FLEET SHOW HEART AND SOLE AS GEZ SCORES TWICE TO TOPPLE LEAGUE LEADERS…
EBBSFLEET UNITED 2-1 BURTON ALBION
Report by Ed Miller
Giuseppe Sole stole the show as another immense Fleet performance
humbled league leaders Burton Albion who were limited to a handful of
chances as the home side lifted themselves out of the relegation zone
as they head into the Trophy
semi-finals. Liam Daish stuck with the same side that started against
York City, though Giuseppe Sole seemed to be playing further forward as
the Fleet went in search of three points they desperately needed after
dropping into the bottom four 24 hours earlier.
Burton, this time in blue as opposed to the yellow they wore for the
abandoned game, came to Stonebridge Road on the back of their first
defeat in 15 games and started up front with top scorer Greg Pearson,
while Marc Goodfellow occupied the left side instead of the right as he
did back in February. And the league leaders got off to the stronger
start, determined not to make the same mistake that led to a
third-minute goal for the Fleet in the previous game. They forced two
early corners and a free kick inside the opening five minutes and with
Jamie Yates down the right, looked to have an outlet for the hard graft
John McGrath was putting in down the middle.
The Fleet gradually upped their game, however, and Neil Barrett should
have done better on six minutes when he gathered Michael Gash’s
flick-on at the edge of the box but he hit a shot way off target and
high. Four minutes later and a free-kick from Giuseppe Sole was floated
into Gash at the far post but his downward header from eight yards was
beaten away by veteran goalkeeper Kevin Poole.
Their confidence regained, the Fleet midfield raised their game and
Long’s little bursts of industry were releasing Sole and John Martin,
the latter’s long-distance shot pushed round the post by Poole on 25
minutes. But Long and Luke Moore tangled in midfield five minutes later
which allowed Burton to break and Shaun Harrad raced clear and snapped
off a shot that Lance Cronin did well to get down low to parry.
With Leon Crooks and Darius Charles immense at the back, Burton’s
much-vaunted strike force were getting only little scraps to feed off
and though Ricketts was camped in his own half for much of the game, he
and Sacha Opinel also got stuck in with vital tackles.
But the Fleet, for all their gusto, were lacking the killer ball as
they had on Sunday and so it was left to a set piece to provide the
breakthrough. On 33 minutes, Sole was upended by Michael Simpson as he
backed into the area and as three Fleet players lined up to take it, it
was the loan player from Woking who stepped up to curl a wonderful
trademark shot past Poole.
Marc Goodfellow found space minutes later down the Burton left on one
of the few occasions where the Fleet defence was found wanting but his
angle was tight and the best he could manage as Cronin advanced was a
shot into the side netting. Minutes before half-time, the Fleet almost
grabbed a second when Ricketts exchanged passes with Moore in a fine
move down the right and Moore cut the ball inside to Martin. His
delicate chip into the box deflected off a Burton head and Poole had an
anxious moment as he stretched to push it wide.
The high-flying visitors had to that point showed little of the ability
that has taken them to the non-league summit bar the odd flash of skill
and a hint of danger from Harrad and Goodfellow. Sixteen-goal Pearson
was almost non-existent as a threat but within four minutes of the
restart, Burton showed they had speed and power about them. As the
Fleet line pushed up, McGrath’s long ball wide found a suspiciously
offside Yates. He sped down the wing and crossed into Pearson who
showed great ability to glance a well-directed header past the stranded
Cronin for his first goal since December.
Briefly, the Fleet felt sorry for themselves and retreated to lick
their wounds. Opinel was forced to head clear a Yates free-kick while
Charles almost lost possession to Goodfellow out wide but recovered to
clear the danger. Sole had another free-kick clear the crossbar but on
the hour mark, the Fleet found their feet again and pushed Burton back
into their own half. Set pieces galore followed, with corners and
free-kicks providing ammunition for Martin and Sole, while Long had an
effort on target but straight at the keeper from Gash’s pass.
The Fleet’s movement was causing problems for the visitors with Sole
and Gash at the heart of matters. On 66 minutes they combined again to
free Long down the left but the midfielder’s shot was disappointing.
But it was from a similar move that the Fleet once again took the lead
three minutes later. Barrett and Sole combined on the edge of the box
and then found Opinel lurking. His ball wide to Long on the left was
lifted into the air and as Andy Corbett tried to cut out the cross he
was adjudged to have handled it right in front of the referee. Sole
surprised the 711-strong crowd as he stepped up to take the penalty
rather than Moore and he made no mistake, burying it into the bottom
The final 20 minutes was hardly relaxed but Burton offered little in
return. Moore went close again with a shot on 77 minutes and then Gash
decided to go it alone with a chance when substitute Derek Duncan was
in the clear down the left. The visitors, by now playing veteran Darren
Stride and substitute Jon Newby up front seemed to have no answer –
other than the verbal barrage that Simpson constantly issued towards
the referee, although they had one last hurrah in injury time, Danny
Holmes and Newby combining to win a corner that had the Fleet defence
But the Fleet held on for a vital three points which lifts them out of
the relegation zone and gives them some breathing space in the league
as they must now wait another 13 days before resuming the fight against
the drop. But on this impressive evidence, there is more than enough
fight and ability to push up that table.
TEAM: Cronin, Ricketts, Crooks, Charles, Opinel, Barrett, Martin, Long (Duncan 80), Moore, Gash, Sole (Slatter 84).
Subs Not Used: Smith, Ibe, Shakes.