FLEET BACK TO WINNING WAYS IN LEAGUE THANKS TO NEIL BARRETT’S GOAL…
EBBSFLEET UNITED 1-0 RUSHDEN & DIAMONDS
Rushden & Diamonds may well have wished they hadn’t released their part-time boxer Curtis Woodhouse earlier this month as they fell to a knockout blow on 40 minutes and then saw manager Garry Hill get sent off along with Liam Daish in a mass set-to towards the end of the game. In the same incident, Fleet assistant Alan Kimble also left the field, as well as Diamonds defender Simon Downer as the visitors ended the game with 10 men.
It was a barnstorming end to a game that appealed from start to finish from a Fleet point of view as their side played some of the best football witnessed at Stonebridge Road for at least five weeks. Daish gave debuts to both his new signings, with Derek Duncan replacing Sacha Opinel and Leon Crooks coming in for Dean Pooley, Craig Stone moved to right back as Neil Barrett returned to the middle, while Luke Moore resumed his striking duties alongside Michael Gash.
The Fleet began well, Jamie Hand’s shot cannoning off Kurt Robinson for a corner after only three minutes. The home side continued to dominate possession without creating anything clear-cut and Rushden contented themselves with finding a chink in the Fleet armour on the break. Winger Lee Tomlin’s distribution was a threat while Andy Burgess won his initial battles with Neil Barrett in midfield. For the Fleet, the new players certainly caught the eye, Derek Duncan in particular as he marshalled Tomlin well and showed poise and skill coming forward. Crooks also looked assured and but for a back pass that threatened to short-change Lance Cronin as Michael Rankine threatened, was otherwise composed alongside James Smith.
But after a relatively quiet opening, the Fleet came alive on 19 minutes when Gash’s header wide of the post from a good position signalled a decent period for the men in red. With Moore buzzing around the box and causing Rushden’s defence problems, and Long driving through from wide positions, it looked like the Fleet would score sooner than they did. One particular one-two between Moore and Long was noteworthy as Long began it inside his own half and ended it by running through on goal only to hook his shot away from goalkeeper Dale Roberts. On 28 minutes, Moore again skipped down the right and launched a cross from the byline that just evaded Gash and Purcell ran in to blaze a shot wide. Long also tried his luck from distance, driving a fine shot just over the bar and rippling the top netting.
Moore continued to cause problems with his desire to run at Curtis Osano and sent in several decent crosses while Hand’s poise in the centre of midfield was also to good effect, getting Gash and Purcell involved. Diamonds really had only an Osano shot from a corner and Rankine’s run through on goal on 22 minutes to give them encouragment, though Cronin did very well to get his foot to a loose ball in the six-yard box with new signing Daniel Broadbent looming.
But the Fleet refused to lie down and carved out their deserved lead on 40 minutes. Excellent build-up play saw Moore and Hand exchange passes to take out two Diamonds defenders and a well-executed through ball found Long whose shot-cum-cross found its way to Barrett and he bundled it home from close range. With their tails up, it was a shame that the first half had to end for the Fleet as they emerged in the second half seeking to build up momentum all over again.
Rushden looked a touch more threatening, though Rankine’s bustling performance appeared more dangerous than it was and he was well handled by Crooks and Smith, while Stone had surprisingly little to do against Marcus Kelly. With Duncan keeping the highly-rated Tomlin quiet on the far side, it just needed another Fleet goal to keep the home fans happy. And it really should have come on 59 minutes. Moore again unsettled the visiting defence with good running and skipped behind the back line to deliver a perfect cross to Gash at the far post. With the Diamonds defence having gone walkabout, Gash only had to hit the ball straight to score but it bobbled and he couldn’t get a clean connection, allowing Roberts to steer it to safety.
Defdender Chris Hope had a good effort over the bar from a corner for Rushden while the Fleet defence looked all at sea on two occasions as a couple of set pieces from the visitors carried the threat to Cronin’s goal. Rankine too had a shot on 64 minutes before giving way to super-sub Sam Smith as Garry Hill made three substitutions at once. The powerfully-built Smith put himself about to begin with but again Fleet’s central defenders coped well and eventually nulllfied his threat. Gash almost made amends for his earlier miss on 71 minutes when he attempted a lob as keeper Roberts found himself out of position, but the ball just cleared the crossbar.
As time ticked away, the referee’s patience ran out as he added to the four yellow cards shown to Rushden with a red for defender Downer. With Moore on the ball down the Fleet left, Downer rushed in two-footed and although he made little contact the intention was quite clear and caused a ruckus, being as it was right in front of the two benches. Rushden boss Hill marched into the Fleet technical area and then red and ywllow shirts all piled in together. Once the referee separated the protagonists, he issued a red to Downer and also sent off Hill, Daish and Kimble. It was left to goalkeeping coach Ron Hillyard to make the substitution for the Fleet, Ricky Shakes replacing Long, and Shakes could have put the Fleet further in front on 90 minutes when one-on-one with Roberts but under pressure from a defender, the Fleet winger couldn’t convert.
With seven minutes of stoppage time, hearts were in mouths but it was the Fleet who had the better of the closing period, Moore and Purcell firing off inaccurate shots, and the