Fleet 1-1 Oxford U

EBBSFLEET UNITED 1-1 OXFORD UNITED… 

A last-gasp goal from Levi Reid denied the Fleet three points as 10-man Oxford snatched a point from the jaws of defeat in scenes all too reminiscent of the opening day of the season.

Liam Daish’s sole change to his line-up was to elevate George Purcell in place of the all-but-departed John Akinde. Both sides began in a cagey manner and, given the sweltering heat, with one eye on conserving energy. Former Fleet loanee Jamie Guy had the first effort of the afternoon, letting fly from distance but it was safely gathered by Lance Cronin. Michael Gash and Purcell then saw efforts fly off-target before Stacy Long had the best opportunity on 33 minutes, bringing down a cross after good work by Craig Stone, but it was on his wrong foot and he directed it high and wide.

A minute later and Oxford should have made the Fleet pay: James Clarke’s through ball was missed by Darius Charles and Yemi Odubade raced through on goal only to drag his shot wide of the post with Cronin beaten. Clarke himself was already guilty of a poor effort when he scuffed a shot into the side netting after getting in behind the defence.

Purcell had a couple more efforts without really endangering Jake Cole’s goal, but Stone went closer on 44 minutes, hitting a swerving volley from 25 yards that Cole tipped over for a corner. A minute later, Stone was again at the heart of things as he fell victim to a hefty challenge in the middle of the pitch from Luke Foster. The referee wasted no time in showing Foster his second red of the season, though there was some discussion on the terraces as to whether the tackle was as bad as it appeared, but Oxford‘s vociferous remonstrations fell on deaf ears.

Fleet should have opened their account immediately, when Long skipped into space inside the box and snapped off a shot that Cole did very well to block.

Oxford began the second half in the ascendancy, keen to cancel their disadvantage in numbers by clocking up an early goal. Two corners put the Fleet under pressure but having weathered that early storm, Daish rang the changes, Stone succumbing to the knock he’d received from Foster before half-time and ex-Oxford man Jamie Hand replaced him.

Hand’s introduction coincided with the Fleet upping their game finally, the midfielder threading simple but effective passes through to his strikers and gaining some authority in the middle. A Stacy Long corner caused confusion in the Oxford box as Gash and Moore both tried to steer the loose ball home. Eddie Hutchinson cleared but Moore released Ricketts on the edge of the box and the Fleet full back drove a passage through his opposing defenders and crossed low for Gash to hit home from close range.

The goal sparked the Fleet into action and Oxford looked to have no answer as Hand and Long carved their way through midfield. Long came close on the hour mark, picking his spot to send a looping shot just over the bar, and three minutes later forced Cole into another smart save.

Purcell had a decent effort saved on 74 minutes and goal number two looked on the cards moments later when Hand played Long inside the defence. As he shaped to shoot, Moore blazed in ahead of his colleague to try his luck instead, but Cole got down to make an excellent save.

For all their efforts defending, Oxford – on the back foot for most of the half – started to test the Fleet back line, substitute James Constable stinging Cronin’s hands with a powerful but predictable shot on 82 minutes, while Clarke also let fly from distance.

But the home side should have wrapped things up three minutes from time when Kezie Ibe, on for Purcell, hit a shot against Barry Quinn that rebounded to Gash and both he and Moore had efforts that were cleared off the line by a desperate Oxford rearguard.

The visitors looked all out of ideas, so much so that even Darren Patterson had ceased his finger-waving at the referee – who admittedly had irked both managers with some bizarre decisions – and when three minutes of time added on were signalled, the Fleet looked comfortable. A succession of free kicks in the corner when substitute Levi Reid continually tangled with Long looked to have run the clock down sufficiently and the away fans were streaming out in numbers.

So it was a surprise to all in the stadium when Cole’s goal kick found Chris Carruthers rampaging down the left wing and a high, deep cross evaded the Fleet defence to find Reid stealing in at the back post. He volleyed it home and sprinted into the corner to take the plaudits while the disbelieving Fleet fans were left to reflect on the familiarity of such a scene hot on the heels of the Mansfield game. 

Team: Cronin, Ricketts (Hawkins 75), Opinel, McCarthy, Charles, Barrett, Stone (Hand 50), Long, Purcell (Ibe 85), Moore, Gash. Subs not used: Mott, Appiah

Att: 1,842

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