MARK RICKETTS’ ROCKET RAVAGES WREXHAM – HIS FIRST GOAL FOR THE FLEET…
EBBSFLEET UNITED 1-0 WREXHAM
You can wait a whole season to see things only once. Sometimes it takes a bit longer than that. Sure enough, three seasons and 112 games into his Fleet career, Mark Ricketts produced one of those unexpected once-in-a-lifetime moments as he struck his first-ever goal for the club – and it wasn’t just any run-of-the-mill goal but a superb strike that settled this game in the Fleet’s favour and maintained their push for a top-half finish.
For the penultimate game at Stonebridge Road this season, Liam Daish recalled Jamie Stevens, Derek Duncan, Michael Gash and Luke Moore to the side against an out-of-sorts Wrexham team that had scored only three times in their last 10 games and won only two of their last 17.
With the Fleet already sure of safety, the first half lacked much in the way of endeavour though the Fleet showed their teeth the sooner of the two sides. On nine minutes Michael West delivered a corner which Gash met with a low shot from the edge of the box but goalkeeper Chris Maxwell got down well to thwart him. Five minutes later another corner almost yielded a first goal, Long’s floated cross parting the Wrexham defence and Paul McCarthy placing a header just wide of the post.
Sam Aiston received a yellow card for a foul on Giuseppe Sole and this set the tone for a rather bad-tempered period of play involving Wrexham’s front men and the Fleet defence. It came to a head on 36 minutes when Obi Anoruo incensed the Fleet players with what appeared to be an elbow and following an altercation in the Fleet box, the Wrexham man was cautioned.
But football-wise, the game left a lot to be desired. Lance Cronin twice had to be alert, first to Ryan Flynn’s 18th minute attempt and then late in the half he tipped over Darren Kempson’s header, while Duncan needed to be on hand to knock Aiston’s deep cross out for a corner as the Fleet defence looked momentarily all at sea.
With both defences on top for the most part, however, the Fleet were done no favours when Gash – who had a late fitness test before the game – limped off on 36 minutes following a tangle with Jefferson Louis, Kezie Ibe replacing him.
The second half was barely a minute old when Ibe won a free kick some 25 yards from goal. Unfazed by the distance, Sole rifled an excellent shot goalwards that had Maxwell back-pedalling and it crept just over the bar as Fleet fans rubbed their eyes, sure for a moment it had hit the back of the net.
Wrexham then enjoyed a 20-minute spell in the ascendancy, dominating possession in midfield with Aiston particularly strong but they created few moments of real anxiety in the Fleet penalty area, wasting their numerous set pieces. Their best moment came when substitute Michael Proctor found himself in the box with space to shoot after a skilful knockdown had eluded Darius Charles but Cronin saved brilliantly at point-blank range.
Off the hook, the Fleet regained the initiative. On 65 minutes, Moore raced forwards and looked set to break but got the ball tangled between his feet and laid it infield to Ricketts. It was something of a hospital pass, but Ricketts rode a two-footed tackle from Ashley Westwood, advanced towards the box, skipped inside Kempson and unleashed a superb strike that cannoned in off the underside of the crossbar.
Cronin kept his side in it six minutes later with another acrobatic stop, this time stretching to palm away Kempson’s bullet header from 10 yards. Then the Fleet almost grabbed a second, Ibe powering forwards and with no support deciding to go it alone, letting fly with a low, curling shot that Maxwell did very well to push round the post.
It was the Fleet’s best spell of the match and they surged forwards with a spring in their step that suggested the last three weeks have taken nothing out of the enrgy banks. On 83 minutes, Daish’s side produced a fluid move that not only deserved a goal but would have deserved a goal of the season award too. Charles beat Louis to the ball in the Fleet half and Sole, Long and Moore combined to outfox the Wrexham defence, Moore dummied and the onrushing Stevens ran on to another inch-perfect pass with Wrexham chasing shadows. He struck a clean shot from the corner edge of the box but again Maxwell dived low to turn it away as the Fleet fans erupted into applause.
From the resulting corner, Wrexham only half-cleared and if it was a night for unlikely goalscorers, it was bad luck on McCarthy that his well-hit shot from 25 yards was straight at Maxwell.
Four minutes of time added on provided no undue anxiety for the Fleet and they finished the night with 11th place still attainable – just behind Wrexham – a clean sheet for Cronin on his 150th appearance, and still unbeaten in the league at Stonebridge Road during 2009.
TEAM: Cronin, Stevens, Duncan (Pooley 67), McCarthy, Charles, Ricketts, West, Long, Sole (Yussuff 87), Gash (Ibe 36), Moore.
Subs Not Used: Mott, Purcell.