Fleet lost their first match in four games and are still searching for their first win at Stonebridge Road after Barrow came from behind to take home three points.
With an injury to Clint Easton and Michael West still out with a back injury, Liam Daish was forced into deploying Craig Stone as a central defender and named 40-year-old assistant manager Paul McCarthy on the bench. There was also a first start for Lanre Azeez as the Fleet’s PASE side continues to pay dividends.
And it was Azeez who almost had the dream start on four minutes as he crossed for the Fleet’s elder statesman Ricky Shakes, making his 100th start for the club, but Shakes’ effort was well palmed away by goalkeeper Danny Hurst.
At the other end, Barrow’s former Scunthorpe hotshot Adam Boyes shot just over the crossbar before, 12 minutes in, Liam Enver-Marum opened his account after a prolific pre-season spell. Getting a long ball under control from 20 yards out he let fly with great technique to unleash one of those shots that could be described as “a goal from the minute it left his boot”, leaving Hurst no chance.
Enver-Marum’s elation was plain to see but Fleet let the lead slip within five minutes when the tricky Jack Mackreth found it too easy to get to the byline and he pulled the ball back for Boyes to knock it just over the line as Preston Edwards attempted to scoop it to safety.
Barrow, well-organised and well-built, started to up their game after a slow start and should really have taken the lead when Paul Cook was played through on goal as the Fleet defence looked flat-footed but Edwards did just enough to put the striker off, though he was relieved to see the loose ball blazed over the bar by Paul Rutherford.
For the Fleet, Azeez had a couple of bright moments when he got the ball and he just couldn’t get any power on a Johnny Herd cross on 36 minutes, while Ricky Shakes’ tracking back and strong tackling was a feature of the Fleet midfield. Ram Marwa also went close with a low, quick shot that beat Hurst but whizzed just past the post. But with the game increasingly stop-start due to too many hopeful balls upfield by both sides and a referee sometimes too eager to pull play back, neither side looked in top form.
Indeed at the break, it seemed like two evenly-matched sides – but that changed as the second-half began as Fleet seemed to wilt in the sun and invite Barrow onto them. Boyes really should have opened the scoring soon after the restart when Louis Almond forced Edwards into an awkward save but the rebound fell to Boyes who somehow contrived to clear the crossbar from six yards.
Boyes and Almond were involved four minutes later as Ian Simpemba’s untimely slip allowed Barrow to break and Almond floated a shot against the crossbar. Fleet were their own worst enemies, however, as a succession of errors allowed the visitors time and space to dominate the final third of the field and there was little let-up in pressure for the first 20 minutes of the second half, Rutherford firing over after a mix-up on the edge of the box and then James Owen shooting inches off-target when Howe mistimed a tackle.
Fleet were missing Howe’s energy in midfield but there seemed little the manager could do to alter things given his limited options on the bench and makeshift defensive setup. Fortunately the Fleet started to get their game together again and Calum Willock delivered a trademark turn and shot that whistled over the bar.
And Willock should have had a penalty on 67 minutes when a cleverly weighted Stone ball forward outwitted Adam Quinn and as the Fleet number nine got goal side of the defender, he was clearly impeded. But Willock’s honesty got the better of him and staying on his feet convinced the referee to play on, even though his missed shot was clearly a result of being off-balance.
Stone performed the same trick minutes later to send Willock through again but this time there was little power in the shot and Hurst gathered comfortably.
Fleet’s 15-minute spell in the ascendancy came to a disappointing halt, however, on 79 minutes as they shot themselves in the foot. Simpemba allowed himself to be turned on the halfway line by Boyes who released Almond. Stone, exposed at the back, was left covering three men as Simpemba chased back but Almond squared the ball to Paul Smith who finally converted one of Barrow’s many gift-wrapped opportunities.
There was little the home side could muster at that stage to trouble Barrow and though they pressed in the five minutes of stoppage time, it was to no avail. Fingers will be pointed at the referee for failing to award a penalty but that incident aside, a weakened Fleet served up one too many unforced errors in defence and the more negligent they became at the back, the more likely it was that Barrow would indeed find their shooting boots.
TEAM: Edwards, Howe, Herd, Stone, Simpemba, Marwa, Shakes (Stavrinou 84), Azeez, Phipp (Fakinos 84), Enver-Marum, Willock (Ginty 79). Subs not used: Welch, McCarthy
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