More than 90 minutes separated the first and last goals in this match – but the Fleet had the final say as they grabbed a late, late equaliser that their positive play had richly deserved.
Starting the night with the same team that started against Stockport on Saturday, the Fleet got off on the wrong foot and went behind after only four minutes. A long ball forward exploited a hesitant Fleet defence, allowing former loanee Craig McAllister to knock the ball down into the path of Elliott Buchanan and he made no mistake, slamming the ball past Preston Edwards.
The home side took a while to respond as the big, powerful Newport forward line unsettled the defence and they looked dangerous whenever they got the ball forward. But slowly the Fleet found their game and they started to enjoy more territorial advantage. The first sight of goal came on the quarter-hour mark when Craig Stone fired in a shot from distance that was gathered by former Canvey and Cambridge goalkeeper Danny Potter and that was followed up when Clint Easton floated a wonderful long cross towards Michael West at the far post and he struck it well on the volley but again it went straight at Potter.
Fleet’s chances, while not exactly thick and fast, were certainly encouraging. Stavrinou forced Potter into a fingertip save on 22 minutes and then the same player set West free down the right but he fired into the side netting from an angle, the bulging net producing premature celebrations from Fleet fans. Stone also had another effort from distance that grazed the top of the crossbar but it was always rising. Newport seemed content to sit back and blunt Fleet’s attack as their unhurried, tidy back line managed to clear up any second balls with ease, while the highly rated Danny Rose and Ryan Gilligan kept the home midfield at bay.
But the Fleet really should have been back in the game on 40 minutes when Liam Enver-Marum’s re-taken free-kick smashed a path to goal. Potter parried it but as Stavrinou and Calum Willock swooped on the loose ball, Tom Miller’s superb last-ditch challenge managed to scramble the ball to safety.
The Fleet carried on where they left off in the second half, playing most of the game in the Newport half but the visitors again looked unruffled in defence with Ismail Yakubu’s physical presence and Paul Rodgers’ close control combining to take the edge off the home attack. And the Welsh side posted warning that they still had ambitions of a second goal on 55 minutes when Edwards was forced to tip over Buchanan’s fine, swerving drive from 20 yards.
Joe Howe replaced Stavrinou after that and his relentless tackling and pace gave the Fleet another dimension. Willock then glanced a header from a free-kick into Potter’s arms when more power might have got it past the keeper, while at the other end Edwards tipped another shot over the bar, this time from McAllister. And Edwards was again to the rescue when Buchanan danced through the standoffish Fleet defence and looked to have sealed the game as he fired in a low shot but the Fleet keeper somehow cleared with his legs.
Ginty was thrown into the fray on 72 minutes and he freshened things up, buzzing around the box in typical fashion. Liam Enver-Marum, who was enjoying a titanic battle with Yakubu, exhibiting a range of turns and flicks that succeeded and failed in equal measure, cut a path through the Newport defence on 71 minutes, got to the byline but smashed his shot into the side netting when he might have been best advised to pull it back into the box for his waiting strike partners.
And Fleet fans thought they’d grabbed an equaliser in the bizarrest of fashions when Ram Marwa’s innocuous flick-on was gathered and then spilled by Potter who gratefully pounced on the ball on the goalie as its momentum threatened to carry it over.
Ricky Shakes replaced Stone on 81 minutes and he injected more pace into Fleet’s forward line, skinning the Newport defenders three times to cross into the danger area. With full-time almost up, Fleet’s final chance looked to have gone when Rodgers diverted Shakes’ shot goalwards but it ballooned just too high and wide of the gaping net. But in the fifth minute of time added on, Shakes was felled and West’s swerving free-kick somehow made it through a packed penalty area to billow the net to the delight of the Fleet fans.
And the ground almost erupted seconds later when, straight from the kick-off, Shakes sprinted clear of the defence but his shot just lacked the power and accuracy to steal the most unlikely of victories. But still the drama wasn’t over as Sam Foley raced down the Newport left and his low cross was perfect for substitute Felino Jardim to apply the final touch. But somehow the player smashed it high over the crossbar from six yards as Fleet stared defeat in the face. The final whistle was a relief and a cue for celebration. It may be only Fleet’s first home point, but in such dramatic fashion it certainly adds to the feelgood factor on and off the pitch.
TEAM: Edwards, Stone (Ginty 72), Herd, Easton, Simpemba, Fakinos, Stavrinou (Howe 55), West, Marwa, Enver-Marum, Willock (Shakes 81). Subs not used: Welch, Azeez
Preston Edwards won Stockport man of the match. Vote now for tonight’s using the drop-down panel at the top of your screen.