JAMES SMITH NODS FLEET IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION AS REVIVAL CONTINUES…
EBBSFLEET UNITED 1-0 NORTHWICH VICTORIA
Report by Ed Miller
Three single-goal victories inside five days and three clean sheets in
succession saw the Fleet jump to 15th in the table, above Altrincham
who led the Fleet by nine points this time last week. In sunny
conditions, hopes were high that the Fleet could maintain their winning
impetus and grab the positive result that would give them their first
three-match winning streak of the season.
Liam Daish made just once change to his busy side, Luke Moore rested
and Danny Slatter coming back into midfield, meaning that Ricky Shakes
partnered Michael Gash up front. The opening encounters did little to
dispel the notion that this was not to be a game for the purists and it
had all the hallmarks of a meaningless end-of-season encounter.
However, with points still very much in the mind of the Fleet and their
fans, this was not a match to take lightly.
The visitors rarely threatened in the first period but were nearly
gifted an early opener on 8 minutes when Jonny Allan was allowed to run
through on to a long ball as the Fleet defence appealed iin vain for
offside but though he was all but on his own, he shot wide of the post
as James Smith bore down on him – a big let-off for the Fleet.
John Martin had an effort deflected from a free-kick before the half’s
major flashpoint on the half hour. Shakes stretched for a ball on the
edge of the box and caught the tall Mat Bailey with a challenge that
was more clumsy than vicious but Bailey reacted strongly and provoked a
minor scuffle. Referee McLaughlin needlessly booked five players in the
ensuing enquiry, Shakes and Gash earning cautions for the Fleet. It set
the trend for more cautions in a match that was rarely dirty – eight in
all, three of them for the Fleet.
The home side’s next best chance came on 42 minutes when Stacy Long
raced on to a loose ball after good work by Martin and Slatter but his
effort flew high over Ryan Clarke’s crossbar. Northwich were given
another glimpse at goal two minutes later, former Fleet nemesis Lee
Elam crossing low for Allan to force a block in the six-yard box, and
then Elam followed up to fire the rebound over a gaping Fleet goal.
But there really was little of note in a lacklustre first half and the
second improved only because the Fleet scored during it. Long and
Shakes both had shots off target as the Fleet upped their possession
and kept the visitors restricted to long balls to an increasingly
frustrated Allan and Kyle Perry who were both warned by the referee for
continually questioning his decisions. The Fleet were struggling to get
Gash in the game, and involved as he was, Shakes was finding it
difficult to exact much change from the Vics’ back pairing of Simon
Grand and Bailey.
Martin again came close with a free kick on the hour mark, taking it
ahead of substitute Giuseppe Sole, and his dipping shot was turned
around the post by Clarke. At the other end, Perry managed to creep in
ahead of Mark Ricketts, who had slotted into the right-back position
when Leon Crooks moved central to cover for the substituted Paul
McCarthy. Fortunately for the Fleet, the Vics’ on-loan Port Vale
striker couldn’t get the ball under control and fired weakly into the
It was a half chance that Northwich were to rue as on 68 minutes the
Fleet were awarded a couple of corners. From the second of them, down
the right, Martin floated in a deep cross to the far post and Smith
rose highest to power a header beyond Clarke. It was enough of a
breakthrough to see the Fleet home against an opposition who rarely
looked like scoring and though they exerted a little pressure,
including a direct free kick in the closing minutes, Lance Cronin was
able to celebrate another clean sheet in a relatively trouble-free
afternoon for his side.
The result leaves Northwich just a point from relegation but more
importantly as far as the home fans were concerned it keeps their side
a surely unassailable seven points from danger with nine games
remaining. It would certainly be remiss for the Fleet to count their
chickens just yet but after a maximum nine points from three games, any
fears of relegation now will be of their own making.
TEAM: Cronin, Crooks, Smith, McCarthy (Sole 59), Charles, Slatter, Martin, Ricketts, Long (West 80), Gash, Shakes. Subs not used:
Mott, Opinel, Purcell.