Michael Thalassitis scored his third consecutive goal at Stonebridge Road as Fleet turned in a highly commendable performance to beat in-form Basingstoke by a single goal.
It was a vital contribution in the second half against a defence that refused to yield to Fleet’s early onslaught and sees Steve Brown’s side into the play-off positions for the first time this season.
An unchanged side from the one that beat Bromley 4-1 last week put plenty of early pressure on a Basingstoke team that had enjoyed a five-match winning streak up to this point. Daryl McMahon had an early shot clear the crossbar, and the midfield’s main man was in the mix from the start, spraying passes wide as Fleet looked confident off the back of four home wins.
Aiden Palmer, looking to increase his recent scoring tally, fired in a shot from the left flank that goalkeeper Louis Wells pushed out as far as Rance and he let fly with another effort that was blocked in the six-yard box. Fleet came even closer moments later when an exquisite pass with the outside of his boot from McMahon found Alex Osborn out wide and his low cross was hacked off the line by Jay Gasson as Ben May slid in to capitalise.
The visitors were far from rocking, however, and on 18 minutes were the width of a post away from taking the lead. Top scorer Manny Williams advanced down the middle and let fly with what seemed a speculative shot that cannoned off the post – leaving a bemused Preston Edwards with little option but to admire his good fortune as the ball bounced away to safety.
But Fleet were almost as close to a goal moments later when good work from Cook saw Osborn hook the ball back into the danger area where Thalassitis wrong-footed a defender and fired off a shot that Wells only kept out with his left leg.
Basingstoke’s defence – with just one goal conceded in four games – remained resolute, however, and gradually Fleet faded. In midfield, the visitors dug in with Wes Daly and Neil Barrett for a time getting to grips with McMahon and Dean Rance – though without ever giving their strikers much to feed on.
Fleet were restricted to a Cook effort that Wells gathered after a fumble, while Basingstoke should really have gone in 1-0 up with the last effort of the first half. Simon Dunn twisted past the challenge of Chris Sessegnon and Paul Lorraine and his cross found Nathan Smart 10 yards out with the goal at his mercy but the midfielder dwelt too long on the ball and couldn’t get a shot off.
The visitors started the second half well but were stifled in their efforts by what turned out to be the winning goal on 52 minutes. Cook teased his marker down the left wing and sent over an inviting cross that Thalassitis seemed to hang in the air for and as the ball drifted over, he directed his header into the top corner, out of Wells’ grasp.
That signalled an upturn in Fleet’s play and their tempo reverted to the high-energy and slick passing game of the opening period. Cook, Osborn and Thalassitis were lively, interchanging passes and positions, while McMahon and Rance won just about everything in midfield.
Fleet could have been two goals to the good when Thalassitis got his head down and ran through the Basingstoke defence, crossing low into the box where the onrushing Osborn decided on a lob that beat Wells but cleared the bar. And the big Fleet No.10 seemed unstoppable as he ran onto a May overhead pass and opted to go it alone despite support, his shot-cum-cross rolling across the line and away to safety with the goalkeeper beaten.
Osborn then hit the crossbar as a deep free-kick sailed over the defence and appeared to be going out, but the Fleet youngster pulled it back across goal where it bounced off the woodwork and went over.
It wasn’t all one-way traffic, however, and Edwards saved from Adam Green’s shot while made himself big enough to force Williams to blast over with the striker in space inside the box.
Both sides were still going all-out in the final five minutes and Palmer had a shot saved by Wells while at the other end, Edwards brilliantly parried a Williams free-kick from the edge of the box after Rance had been penalised for a sliding tackle. There were a few nervous moments given the slender margin of the Fleet’s lead but the final whistle confirmed another league win – and deservedly so given a performance that many in the ground felt was one of their side’s best of the season.
TEAM: Edwards, Sessegnon, Palmer, McMahon (Corcoran 90), Lorraine, Sankofa, Osborn, Rance, May, Thalassitis (Bricknell 72), Cook. Subs not used: Hall, Howe, Long.