Fleet are brought back down to earth as Barrow leave with comprehensive victory…
Red-hot Fleet, top of the form table, could have been forgiven for thinking that, perhaps for the first time this season, victory might have been something of a formality and indeed they began with purpose and confidence only for two quickfire goals to knock the stuffing out of them.
Back for this game, having recovered from his hamstring injury, was Alex Stavrinou but the Fleet were otherwise unchanged and started at a pace that has now become familiar at Stonebridge Road. The home side won a corner within 10 seconds and Magno Vieira registered a shot on target after only 90 seconds as goalkeeper Tim Deasy got an early taste of the action. Vieira had a second attempt as he ran clear of the defence but on a bobbly pitch the ball was difficult to control and his shot lacked power.
Moses Ashikodi had the first concrete chance on 15 minutes when he managed to claw the ball out from beneath the feet of two Barrow defenders and shot narrowly wide of the left-hand post. And five minutes later, Ashikodi’s misplaced header was diverted wide by Ricky Shakes’ outstretched leg, Vieira ran on to it and bent a vicious low and swerving shot that Deasy had to tip away for a corner.
But just as the Fleet began to look frustrated, former Everton striker Nick Chadwick took a leaf out of Vieira’s book and pounced twice inside two minutes. First, Jason Walker down the Fleet right sprung the offside trap and as the defenders stood rooted to the spot, he lofted the ball over Lance Cronin who could only tip the ball into the air where Chadwick had the easiest of chances to nod into an empty net. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he repeated the trick a minute later, this time down the Fleet left. Carlos Logan got clear of Jordan Collins and crossed the ball into the six-yard box where Chadwick could scarcely believe his luck as he had time and space again to head home.
It was enough to knock the wind out of Fleet sails and the home side never looked like recovering. Two goals in front from two attacks, Barrow effectively killed the game though they weren’t particularly stretched by their opponents. Indeed they could have grabbed a third late on in the half when Andy Bond nutmegged Dean Pooley to send Walker clear but Cronin stood up well. At the other end, a rather wild Stefan Bailey shot was all the Fleet had to to show as evidence for a comeback.
As if the final 20 minutes of that half weren’t bad enough, the second half was wretched. Early exchanges saw the ball lofted backwards and forwards between the two sets of teams with little in the way of chances, though Chadwick could and should have got his hat-trick on 53 minutes when he headed over from close range without a Fleet defender in sight. The Fleet’s best chance was a Jordan Collins piledriver from 20 yards that Deasy managed to parry as it whizzed through a crowd of players. Vieira’s trickery on 64 minutes also gave Fleet hope as he wriggled past three challenges but his shot from eight yards was again stopped by Deasy.
Chadwick wasn’t denied a hat-trick for long and on 68 minutes, after Ricky Shakes and Peter Holmes had got in a tangle, Paul Rutherford escaped down the Fleet right and crossed deep for Chadwick to meet with his head once again. Fleet pulled one back when Ashikodi won a free kick on the edge of the box and then headed the low set-piece into the net but Barrow, now adept at exploiting the Fleet’s weaknesses down the flanks, where the full backs continually got pulled into the middle, scored their fourth on 81 minutes when the broke wide right and as the cross headed Chadwick’s way, Leon Crooks’ hand diverted the ball to safety. After initially waving penalty appeals away, the referee was persuaded by his linesman to award it and Walker dispatched the spot kick though Cronin guessed the right way. After that, the final whistle couldn’t come soon enough for the fast-departing fans.