Fleet made it a hat-trick of 1-1 draws in quick succession after Forest Green’s second-half strike cancelled out Ricky Shakes’ opener – leaving Liam Daish’s side still in search of their first win of the season.
The Fleet boss made a couple of changes from the draw against Newport – Joe Howe starting at right back in place of Craig Stone while Tom Phipp returned from suspension at the expense of Alex Stavrinou. But the home side looked lethargic as they failed to assert themselves on the game or get into any kind of rhythm in the opening half hour.
The visitors, having won 6-1 on their travels last week – at Alfreton – looked comfortable, passing the ball across midfield, looking to play in danger men Reece Styche and Charlie Griffin. With just four minutes on the clock, Keiron Forbes played in Jared Hodgkiss who had got behind the Fleet defence and he flashed a shot just wide of Preston Edwards’ far post when he had more time than he realised to pick his spot.
That warning did little to wake Fleet up and twice in quick succession Griffin was allowed to shoot at goal, once wide and the other saved by Edwards. The visitors should have gone ahead shortly afterwards when a long ball hoisted forward from the Rovers half was misjudged by Clint Easton, allowing Yan Klukowski a free run on goal but Easton recovered well and robbed the FGR player with a superb inch-perfect tackle.
Twice Rovers claimed a penalty, once as Styche theatrically swooped over the top of Edwards long after the ball had left his feet and the second time after seeing his shot deflected by Ian Simpemba but the referee was having none of those appeals. Nonetheless the visitors looked in complete control and several times only last-ditch defending and bodies thrown in to block shots saved Fleet from falling behind.
On the half-hour mark, Daish grabbed the bull by the horns and made an early tactical substitution, Ricky Shakes replacing Giannoulis Fakinos who had been left a bystander given much of Rovers’ midfield sparkle. And the change paid dividends within five minutes when Fleet went ahead against the run of play, Joe Howe’s high ball into the six-yard box fluffed by goalkeeper Matt Bulman, leaving Shakes’ head to do the rest.
That goal sparked Fleet into life and suddenly Rovers looked like the team chasing shadows. Calum Willock and former FGR striker Liam Enver-Marum had chances before the break while a clear tug on Willock’s shirt inside the box was missed by the referee.
Fleet should have killed the game within seconds of the restart when a quite wonderful, powerful run by Enver-Marum through the Rovers defence looked as if it was going to yield a goal but the final shot was parried by Bulman into the path of Michael West on the edge of the six-yard box. The Fleet top scorer should probably have hit it first time but he went for the second touch and Rovers cleared twice, Willock trying to force the rebound over the line.
With Howe and West causing plenty of problems down the flanks for the Fleet, FGR just couldn’t find the pattern of play that had served them so well for the opening half-hour. Phipp and Shakes both had good long-range efforts before Fleet’s play was disrupted by what looked to be a slight injury to West and he was replaced by Stone on the hour mark.
Though Howe and Shakes were still giving FGR full back Chris Stokes a torrid time, the vistors were beginning to stem the flow and find gaps of their own to exploit. And on 71 minutes, Forbes carved open the Fleet defence with a well-placed through ball and Styche ran on unchallenged to stroke the ball past Edwards for the equaliser.
Both sides probed for an opening in the final 20 minutes but seemed to have run out of creative ideas, though the impressive Howe twice came close for the Fleet with a couple of decent shots. Fleet certainly escaped in the opening half hour but will be kicking themselves for failing to take the three points when they were on top. That said, neither side could really complain about a point that leaves Fleet desperate to land that first victory at their fellow promoted side – Braintree Town – on Bank Holiday Monday
TEAM: Edwards, Howe, Herd, Easton, Simpemba, West (Stone 57), Marwa, Fakinos (Shakes 30), Phipp (Stavrinou 73), Enver-Marum, Willock. Subs not used: Welch, Ginty.
Liam Enver-Marum was voted Man of the Match against Newport. Vote for the FGR match using drop-down panel at top of screen.