Fleet 2-1 Concord Rangers

Fleet came from behind to record a hugely welcome win on their first home display of 2021, an attacking performance – particularly in the second half – that was rewarded by stand-in skipper Adam Mekki’s first goal for the club.

Rakish Bingham netted his seventh of the season to quickly claw back Concord’s first-minute opener and with Chris Solly getting through 90 minutes on his debut, it was a great start to the year at the Kuflink Stadium.

Dennis Kutrieb made three changes to his side – in addition to Solly, Alfie Egan and Will Wood came in to the starting lineup, while Charlie Rowan, Reece Grant and Josh Payne made way. With a lack of available central defenders, it was the versatile Ben Chapman who partnered Sefa Kahraman, tasked with keeping the threatening Alex Wall at bay.

But Fleet were behind inside the first minute when loanee Lewis Simper put Wall clear of the home defence and he calmly took the ball on and stroked it beneath Jordan Holmes.

Fleet regrouped and adopted a patient approach in their bid to get back on level terms. There was little to show by either side for the next 10 minutes but when the home side did step up that gear, they were rewarded.

The equaliser came on 12 minutes. Bingham’s initial shot was blocked but picked up by Bobby-Joe Taylor who slid it wide to Mekki. The skipper’s shot on target was saved by the goalkeeper but Taylor was in again to find Bingham with a header. The No.9 had plenty still to do, making space before turning and slotting a low shot through a sea of legs that found its way into the bottom corner.

Bingham was proving a handful and he got a foot on Mekki’s delivery that was hacked out of the box before Solly’s clever rising shot from the edge of the box had Adam Przybek scrambling. Bingham was lurking for the follow-up but the flag went up as he shot over.

Fleet felt they’d taken the lead on 21 minutes when Taylor’s glancing header from a corner flew across goal and bounced off the foot of the post, the home players claiming it had gone over the line before Bingham’s follow-up was smothered by the visitors.

Concord forced a couple of half chances at the other end, Jack Bridge’s cross to Ashley Charles blocked by Jack Paxman before Wall rather wasted a free-kick from a promising position.

Five minutes from the end, Paxman’s energetic run from his own half found Wood who in turn returned the favour and Paxman picked his spot with an effort that was plucked out of the top corner by Przybek.

Will Wood attacks a cross as Concord’s defence holds firm on this occasion

The home side’s dominance for much of the second half suggested a goal was coming but the luck just wasn’t with the Fleet for the opening 20 minutes as they did everything but find the back of the net.

On 49 minutes Bingham found room to run at the defence, spreading play wide for Taylor whose cross back in was kneed over the bar by Bingham as he met the return ball.

Two minutes later, some fine play by Adebayo-Rowling saw him squeeze between two defenders to reach the byline. His delivery had the goalkeeper beaten but Tosan Popo hacked it out of the six-yard box to safety.

There followed 10 solid minutes of attacking football by Fleet, with Wood in particular involved in several chances. He exchanged passes with Bingham to drive into the box and deliver a shot that was cleared off the feet of Egan.

On 54 minutes, Wood again supplied the ammunition with a low cross from the right that Billy Roast got to just ahead of Bingham.

Four minutes after that, Wood’s strong twist and turn gained him room for a shot that he hit just wide of the foot of the near post and from a corner two minutes after that, Fleet recycled the move and Egan’s effort went across goal.

As the clock ticked towards the hour mark, the attacking waves grew incessant. A great move down the left saw Mekki and Egan involved, a delicate chip into the box perfect for Paxman’s intelligent run and attack from close range but his attempt was sent behind for a corner.

From that, Taylor’s shot was blocked in the six-yard box as the keeper overreached himself in coming for the set piece and then moments later Egan was on to a Bingham touch, driving a shot into the side netting with a little help from Przybek’s save.

But rather than feel dispirited by the charmed life the Concord goal was leading, Fleet kept coming and they were rewarded on 65 minutes. Egan’s battling play on the edge of the box forced Sam Blackman into a mistake and his poor backpass was pounced on by Bingham. Przybek was out smartly to block that but Mekki was on hand to calmly fire the loose ball home for 2-1.

Fleet went looking for a third and Taylor’s promising, strong run on 68 minutes ended with a shot that Przybek parried but almost dropped at the feet of Wood before recovering.

That was Wood’s last action, having run himself into the ground, and he departed with Paxman to make way for Iffy Allen and Alex Eirich.

Allen made an instant impression, crossing for Mekki to help propel the ball goalwards. Again Concord just about got it away, Roast’s foot diverting the ball out of the six-yard box where Eirich tried to get it back on target but it slid wide.

Egan’s low delivery 15 minutes from time capped another well-worked period of play but it just escaped Bingham’s toes and was gathered by the goalkeeper.

Concord made a couple of substitutions and they made a good go of the last period as they sought an equaliser. Chapman and Sefa Kahraman fought hard, the German centre-back enjoying one series of successive challenges that showed his desire to clear his lines. Protected by Solly just in front of them, the ex-Charlton man – who his manager had feared might not last the full 90 minutes – came through with flying colours.

The visitors had a couple of chances, nevertheless, and none more so than a glorious opportunity nine minutes from the end. After a fine tackle by Solly on the edge of the Fleet box, Blackman found Wall with a pass into the six-yard box. Despite strong suggestions of offside against Wall, he squared it to substitute Odei Martin who somehow fired over despite the goal opening up for him.

Concord also claimed a penalty on 84 minutes when another substitute, this time Temi Babalola, went tumbling in the box under Chapman’s challenge. Ashley Charles then attempted a lob as Jordan Holmes got in a little bother with Wall on the edge of his box but though the target was tempting, Charles’s direction was poor.

Fleet might also have extended their lead when Eirich found Mekki in an excellent position 12 yards out and the resulting shot was cleanly executed but thumped off the wall at the Plough End.

That mattered little once the added time ticked away as Fleet had their first home win of 2021 under their belts and seventh victory in nine meetings with Concord.

EUFC: Holmes, Adebayo-Rowling, Taylor (Dobson 82), Kahraman, Chapman, Solly, Egan, Paxman (Allen 69), Wood (Eirich 69), Mekki, Bingham. Subs not used: Grant, Hadler
CRFC: Przybek, Popo, Shaw, Blackman (Blanchfield 82), Roast, Pollock, Bridge (Babalola 80), A. Charles, Wall, Simper, R. Charles (Martin 63). Subs not used: Johnson, Haigh

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