If the story of Fleet’s season could be told inside 90 minutes then this game – Fleet’s 10th home draw – was probably it. Seemingly looking good for three points after so many near misses of late, Fleet succumbed to a last-minute goal against fellow relegation rivals that leaves the mountain they need to climb looking ever higher.
With Nathan Elder suspended, Liam Daish opted for a frontline of Liam Enver-Marum and the returning Moses Ashikodi in his first start since early November while on the bench was recent Spanish signing Ubay Luzardo.
Nuneaton began with a couple of half chances, Delroy Gordon heading over on 4 minutes and Louis Moult blasting over from 10 yards. Fleet had a few sights of goal but nothing to trouble goalkeeper Lee Burge. His opposite number Preston Edwards, however, showed why he is probably a shoe-in for player of the year on 23 minutes, palming Moult’s low shot around the post after the Nuneaton player had waltzed through the Fleet defence.
On 25 minutes Tom Phipp had a wild swing at a ball that sat up nicely 15 yards out and, while he’s been known to score those in the past, this one ballooned away over the back fence. Neither side was really creating much in a game that had end-of-season written all over it and the visitors were curiously laid back considering their predicament in the relegation scrap.
But where Phipp failed before, he succeeded on 33 minutes. A Gareth Gwillim free kick was only half cleared to Neil Barrett and he teed the ball up for Phipp who didn’t hit his shot cleanly but was nevertheless delighted when it looped over goalkeeper Burge and two of his defenders for 1-0.
Nuneaton had a chance to equalise six minutes later when Jack Saville was beaten to a long ball by Wesley York who cut inside and drew another fantastic save from Edwards.
And with Edwards the hero of the first half, the woodwork could well have claimed the plaudits in the second 45 minutes as Nuneaton pushed forward with more purpose. But Fleet almost got their noses further in front three minutes into the half when Phipp played in Ashikodi who saw the goalkeeper had left an angle and he fired a shot that skimmed along the surface and went just wide.
The referee won few friends in Stonebridge Road on 50 minutes after Simon Forsdick’s three attempts to foul a breaking Liam Enver-Marum were ignored but when Forsdick challenged Barrett seconds later, the Fleet midfielder found himself cautioned for diving.
The visitors came their closest yet to scoring on 66 minutes when James Armson’s free kick was met by former Canvey Island defender Gavin Cowan and his header hit the bar. At the other end Phipp placed the first of two good shots wide of the post before Nuneaton were back on the front foot. Edwards gathered well from an Armson free kick in a dangerous position before Wes York tested the woodwork’s rebounding qualities yet again with a header in front of a gaping goal.
Daish introduced Craig Stone into a lately unfamiliar midfield role in place of Barrett and brought Luzardo on for Saville but the change did nothing to steady Fleet’s nerves at the back. Nuneaton hit the post for a third time when Andy Brown looked certain to score and it seemed Fleet’s luck, largely absent for the season, had returned in earnest.
But with barely 45 seconds of normal time remaining, Phil Walsh seemed harshly penalised on the edge of the box. Tom James’ free-kick from the right was floated to the back post – a tactic that had failed Nuneaton throughout the previous 89 minutes – and there was goal machine Brown to head into the net. It was the least the visitors deserved given their second-half performance, but it merely rubbed salt into Fleet’s wounds as yet another three points slipped from their grasp.
TEAM: Edwards, Howe, Gwillim, Walsh, Saville (Luzardo 78), Barrett (Stone 76), Carew, Phipp, Bellamy, Enver-Marum, Ashikodi. Subs not used: Menz, Azeez, Williams