s 56th minute drive, which had goalkeeper Rhys Taylor stretching to turn it round the upright was the highlight of the half for the Fleet, but with that chance went the game. Two minutes later Mackreth sent in a low delivery which Edwards seemed to have smothered but Fairhurst capitalised, dug the ball out from beneath the goalkeeper and scrambled it over the line.
And the visitors made it 3-0 three minutes later, Murtagh releasing the impressive Mackreth who raced into the box and planted a shot into the bottom corner. Reeling suddenly, the Fleet were unable to mount any sort of defence. Edwards saved from Murtagh from 18 yards, diving to turn the low shot behind for a corner after Barnes-Homer had assisted with a back-heel.
Fleet attempted to steady the ship with their two Millwall recruits Alabi and Shitta but it was Macclesfield who came closest to another goal late on, Barnes-Homer somehow blazing over from six yards after Mackreth’s cross. Not that they were to be denied for long: on 88 minutes, with the Fleet attempting to get forward, the visitors broke and a delightful move saw Kissock sweep the ball wide for Carl Martin and he supplied Mackreth for his second and Macclesfield’s fourth. The winger could have made it three in the dying moments, but hit the side netting.
Substitutes Shitta and Liam Enver-Marum could have got some consolation, the former firing wide and LEM seeing his shot well gathered by Taylor as the visitors refused to give any quarter, their second-half display far too much for a suffering Fleet.
TEAM: Edwards, Stone, Gwillim, Lorraine, Saville, Barrett, Phipp (Shitta 68), Howe, Payne (Enver-Marum 78), Elder, Scott (Alabi 68). Subs not used: Menz, Walsh.