EBBSFLEET UNITED 1-1 EASTBOURNE BOROUGH
Report by Paul Gates
Looking to build on Saturday’s three points, the Fleet went into this game with latest teenage sensation Kwesi Appiah winning his first start while Luke Moore returned to the side, replacing Ricky Shakes on the right of midfield.
The visitors’ Matt Smart warmed Lance Cronin’s hands as early as the second minute with a snapshot from 20 yards and they looked efficient and tidy from the word go. Their plans were upset on 13 minutes, however, when former Crawley and Canvey striker Allan Tait limped off to be replaced by Nathan Crabb. Fleet took the stoppage as a signal to buck their ideas up, however temporarily, and both Michael Gash and Luke Moore forced the impressive former Sittingbourne goalkeeper Lee Hook into decent saves, while Neil Barrett also got forward and characteristically tried his luck from distance.
But Eastbourne got their noses in front on 22 minutes when Andy Atkin took advantage of a large gap in the Fleet defence and he drilled the ball home from 12 yards. Atkin went close again eight minutes later, pulling away from Darius Charles and heading just wide from Matt Crabb’s teasing cross.
The Fleet had a couple of half chances as Appiah sought to build on his weekend performace, and Gash also launched a hopeful shot from 15 yards, but the home side lacked any sort of creativity and were struggling to get to grips with Eastbourne’s game.
The Fleet applied themselves better in the second half after a presumably verbose dressing down from Liam Daish but the first quarter-hour after the break was mere huff and puff. On 50 minutes, Lee Hook was relieved to turn an awkward-looking cross just round his post and had to be alert four minutes later when Jamie Hand took a swing from 20 yards. On 59 minutes, with Moore pushed up front following Danny Slatter’s introduction for Appiah, the Fleet again went close when Moore got on the end of a delightful chip which eluded the Eastbourne defence.
But as it looked like the Fleet might press without any reward, they were presented with an opportunity on 65 minutes. Smart was cautioned for a foul which he disputed to no avail and from the resulting Mark Ricketts free kick, Marc Pullen failed to clear and Gash controlled the ball and struck it into the bottom left corner for his fourth goal of the season.
Eastbourne were defending in numbers and Fleet were finding it difficult to pick a path through the wall of yellow shirts. On a rare foray at the other end, Pullen should have done better with a weak stab at Cronin when well placed but much of the play was high and direct with little goalmouth action.
Fleet probed patiently as they tried to make more space and Gash and Charles both had half chances, the former heading over, the latter forcing Hook into a save from a looping Long corner. Fleet moved to three at the back minutes from the end when Sacha Opinel made way for Kezie Ibe but the newly-styled "super sub" had little time to generate any magic. A succession of free kicks during the generous apportioning of four minutes’ injury time courtesy of referee Farries almost paid off when Hook got down very well to thwart Paul McCarthy’s otherwise certain goal. Gash too had a double swipe and Moore went down in the box generating penalty appeals from behind the goal as Borough clung on though the visitors almost caused a shock at the death when Atkin tried to get round McCarthy but the Fleet skipper’s rather risky handball prevented a breakthrough and earned him a yellow card into the bargain.
And so the Fleet were forced to settle for their fifth frustrating draw of the season and thank their lucky stars that the rest of the Conference is seemingly just as inconsistent.
TEAM: Cronin, Ricketts, Opinel (Ibe 87), McCarthy, Charles, Hand, Barrett, Long, Moore, Appiah (Slatter 58), Gash. Subs not used: Mott, Pooley, Stone.