Fleet fall to third single-goal defeat in a row as Darius Charles sees red…
Fleet skipper Darius Charles became the third Fleet player sent off in successive games at Stonebridge Road as the home side chalked up a new club record for games without scoring. But that statistic hid the fact that for the opening period of the game, the Tamworth net led an utterly charmed life as the ball simply refused to cross the line for luckless Fleet.
Leon Crooks returned from suspension in place of Dean Pooley in an otherwise unchanged team against a Tamworth side with only one win on the road this season. And the visitors’ meagre record away from home was enough encouragement to send the Fleet forward in a positive start. Ricky Shakes forced an early save from Danny Alcock but the shot was heading wide of the mark anyway. And it was the same two men involved again on 8 minutes, Shakes running through his markers on to a long ball and he did everything right to carve out a goal but thekeeper was again equal to it. Alcock was again in action, blocking Ross Smith’s header from a Michael West corner in yet another excellent chance for the Fleet.
Ishmael Welsh was finding plenty of penetration and his supply of crosses was giving his teammates plenty of opportunity to work the ball into the box, Magno Vieira in particular harrying and attempting to make the loose ball work. Shakes had an effort blocked in the six-yard box on 12 minutes as the ball flew across the danger area but no home player could connect. And three minutes later Stefan Bailey missed the best opportunity when Welsh and Vieira worked another ball clear of the Tamworth defence but Bailey’s goalbound shot was stopped again by Alcock.
The visitors looked strong going forward but only from set plays did they get sight of goal and little of it troubled Lance Cronin. The Fleet still had the upper hand and on 26 minutes had another chance go begging. Vieira twisted and turned to get away on the left and his deep cross cannoned off the bottom of the post and Gavin Heeroo’s follow-up was blocked with most of the Tamworth defence beaten.
But immediately the Fleet were punished. Tamworth broke upfield, Nick Wright got the better of a tussle with Smith and he played the ball into the path of the onrushing Bradley Pritchard who buried a shot past Cronin from 12 yards.
The frustration was clear to see on and off the pitch, but the home side continued to press, Smith forcing Alcock into another last-ditch save from a Welsh corner and Charles ghosting a header wide. At the back, however, things started to unravel for the Fleet when Crooks limped off on 37 minutes after a hefty challenge and his replacement, Clint Easton, seemed to tweak his hamstring within minutes of coming on and failed to reappear for the second half.
This prompted a reshuffle for the Fleet and they went 3-5-2 after the break with Smith, Charles and Heeroo across the back and Kane Wills coming on to fill midfield. But whereas the first half saw a fluid enough display, the second was altogether more scrappy. Tamworth offered little up front though grew stronger in the closing stages as Fleet were forced forward. They introduced former Conference hotshot Iyseden Christie, at his sixth club of the season, and it showed as the former Kettering and Stevenage frontman looked a yard short of the pace.
Yet still the Fleet had chances and on 57 minutes Wills turned well in the box and worked himself into a shooting position but somehow his shot was blocked. Welsh appeared to have an open goal to aim at for the rebound but Michael Briscoe took advantage of a sudden bobble and hacked clear. Wills tried his luck again from distance on 70 minutes but Alcock saved and Welsh saw a similar effort cannon off a defender.
The Fleet’s frustration boiled over on 79 minutes when Christie tangled with a Fleet midfielder in front of the dugouts but as the referee ignored the home side’s protests, Charles slammed the ball into the stand in a fit of pique. Everybody in the stadium expected a yellow card and couldn’t believe the red that was produced unless the Fleet skipper had said something out of the ordinary. Referee Thompson’s somewhat inconsistent approach was on show minutes later when substitute Michael Wylde clattered into Peter Holmes from behind with both feet but saw only yellow.
That was it for the Fleet in a game where once again observers might question the finishing but it also has to be acknowledged that on several occasions, the luck was simply not there as the visitors’ goal led a remarkably charmed life.
Team: Cronin, Heeroo, Charles, Crooks (Easton 37, Wills 46), Smith, Bailey, Holmes, West, Welsh, Shakes, Vieira (Ginty 86). Subs not used: Lamprell, Forshaw.