Skrill South leaders Bromley cemented their hold on the top spot as they left Fleet’s new year celebrations in tatters with a clinical 3-1 victory at Stonebridge Road.
The only game in the division to survive the abominable weather, credit must go to Fleet’s groundsman and the pitch drainage for enabling the first match of 2014 to go ahead – but that was as good as it got for the home side who will be glad to see the back of the festive period.
With Michael Thalassitis not 100% fit, Steve Brown recalled Ben May to the starting line-up and also handed the returning Chris Sessegnon a right midfield berth at the expense of Alex Osborn. And Fleet started well enough given the windy conditions, earning a couple of corners that were lofted high into the box but blown off course.
The visitors worked hard in midfield with the industrious Brendan Kiernan pulling the strings for them and he created their only real chance of note in the opening spell, putting Bradley Goldberg through but the Bromley hitman’s shot rebounded off Aiden Palmer. For the Fleet Anthony Cook did his usual probing job across the back line and forced Joe Welch into a save from one effort and launched a free-kick well over the crossbar from another.
Fleet lost May to an injury on 20 minutes, but replacement Thalassitis was straight into the action firing a shot wide after a decent move saw Bromley’s defence momentarily caught cold.
The visitors were coping well with Fleet’s stop-start attacks and they almost caught Edwards out when Ashley Nicholls’ low shot skidded off the turf before nestling in the goalkeeper’s arms on 27 minutes. Two minutes later, however, and Edwards was picking the ball out of the net: Dean Rance’s pass from midfield was intercepted by the referee of all people, allowing Kiernan to break down the right and his cross into the box was met by Pierre Joseph-Dubois who drilled it home.
Fleet followed up with a couple more corners that came to nothing in the swirling wind while Cook continued to hold the most attacking threat, winning and then whistling a free-kick just wide while seeing a cross tipped behind by Welch for another corner.
The second half trod a familiar path as the first, with Fleet starting well – on 48 minutes, Billy Bricknell burst through the visitors’ defence from a Cook through ball but Welch was out early to gather at his feet. Six minutes later a good move down the left saw Cook play in Palmer and his cross was decent, Bricknell nodding it just wide of the Bromley post.
Yet as in the first half, Bromley withstood the pressure and then proved more clinical than their opponents at the business end of the pitch. A disputed free kick was launched wide on 57 minutes by Danny Waldren and only partially cleared to the feet of Jake Reid who controlled it before slotting it low past Edwards off the inside of the post.
Fleet tried to respond and enjoyed more possession but a succession of attempted through balls were out of reach as Bricknell and Thalassitis tried in vain to latch onto them. Joe Howe shot over the bar on 62 minutes and the introduction of Daryl McMahon and Osborn was the final shuffling of the pack as the home side battled against the worsening weather.
Still Fleet toiled in midfield and one excellent flowing move involving Michael Corcoran, McMahon and Cook saw the latter hacked down on the edge of the box but the resulting free-kick was smashed into the Bromley wall. At 2-0 up, the visitors looked comfortable without ever needing to find another gear yet they forced Edwards into one more save when Reid’s shot was parried by the Fleet goalkeeper and fell kindly in the penalty area, allowing Paul Lorraine to blast clear.
But with six minutes left, Bromley rubbed salt in the Fleet wounds when the ever-effective Kiernan crossed and Goldberg nipped in ahead of Reid and the flat-footed defence to sidefoot an effort past Edwards.
It wasn’t quite all over, however, as Fleet finally unlocked the seemingly impregnable Bromley defence a minute from time, Cook advancing down the left flank before finding Bricknell well-placed and the Fleet striker drilled a shot beyond Welch for his eighth league goal of the season – albeit a consolation at that late stage for the home side.
TEAM: Edwards, Howe, Palmer, Corcoran, Lorraine, Sankofa, Sessegnon (Osborn 65), Rance (McMahon 63), May (Thalassitis 20), Bricknell, Cook. Subs not used: Hall, Long.