What a difference a week makes. After last Saturday’s reverse at Boreham Wood, all the talk was of the chasing pack putting pressure on the Fleet. But a second win in three days for Steve Brown’s side has changed the complexion of Skrill South once again as all of Fleet’s rivals managed only a single point each.
Brown made only one change to the side that defeated Gosport, Michael Thalassitis coming in for Ben May and it proved to be an inspired move as the Cypriot U21 netted his seventh league goal of the season in front of a four-figure crowd on Fleet’s Community Day.
Fleet made a bright start with Anthony Cook finding plenty of space down the right flank early on and his fifth minute turn inside Sonny Miles was sublime – unfortunately the resulting cross was overhit and Gary Elphick cleared. Cook had a succession of forays into the Angels third of the field and a wonderful back heel by McMahon into Cook’s path on 10 minutes deserved a better cross to finish.
But Tonbridge, much as they did at Longmead in the away fixture, soaked up the pressure and ventured forwards a little more. Nathan Green should have done better as he got in behind Joe Howe but hit a cross-cum-shot woefully off target.
Howe did spark the crowd into life on 31 minutes with an energetic burst up the right wing that Tonbridge just managed to halt on the edge of their box, but Fleet lacked a cutting edge. Daryl McMahon, who occupied a right-wing position after Cook moved left, fired a shot onto the roof and Dean Rance almost got on the end of another but he was blocked as Angels defended with a high line.
Indeed the visitors grew in confidence and forced a couple of corners that caused some anxiety in the Fleet box, Preston Edwards having to get a save in from Henry Muggeridge.
But with time ticking away at the end of the first-half, Fleet scored what would prove to be the crucial goal. Cook floated a free-kick in from the left wing towards the far post and it sailed over Lewis Carey to Thalassitis who nodded it home.
Billy Bricknell had the ball in the net a minute into the second half but that was ruled out for offside and Tonbridge then began to apply some pressure, Mark Lovell wasn’t far away with a shot and then from a corner, Miles hoisted a cross into the box that bounced in the danger area before being hastily cleared by Osei Sankofa.
On 54 minutes, McMahon crafted a fine chance for the home side, slipping a through ball to Bricknell who beat two defenders but should really have squared it to an unmarked Thalassitis. As it was, Bricknell was stopped in his tracks and the ball came back out to McMahon who blazed it over the bar.
Bricknell made way for Ben May minutes later but Fleet were being pegged back into their own half as Tonbridge sought an equaliser. It made for frustrating viewing but while the visitors probed, they lacked the guile to really open up the Fleet defence. And it was Fleet who still created the better chances, Thalassitis’ run taking him into the box and around the goalkeeper on 63 minutes but May couldn’t convert the resulting pass.
Tonbridge continued to force corners and from one of those, on 72 minutes, they almost equalised. Green swung it in from the right and Lovell connected well to send the ball flying through the bodies in the six-yard box but Rance was fortunately on hand to head it off the line.
That was the visitors’ last decent chance and Fleet could have sewn things up in the last 15 minutes. May turned and fired a shot just over the bar from 10 yards before Michael Corcoran drove a low shot goalwards that took a deflection and Carey somehow redirected his leg to steer the ball off target. Thalassitis then embarked on a powerful run combining pace and trickery before laying the ball off for Cook, who curled a shot just wide.
Cook ended the game as he started it, tormenting the Tonbridge full-backs, and from one of his mazy runs on 87 minutes, Fleet put together the best move of the game. Cook evaded several challenges before squaring it for Rance who threaded a clever ball into the box where May dummied for Thalassitis who sent a good shot agonisingly close but inches too high of the target.
The visitors had little left in the tank and Fleet held on to record a precious 1-0 win and entrench themselves firmly in that play-off zone.
TEAM: Edwards, Howe, Palmer (Sessegnon 90), McMahon (Osborn 81), Acheampong, Sankofa, Corcoran, Rance, Bricknell (May 59), Thalassitis, Cook. Subs not used: Hall, Huke.