The Fleet succumb to an injury-time goal as Hayes win their first game of the season…
While ‘must-win’ was perhaps a little dramatic a billing for this game, ‘must-not-lose’ was certainly on the minds of a few supporters as both sides came out into the sunshine desperate for their first three points of the season. And just as it looked like neither would get their wish, a goal two minutes into stoppage time gave the visitors a precious victory and left the Fleet in the doldrums.
Making two changes, the curious tactical move of Dean Pooley in for Scott Shulton in the centre of midfield, the good news came in the form of Ricky Shakes being passed match fit and he returned in place of Michael West.
It was his opposite number Ishmael Welsh, however, who raised the first talking point of the afternoon, racing down the left and cutting inside the area in the opening minute only to be felled – illegally it seemed to most Fleet fans – by Danny Allen-Page’s challenge.
But with the protests still ringing in referee Yeo’s ears – not the most popular of officials at Stonebridge Road – Fleet were undone by their own errors. Will Salmon’s lapse let Scott Fitzgerald through on goal and as Lance Cronin raced out of his goal, and stayed out, Fitzgerald swung a cross to on-loan Wycombe striker George Daly and he outmanoeuvred two Fleet players, picking his spot to make it 1-0.
Given their long spell without a goal, it was something of a surprise to see an immediate riposte from the Fleet. Three minutes later Shakes found room down the right and whipped in a low cross that found Magno Vieira and he poked the ball through a crowd for the equaliser.
Now the Fleet started to impose themselves and the impressive Vieira had two bites at the cherry in the six-yard box that former Fleet keeper Simon Overland stopped. Vieira again tested Overland minutes later from close in and Welsh had another opportunity on 19 minutes, firing low with the ball almost skidding above the diving Overland.
The tall Simon Thomas powered a header narrowly over and then Welsh again had a good chance as Gavin Heeroo played a neat ball wide and the Fleet winger drew another save from Overland. At the other end, Fitzgerald really should have put Hayes in front when the Fleet defence went walkabout but he somehow headed a decent cross low and wide of the far post.
The second half was set for the Fleet to step up a gear but they did nothing of the sort as the game became scrappy and devoid of chances. Shakes blazed over after good work from Heeroo early on, while Jordan Collins sent in two crosses that Vieira and Welsh just couldn’t get on the end of as Hayes defended in numbers. Charles also came close from a Collins free-kick but after that 15-minute spell, the Fleet seemed to run out of ideas.
On 61 minutes, Hayes posted their intent when Fitzgerald’s header struck the bar with a little help from Cronin and they had two further chances, Tom Cadmore’s delicate header flashing wide and then Rob Gradwell failing to hit the target from close range.
The Fleet looked a little goal shy, particularly when Vieira went off though his replacement, Scott Ginty, was inches away from scoring as he turned a low cross wide of the post after Heeroo had played Shakes in on goal.
But Hayes continued to press and they struck the woodwork again on 88 minutes, Fitzgerald again heading goalwards, Cronin as ever doing very well to tip the ball over the bar. And with Fleet fans heading for the exits grumbling about a point, they lost even that consolation. A mix-up in the Fleet defence allowed the ball to run under Leon Crooks to substitute Toby Little and the Hayes man recovered from his surprise to find himself with only Cronin to beat, which he duly did to the delight of the travelling Hayes contingent.
Fleet were left hoping that their travelling contingent can celebrate the same way on Monday… but it will need more application than was on show today to do so.
TEAM: Cronin, Salmon, Collins, Charles, Crooks, Heerooo, Pooley, Shakes (Forshaw 82), Welsh, Thomas, Vieira (Ginty 76). Subs not used: Lamprell, Shulton, Henry.