Anthony Acheampong’s second goal in a Fleet shirt was enough to keep his side firmly embedded in fourth place in a strangely disjointed encounter against a Hayes & Yeading side who suffered their seventh defeat in a row.
The home side made only one change, Michael West coming in for the injured Ben May while Michael Thalassitis defied predictions of a longer lay-off to take a seat on the bench following his wrist injury. Hayes fielded former Fleet loanee and Gillingham player Rashid Yussuff and new loan signing from Bournemouth Bradley Goodship up front.
Yet it was another Hayes striker who caught the eye in the opening minutes, the powerful Inih Effiong leading the line and giving the Fleet defenders an early test. Much of the opening 10 minutes was spent in the home half, as Hayes’ physical prowess dominated an out-of-sorts Fleet opening.
But it was the home side who had the first real opportunity on 11 minutes when Daryl McMahon jinked his way into the box and found room to despatch a shot that hit the side netting courtesy of a deflection. Moments later, fantastic effort from Billy Bricknell saw him twist and turn through a group of Hayes players before releasing an inch-perfect pass to Alex Osborn but the resulting shot was off target.
Fleet enjoyed their spell in the ascendancy and rounded it off in style with what was to prove the winning goal on 21 minutes. Bricknell wasn’t far off a goal himself with a low, close-range shot that was deflected wide by Ben Gerring. From the resulting corner, McMahon sent over a deep cross and Acheampong rose highest to head home off the inside of the post.
Having smothered Hayes’ bright start, the last thing Fleet needed to do was give them any encouragement, but on the half-hour mark a casual ball out of defence from Aiden Palmer was met by Luke Williams and he played it wide for Goodship who made Preston Edwards work with a low shot.
With the game having settled into a lull as the first-half closed, the second period failed to emerge from it until the visitors began to turn the screw in the final 10 minutes. Fleet’s passing game was ragged and more often that not, defensive clearances went awry as the match became more about protecting the 1-0 lead than adding to it. Osborn and Bricknell, bright in the first-half, were well marshalled by a physical back line, with Bricknell and Jack Mills at each other’s throats the entire 90 minutes.
It took until the 68th minute for anything of note to occur, when Dean Rance – under pressure in midfield – tried to play the ball back to Acheampong, but Williams stole in and threaded a pass to substitute Geoff Mitchell who forced a vital save from Edwards. That warning woke Fleet up and the exchange of West for Thalassitis briefly enlivened his sluggish teammates. Anthony Cook saw his shot parried by former Tonbridge goalkeeper Mikhael Ruiz, who then tipped another Acheampong header over the crossbar.
But the final five minutes plus stoppage time were anxious as the Fleet sat deep and Hayes pressed for an equaliser. Substitute Chris Sessegnon poked one goalmouth scramble just wide of his own post and a couple of corners gave home fans cause for concern but Fleet ultimately held out for another clean sheet at Stonebridge Road. At this stage of the season, with rivals dropping points left, right and centre, Steve Brown will be more than happy to grind out a scrappy 1-0 win.
TEAM: Edwards, Howe (Sessegnon 84), Palmer, McMahon, Acheampong, Sankofa, Osborn, Rance, West (Thalassitits 72), Bricknell (Corcoran 90), Cook. Subs not used: Hall, Mambo