Fleet fell to a first-half double and a late goal as the first meeting with Mansfield Town this season ended in a relatively comfortable win for the visitors.
Minus Ram Marwa, but with Ricky Shakes and the returning Ross Smith on the bench, Fleet were seeking to build on their impressive 3-0 win over Tamworth in midweek. But Mansfield had other ideas and took control of the game from the first whistle as Ben Hutchinson – who played for Celtic in an Old Firm derby and Champions League Football against Manchester United – marauded through the Fleet defence but fired wide in the first minute.
With strike partner Matt Green, scorer of two goals at Stonebridge Road for Oxford in 2008, the two Stags front men immediately caught the eye as they got on the end of a plentiful supply from midfield as Fleet struggled to gain a foothold in the middle. There were half chances for the home side, with Liam Enver-Marum unfortunate to send his shot bouncing off a prone Calum Willock inside the box and then seeing a decent low effort skip across the six-yard box with nobody in support to fire home the loose ball.
But with 22 minutes on the clock, Mansfield took the lead. From a rather soft free-kick given for Paul Lorraine’s challenge on Adam Murray, goalkeeper Alan Marriott launched a ball forward that Ross Dyer flicked on to Green and he diverted it past Preston Edwards from close range.
Six minutes later Pinney exploited some casual Mansfield defending and rode a few challenges to slip a ball into Enver-Marum but the resulting shot was weak and easy for Marriott. But it was all too tame from Fleet and the visitors went from strength to strength. First Fleet succumbed to a break from their own corner on 32 minutes and Murray fed a ball to Hutchinson and his strike was well parried by Edwards. Minutes later Gary Roberts hit a low stinging drive that threatened to bobble between Edwards’ legs before the goalkeeper held it at the second attempt.
Roberts wasn’t to be denied for long, however. On 38 minutes, after Tom Phipp had registered a shot on target for the Fleet, Hutchinson laid a ball off 30 yards out for Roberts. The midfielder had plenty of time to advance as the Fleet defence stood off and with nobody closing him down, Roberts crashed a shot into the bottom corner of the goal. Fleet were further frustrated when Yado Mambo went into the book for a foul on Roberts that owed as much to the rolling over afterwards as it did the original challenge.
Well worth their lead, the Stags were understandably a little less attack-minded in the second half as the Fleet tried to engineer another late comeback. After Martin Riley had upended the energetic Pinney and received a yellow card, Michael West fired a low free-kick to the far post that Marriott got down well to stop. Shakes replaced Neil Barrett midway through the