An eighth home draw of the season was scant reward for a frustrated Fleet as a dogged Stockport, down to 10 men for an hour of this game, held firm to grind out a goalless draw.
Hoping to build on last week’s victory over Gateshead, Liam Daish named an unchanged line-up against a Stockport side whose own relegation fears had eased, if not disappeared, over recent matches. Fleet began with confidence, Paul Lorraine getting a head to a Gareth Gwillim free kick but sending it wide while Josh Scott volleyed a shot over the upright from another wide delivery.
County goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell was called into action on the quarter-hour mark when Liam Enver-Marum’s looping back header carried a threat despite its lack of power and O’Donnell had to tip it over the crossbar.
But the battle was mainly in midfield and the game was short on entertainment or concrete chances. Stockport’s best efforts were a Sean Newton free kick on 15 minutes after Gwillim had pole-axed Danny Hattersley, but that was off-target, and on 20 minutes when Preston Edwards got down well to push out Jon Nolan’s drilled low shot.
And County’s gameplan was in tatters on 29 minutes when a midfield tussle between Neil Barrett and Alex Kenyon saw the latter lead with his arm and the referee had no hesitation in dismissing the influential Stockport No.8. Then right-back Andy Halls almost immediately picked up a yellow card when he clipped Enver-Marum’s heels as the Fleet man ran through on goal.
Fleet’s possession play in the first-half couldn’t be faulted and they went at County in search of a goal, but the two best chances were a wayward effort from Stefan Payne and a Tom Phipp shot on 44 minutes that went wide. Enver-Marum also did well in stoppage time as he held the ball up and backed into the six-yard box but the resulting shot was tame and the goalkeeper gathered.
With the extra man and a head of steam up, it seemed the second half was there for the taking but Fleet’s urgency gave way to frustration as time ticked on. Johan Hammer’s introduction for Stockport at half-time buoyed their midfield and Fleet could only play in fits and starts, and not enough of that in the final third.
What chances did come the Fleet’s way were not finished off and Payne’s 55th minute cross that saw Scott’s firm header pushed over the top by O’Donnell was one of them. Fleet’s best opportunity seemed to lie in set plays – they had 13 corners in this game – but Gwillim picked up an injury and had to make way for Liam Bellamy on 60 minutes, Howe initially slotting into a back four but then reverting to midfield as Fleet went for three at the back.
County, for all their rearguard actions, were not dead and buried and Adnan Cirak reminded Edwards he was in a game when he warmed his palms with a clean shot on 67 minutes. Fleet huffed and puffed through the middle, with nothing much to offer down the flanks, and lacked a flash of inspiration – though Bellamy nearly provided it when he powered through on goal only to be stopped in his tracks by Jordan Fagbola’s last-ditch tackle.
Nathan Elder’s introduction on 72 minutes gave Fleet fans renewed cheer but the aerial service to the forwards seemed to dry up at that point. Stockport still sensed an unlikely win, however, and almost got one as Lorraine’s back pass outwitted Edwards and rolled towards goal but thankfully ended up in the side netting. Then the Fleet goalkeeper had to block Hammar’s shot after he beat two Fleet defenders and suddenly the point looked a more likely scenario than all three for the home side.
Fleet had one final chance in time added on when Phipp got clear in a wide position down the right, but with three men in the box waiting for a pass, the Fleet midfielder overhit his cross and the opportunity was gone.
TEAM: Edwards, Stone, Gwillim (Bellamy 60), Lorraine, Saville, Barrett, Howe, Phipp, Payne (Alabi 82), Enver-Marum (Elder 72), Scott. Subs not used: Menz, Walsh.