Preston Edwards saved the day for the Fleet with a last-minute penalty save that denied Newport County what would have been an undeserved three points at Stonebridge Road this afternoon.
With Matt Godden back in the fold, Liam Daish with an adventurous 4-3-3, Liam Enver-Marum and Nathan Elder joining Godden in attack, while a patched-up defence featured Tom Phipp at right back and Phil Walsh in the centre with Paul Lorraine. And Fleet didn’t look as if their recent travels had taken much toll as they were brighter than their title-challenging opponents from the first whistle, with the tactic clearly to use Elder’s muscle and Godden’s somewhat wide positioning to best effect.
But Newport had first sight of goal when Christian Jolley’s low shot was driven across goal in the fifth minute. Fleet looked confident coming forward, however, with Liam Enver-Marum’s power causing County some problems, while Gareth Gwillim’s overlapping runs down the left gave the visitors something to think about on both flanks.
Godden was centre stage for much of the opening 20 minutes glancing a header on target and sending three shots either wide or over the bar. Enver-Marum also went close with a header from an Ashley Carew ball in and was frustrated at being just inches from through on goal as Liam Bellamy’s useful run and delivery proved just that bit too long.
County twice had the ball in the net at the other end and saw Edwards push Michael Flynn’s shot onto the crossbar but each time play was pulled back for an offence. But it was a relatively lacklustre half with few clear-cut chances and Fleet must have thought they’d done enough to go in at the break on level terms.
It wasn’t to be, however, as Neil Barrett lost possession to Andy Sandell in midfield and he worked a delightful ball through to Scott Donnelly who delivered a cross to the far post for Lee Minshull to head past Edwards. Disappointment could have become disaster in time added on when Jolley ended the half as he began it, with a decent drive that flew just wide of the post.
Fleet resumed the second half in determined fashion and Minshull scrambled away a Gwillim corner before Elder worked an opening inside the box but shot wide. The equaliser arrived on 55 minutes when Gwillim’s free-kick was cleared as far as Carew and he whipped the ball into the danger area where, under pressure from Bellamy, County keeper Pidgeley couldn’t get to the ball before Enver-Marum turned it over the line. The visitors appealed in vain that play should have been stopped in the build-up for an injury to the prone Byron Anthony but the referee had waved play on.
Their tails up, the Fleet went at Newport with some vigour, Enver-Marum, Phipp and Bellamy all working good opportunities down the right flank. Walsh narrowly missed a Gwillim corner while there was plenty of good work in attempts to fashion an opening on the edge of the visitors’ box.
Conference top scorer Aaron O’Connor was introduced into the fray on 65 minutes and he headed just wide with his first touch of the ball as Newport continued to carry a threat on the break. Fleet’s eagerness around goal wore off towards the final 10 minutes but the introduction of Lanre Azeez, on after man-of-the-match Enver-Marum took a knock in a tackle, almost paid off when the winger twisted inside two challenges but his eventual shot went high and wide of the upright.
That appeared to be that as the game entered the final three minutes of time added on but with Newport’s last attack, Robbie Willmott got the wrong side of Walsh, who felled him with a clumsy challenge, and the referee had no option but to point to the spot. Up stepped Sandell to seal what seemed likely to be three points but Edwards had other ideas and dived to his left to keep the kick out.
The home goalkeeper was greeted by his teammates as if he had just scored a winning goal and the final whistle went immediately to give Fleet a hard won and thoroughly deserved point.
TEAM: Edwards, Phipp, Gwillim, Walsh, Lorraine, Barrett, Carew, Bellamy, Enver-Marum (Azeez 88), Godden, Elder. Subs not used: Menz, Shitta, Alabi.