FLEET MISS HATFUL OF CHANCES AS 10-MAN KIDDERMINSTER ESCAPE WITH POINT…
EBBSFLEET UNITED 1-1 KIDDERMINSTER HARRIERS
Report by Ed Miller
All the tremendous hard work that went into a spirited Fleet performance tonight was ultimately undone by the home side’s inability to convert any one of a host of second-half chances as 10-man Kidderminster struck to join a growing list of clubs who have grabbed a point late on at Stonebridge Road.
The Fleet’s third game of the week saw little change from that at Mansfield, with only two changes – Jamie Stevens and Danny Slatter coming in and no place for James Smith and Giuseppe Sole, though the latter did get on the bench.
Harriers for their part were missing two players including striker Justin Richards through suspension but did field former Fleet Trophy hero Chris McPhee.
But it was Ricky Shakes who caught the eye from the outset, the in-form Fleet man announcing to Harriers full back Lee Baker that he was in for a tough evening with pacy, skilful running. Three times he broke clean away from Baker only to see crosses and shots either fall short or miss the target.
Michael Gash’s 19th minute shot which produced a save from Adam Bartlett should also have brought more joy for the Fleet but they weren’t to be waiting long as Shakes produced another scintillating run on 26 minutes after a good exchange with Gash. Speeding into the box with Baker trailing in his wake, the Harriers defender was never going to catch Shakes in a month of Sundays and upended him as he shaped to shoot. The referee had no choice but to issue a red card, Kidderminster’s third in two games, and Stacy Long stepped up to convert the penalty.
Despite going a man down, the visitors – who until then had only a wayward McPhee shot and a decent Stefan Moore volley to show for their troubles – tried to produce an immediate response. Matthew Barnes-Homer outfoxed Opinel and struck a shot that had Cronin reaching low to his left and Jamie Stevens rescued the situation ahead of the onrushing Darryl Knights, scooping the loose ball away from danger.
A corner brought more danger for the Fleet, Slatter clearing from just in front of his goalline while Michael Carr went close from Moore’s cross on 35 minutes. Slatter was heavily involved again five minutes later when he buckled under a hefty challenge from Carr which didn’t seem to concern referee Melin but certainly did Slatter who was stretchered off and replaced by Sole – yet another midfielder lost to the Fleet who are fast becoming a side without any central players.
But the Fleet took the game by the scruff of the neck in the second half, defying their tired legs and making use of their extra man with the excellent Michael West getting forward and combining well with Shakes.
On 54 minutes the Fleet had the first of a veritable torrent of chances, Gash powering through the Harriers back line with the goal at his mercy but a poor touch letting the ball get just ahead of him, enough for goalkeeper Bartlett to pounce on.
West supplied Long on 60 minutes and from the edge of the box, the Fleet goalscorer found room to curl an outswinging shot which Bartlett did very well to get a hand to – at least that was the judgement of most in the ground bar the referee who inexplicably gave a goal kick.
Then the Fleet came again. West, intelligent and calm on the ball, showed great maturity to break down the wing and into the box and his cross was pushed out by Bartlett into the path of Long who struck from six yards only for the goalkeeper to again somehow keep it out, only as far as West again who crossed back in but Bartlett managed to gather at the third attempt.
Harriers briefly threatened when McPhee cannoned a shot into Mark Ricketts and then Barnes-Homer saw his effort drift wide but back came the Fleet. Gash had another chance on 69 minutes as he beat the offside trap to once again go one-on-one with Bartlett but Keith Lowe managed to get a foot in which helped steer Gash’s shot just wide.
Six minutes later Long was again clear of the defence and twisting inside the box but he dallied on the ball and was forced to play it wide to Gash who seemed to have his foot taken away as he moved to shoot and Bartlett was able to save the eventual effort as it came in for Sole.
Sole went close a minute later as the Fleet continued to pile on the pressure and then Shakes fired a shot from close in that Bartlett again was equal to as the Harriers goal led a charmed life. But the longer the Fleet went without scoring, the more likely were Harriers to get a stroke of luck. And on 83 minutes, the side which fought back against Forest Green on Tuesday with 10 men did so again. McPhee glanced on a long ball and Barnes-Homer sped in to strike a sweet volley past Cronin to the groans of disbelieving Fleet fans.
TEAM: Cronin, Stevens, Opinel (Purcell 89), Crooks, Charles, Ricketts, Slatter (Sole 42), Long, West, Gash, Shakes. Subs not used: Mott, Pooley, Henry.