Report by Ed Miller
Fleet fans could have been forgiven for thinking the ghost of John Akinde had returned to his old haunts this afternoon as latest teenage sensation Kwesi Appiah came off the bench to score with his first touch and set up the winner with his second. Akinde’s Fleet debut came against Woking and, although Appiah’s first game was at Rushden, it will be this match that could be remembered as the breakthrough of another talented youngster.
Liam Daish handed Kezie Ibe his first start in place of the sick Luke Moore who had just returned from Bosnia on England C duty. His fellow international James Smith also made way as Paul McCarthy returned to action, but Lance Cronin was deemed fit enough to start despite his gruelling trip to the Balkans as well.
It was a largely forgettable first half though Woking started the brighter, with former Fleet loanee Joel Ledgister leading the line. Wilfried Domoraud got around the Fleet back four on two occasions and Ledgister initially worried Darius Charles with some good running but ultimately flattered to deceive thereafter. Tall midfielder Liam Marum also looked capable and performed a couple of charging runs as he threatened to pull the strings in the middle until Jamie Hand clamped down on him.
Stacy Long had Fleet’s best chances, the most promising when he got on the end of a Ricky Shakes cross but fired over the bar and another when his weak downward header was saved from close range. Michael Gash also looked to profit from a potential howler when Millwall’s on-loan goalkeeper Lenny Pidgeley kicked the ball against a defender who managed to clear before Gash could intervene.
Pidgeley was guilty of a number of aerial rockets from goal kicks that simply sailed into Cronin’s hands and Woking, for all their initial running, seemed to have run out of ideas after half an hour. The Fleet picked up but beyond stamping their authority on the game, offered little else. Hand’s cool head in midfield allowed Shakes and Long to raid the flanks but the killer cross was absent and only a couple of wayward Neil Barrett and Gash shots threatened the Woking goal.
Come the second half and it was more of the same for the opening 10 minutes. Marum found Ledgister lurking on the edge of the Fleet box and as McCarthy inexplicably backed off, the young winger could have advanced on Cronin but for some reason chose to take the ball wide and the chance was gone. At the other end, Gash powered past Paul Lorraine and shot low on the turn to force Pidgeley into a save on 51 minutes and he then turned provider, floating a fine ball into the path of Shakes but the winger’s shot was off-target and high.
As the Fleet upped the pressure, Daish smelled blood and on 57 minutes decided to throw on Appiah to attack down the right, sacrificing Shakes in the process. It was a masterstroke, one of those substitutions that managers must dream about. Barely had Appiah trotted into position when he took advantage of a weak back header from Tom Hutchinson and eased in between defender and goalkeeper to nod a looping header under the bar. The chants of "genius" directed at Daish had barely subsided, and Appiah was still smiling about his goal, when he was suddenly released down the right wing to run beyond a flat-footed Woking defence and plant a cross at Neil Barrett’s feet for the former Cards midfielder to bundle the ball home. It was Barrett’s third goal in as many games, his fourth of the season, and given that he should have scored against Cambridge as well it is testament to the work Hand is doing that the Fleet Number 14 is looking increasingly the most likely attacking midfielder at the moment.
Woking briefly upped their game following the goal, Bradley Quamina powering a dangerous low shot into Cronin’s arms – about the only save of note the Fleet keeper had to make all game. But having never won at Stonebridge Road, the Cards certainly weren’t in a position to overturn that blemish in the last 20 minutes. Indeed had the woodwork not prevented Appiah’s superb header on 74 minutes following a great cross by substitute Danny Slatter – his first home appearance for more than a year – then the Fleet could have been out of sight long before the end.
Woking could not even turn to their saviour in two previous games against the Fleet – Giuseppe Sole – as the midfielder was having a torrid afternoon, getting on the end of some stick from the home fans and then seeing yellow for a petulant kick of the ball towards the River Thames. Hand capped a man of the match performance with a long-range shot that whistled past the post but the four minutes of time added on didn’t unduly worry the Fleet and the fans went home happy with a much-needed three points and happier still with a potential new hero to hail.
TEAM: Cronin, Ricketts, Opinel, McCarthy, Charles, Hand, Barrett (Stone 78), Long, Shakes (Appiah 56), Gash, Ibe (Slatter 70). Subs not used: Mott, Pooley.