Fleet 1-0 Altrincham

RICKY SHAKES SHOOTS FLEET ABOVE THE DROP ZONE TO BOOST SURVIVAL CHANCES…

EBBSFLEET UNITED 1-0 ALTRINCHAM


Report by Ed Miller

Altrincham’s wretched record at Stonebridge Road continued as they lost
for a fourth time in succession, Ricky Shakes’ sixth minute winner
enough to lift the Fleet out of the relegation zone and leave their
opponents still looking over their shoulder as far as relegation is
concerned.

Both sides were shorn of many of their first teamers, with the Fleet
robbed of Jamie Stevens, Giuseppe Sole, Derek Duncan and Luis Cumbers,
though it did mean Paul McCarthy made his first appearance in the
league since October. Altrincham named only 13 fit players, their other
two substitutes – including leading scorer Chris Senior – unfit and
listed only to make up the numbers.

But for all their troubles, both sides began proceedings at a decent
pace and the Fleet should have gone in front with their first attack of
the game in only the second minute. Shakes got the better of the
Altrincham full back and cut inside to supply a low cross to Luke Moore
but the Fleet striker somehow managed to blaze the ball over the bar
from six yards with the goal at his mercy.

Fortunately for the Fleet, it did not matter. With Shakes still showing
purposeful running and unsettling the Altrincham back line, the home
side had a fluidity about their attack rarely seen in recent weeks. And
fittingly, from the best move of the game on six minutes, the Fleet
scored. Moore and Mark Ricketts combined down the right to split the
Altrincham defence and Moore slipped the ball inside to Michael Gash.
He in turn supplied a low cross almost identical to the one for Moore
four minutes earlier, but this time Shakes was the recipient and he
made no mistake, sliding the ball past the goalkeeper and into the
corner of the net.

The Fleet were much in the ascendancy as their lively attack appeared
likely to add more goals, though a poor Leon Crooks header on 10
minutes almost gifted Altrincham an equaliser but Colin Little spurned
the chance, hitting a wayward shot high of the gaping goal with Lance
Cronin in no-man’s land.

Moore had the ball in the net again on 22 minutes when his far post
header from Gash’s assist bounced in off the woodwork but it was ruled
out for offside. It signalled a gradual improvement from the visitors
and they had their chances to equalise, especially in the 33rd minute
when Warren Peyton struck a low shot from the edge of the box through a
crowd of players and Cronin did well to dive low and parry it around
the post as he must surely have seen it late.

He was in action again five minutes later when he tackled Dale Johnson
on the byline and the duel continued all the way into the corner.
Johnson eventually got the better of Cronin and he crossed it back into
the danger area where McCarthy was forced to protect the empty goal,
heading away Shaun Densmore’s speculative shot, which then fell to Ben
Wilkinson and he blazed wide.

Though it wasn’t quite end-to-end stuff, the remainder of the first
half was certainly open, Stacy Long pouncing on a poor clearance by
Mark McGregor and sending a swerving shot around the covering defenders
only for Stuart Coburn to save. Darius Charles then produced some
excellent skill from his left-back position and hit an inch-perfect
50-yard pass to Shakes who found Gash but again Coburn made the save.

Cronin had to twice be alert to Densmore’s threat, while Wilkinson also
forced a save, and then again the Fleet came back, John Martin stealing
into the box to hook a shot wide when he might have been better advised
to leave it for Moore.

After a relatively decent first half, the second was all too
disjointed, with the Fleet sitting deep and inviting Altrincham on to
them. Cronin again had to save from a long-range Densmore effort on 58
minutes though he was a mere spectator when the visitors took advantage
of a Crooks error on 60 minutes, substitute Joe O’Neill hooking a
rising shot from the corner of the box that sailed over Cronin but as
luck would have it, once again bouncing just wide of the post.

Ricketts succumbed to an injury on 64 minutes which saw Charles move
back into the middle, Crooks go to the right side and Opinel come on in
his usual position. By now the officials were beginning to exasperate
both sides and referee Amy Rayner sent Altrincham’s kitman from the
dugout.

The Fleet fans were incensed on 77 minutes when the assistant referee
gave a free-kick after McCarthy was adjudged to have pulled Little
down, though the first offence was clearly the other way around.
Densmore’s free-kick, however, was poor and it was the last real
opportunity the visitors had.

Indeed against the run of play in the second half, the Fleet could have
extended their lead. After shouts for a penalty were turned down when
Greg Young felled Rashid Yussuff, Gash then neatly outfoxed Doughty
down the Fleet right before supplying a superb cross for substitute
George Purcell. But presumably still cold from the bench, Purcell had a
wild hack at the ball and completely missed it with the goal at his
mercy.

Luckily for the Fleet, it was their opponents’ missed opportunities
that were for once to prove pivotal in a game that was hardly a
classic. But in the current circumstances, and to stop the rot of a
four-match losing sequence, the Fleet will be overjoyed with a vital
victory that suddenly makes those games in hand look appealing once
more.

TEAM: Cronin, Ricketts (Opinel 64), Crooks, McCarthy, Charles, Shakes, Martin, Long (Yussuff 89), Slatter, Gash, Moore (Purcell 90).
Subs Not Used: Mott, West.
Att: 774

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