Fleet 1 Southport 2

Lance Cronin saved a penalty on his 200th appearance for the Fleet but conceded two others as Southport grabbed a last-gasp victory from the spot.

Fleet made three changes to the side which lost at Fleetwood, Ross Smith replacing the injured Joe Howe, Tom Phipp returning in place of Neil Barrett and Ricky Shakes coming in for Nathaniel Pinney.

Cronin, back on home turf for the first time in almost 18 months, was straight into the action, saving a Tony Gray shot on three minutes. But the Fleet keeper almost gifted the visitors the lead on 17 minutes when he played a back pass into the path of Shaun Whalley who turned the ball into Gray and his shot came back off the post.

Fleet’s play was patchy and their best chances were limited to a deft Willock header that was gathered by Tony McMillan and a surging run from Phipp that ended in a shot into the goalkeeper’s arms.

But the Fleet were ahead on 29 minutes when Shakes was quickest to a ball out of defence and he sprinted forward before lofting a curling cross into the box where Ugwu met it with power and precision to head past McMillan.

Southport, however, had pace aplenty down the flanks and Whalley showed Smith a clean pair of heels on 32 minutes, flying into the box where he was unbalanced as Shakes came across to challenge him. It was a little soft, but there was contact, and the referee pointed to the spot. Cronin, however, got down low to his left to keep Gray’s spot kick out.

The visitors were forced into a change immediately afterwards, skipper Alan Moogan having injured himself earlier in a tumble after Phipp had pushed him, much to the derision of the home supporters.

But on 38 minutes Southport got a second bite at the cherry when Gray looked to take the ball round Cronin out wide and the Fleet keeper sent him tumbling on the edge of the box. Penalty number two was this time dispatched with power by Gray and Southport were level.

Fleet were more fluid in the second half, restricting Southport to the odd foray but the visitors lacked the ambition they’d shown in the first half. There was little goalmouth action, however, and Fleet were forced into a change on the hour mark when Yado Mambo pulled a hamstring stretching for a high ball into the Fleet half.

That meant Smith moved into his more usual central defensive position and the ever adaptable Phipp was moved to right back. But it didn’t unsettle the Fleet and Ugwu almost made it 2-1 after getting on the end of a Phipp pass but he had two stabs at the ball, the second ending up in the side netting.

And Fleet went even closer on 66 minutes when a free-kick found its way back in to the feet of Shakes and he lifted a reaction shot against the crossbar, Willock then just failing with the rebound.

That was Willock’s final contribution and he gave way to Pinney on 77 minutes as the game appeared to be heading for a draw. But then the home fans thought their side had snatched it on 85 minutes, after Liam Enver-Marum and Shakes combined to supply Ugwu and he stabbed the ball past McMillan, wheeling away in delight before the official’s flag cut short the celebrations.

As if Fleet’s relations with the officials weren’t at a low enough ebb, referee Amey had one last contribution. A minute from time, Whalley held the ball on the edge of the box, Pinney stuck out a leg and the Southport man had enough guile to go down. It looked to many observers as if it might be outside the box but the referee claimed his hat-trick of penalties and again Gray obliged, striking home a somewhat fortunate winner for the visitors on the balance of play.

TEAM: Cronin, Stone, Smith, Mambo (Barrett 59), Lorraine, Marwa, Shakes, Phipp, Enver-Marum, Willock (Pinney 77), Ugwu. Subs not used: McNeil, Williams, Stavrinou.
Att: 907

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