Ebbsfleet United crashed to their heaviest defeat at Stonebridge Road in two years – but could be counted unfortunate as the final scoreline probably flattered an admittedly clinical Wrexham side.
Already below strength before kick-off with Messrs Howe, Mambo and West (who made the bench) still some way from fitness – and Ram Marwa suspended – manager Liam Daish then lost Ross Smith to illness and Calum Willock to an eye injury. It meant a start for Brentford loanee Liam Bellamy, and a patched-up defence, with Craig Stone in the centre, Tom Phipp at right back and Johnny Herd returning in his accustomed left-back slot. Preston Edwards, meanwhile, returned in goal after his enforced three-match absence.
And it was little surprise that Wrexham made a bright start, Jake Speight firing over in the first minute after good build-up play took him into a dangerous position. A couple of corners cemented the visitors’ early dominance but once Fleet got out of their half and showed their power and pace through Gozie Ugwu and Liam Enver-Marum, they had Wrexham, if not quite on the back foot, then at least a little worried.
Nathaniel Pinney’s run should have ended in more had he crossed for Ugwu while Ricky Shakes hit the side netting when he could have passed low into the box. Fleet had plenty of possession in the final third but their delivery let them down, though Enver-Marum’s delivery couldn’t be faulted on 22 minutes when he let fly with a piledriver from 15 yards that forced goalkeeper Joslain Mayebi into a full-stretch save.
But against opposition of Wrexham’s quality, it was always likely to be costly to miss chances and on 27 minutes the visitors were ahead with the simplest of goals. A corner was swung in from the right and Mathias Pogba rose highest to power a header beyond Edwards. The goal put Wrexham on the front foot once again, though Fleet still looked capable when they got forward and Pinney forced Mayebi into a low save at his near post. And with the break looming, the home side were still very much in the game – all the more reason they’d have been kicking themselves on 44 minutes when Wrexham grabbed a second.
Speight got clear in the corner, despite the best efforts of Phipp, and he crossed low into the box. It wasn’t the most dangerous of balls in but the Fleet defence dwelled on it far too long, allowing player-manager Andy Morrell to steal in and poke a shot into the net.
There was still a feeling around Stonebridge Road that an early Fleet goal in the second half might see the home side make a game of it but Wrexham were giving little quarter. And when the visitors scored their third on 57 minutes, it was game over. Pogba danced past Herd down the right and crossed into the middle where Morrell’s clever dummy played in Steve Leslie and he fired home from 12 yards.
It was more than Fleet’s makeshift defence could cope with and it was little surprise, if perhaps something of an injustice, when they conceded a fourth on 68 minutes, Steven Wright’s ball in coolly headed home by Morrell.
Half chances still came the home side’s way, Ugwu blazing over when well-placed, Shakes glancing a header past the post and a dangerous cross across the goalline from the same player eluding the four Fleet players camped inside the box.
But Wrexham had the last laugh on 78 minutes when Phipp’s unnecessary and clumsy challenge on Speight on the byline was deemed a foul by referee Hopkins – though it seemed that Phipp hadn’t made much contact before the Wrexham player decided to go down some seconds after the initial challenge. It made little difference, though, and Speight himself tucked away the penalty for 5-0.
It was harsh on the Fleet but a perfect example of the realities of life in the Blue Square Premier for the patched-up home side.
TEAM: Edwards, Phipp, Herd, Stone, Lorraine, Bellamy, Barrett, Shakes, Enver-Marum, Pinney (West 71), Ugwu. Subs not used: McNeil, Azeez, Adams, Williams.
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