Fleet end 2010 in the best possible way with victory over Dartford…
Short of a sudden collapse in league form or a meeting with Dartford in the FA Trophy, it is Ebbsfleet United who will claim local bragging rights for the 2010-11 season after seeing off their near neighbours in a 2-1 victory this afternoon.
Liam Daish named an unchanged side for this first league meeting between the two sides at Stonebridge Road since 1992 while Dartford started with ex-Fleet striker and York loanee George Purcell in their front line, a regular goal getter at this level in his season at Braintree Town.
The Darts started the brighter of the two sides, seemingly unaffected by the absence of flu-victim manager Tony Burman and they forced three early corners. Fleet took some time to get into their stride but when Joe Bruce bodychecked Michael West 20 yards out, Derek Duncan seized the opportunity to curl in a fantastic, quickly-taken free-kick that flew past goalkeeper Young and into the top corner.
Fleet should really have upped the ante but another free-kick, this time for Dartford, let the visitors back into the game within five minutes. Ryan Hayes floated in the set-piece from midfield and Elliott Bradbrook had the freedom of the Fleet box to pick an empty spot and head home an equaliser.
There was little to choose between the two sides with Charlie Sheringham giving Clint Easton plenty of problems in the air while Fleet were utilising Derek Duncan and Joe Howe on either flank to good effect but they lacked a killer delivery. Behind Howe, Craig Stone was also getting forward and he had two long-range attempts on goal while Gareth Williams toe-poked one shot that needed Young to parry before it was hacked away from the six-yard box.
Fleet should have edged in front on the half-hour mark when good work by Tom Phipp and Howe saw a cross delivered to the far post where Willock somehow scooped a shot across goal and wide from close range.
But the Fleet’s top scorer was not to be denied two minutes later when he sprinted on to a West through ball. With two Darts defenders in close attendance, he burst through the middle only to tumble beneath Bruce’s challenge. Man of the match in the clash at Princes Park, Bruce was dismissed and – despite the pessimistic groans around Stonebridge Road – Willock tucked away his first penalty attempt of the season.
Penalties and sendings off at Stonebridge Road are hardly new occurrences this season so Fleet were in familiar territory and closed out the half without giving the Darts space up front to exploit.
And that was by and large the script for the second half as Dartford looked lethargic after the restart. The Fleet dominated possession but neither goalkeeper had a particularly busy second 45 minutes. That said, the home side created plenty of half chances to extend their lead. Howe’s rampaging run through midfield to the flank saw him send in a low cross that beat everybody but Williams was a split second late in arriving and couldn’t convert.
West twisted and turned his way through the visiting defence on 53 minutes and should probably have played the ball out wide as his resulting shot was weak. On 68 minutes Williams went close with a decent turn and low shot that was a whisker wide and the frustration on the ex-Bromley striker’s face was clear to see.
Dartford were largely anonymous up front, Purcell reduced to foraging for scraps and loosing off the odd long-range shot. Hayes made way for James White but he was barely on the field 30 seconds when he saw yellow for a lunge on Tom Phipp.
The visitors showed a little more forward momentum in the final 20 minutes and Purcell stabbed a ball into Sheringham’s path but he was denied by a fine sliding tackle from Easton and then again by a save from Edwards. Fleet brought on Ricky Shakes and he had two breaks that troubled the white shirts but came to nothing for the Fleet.
As the minutes ticked away and the gloom descended on Stonebridge Road, the Darts wrote their own obituary as White, already booked, received a straight red when he went in high on Duncan right in front of the two benches.
There was still seven minutes to play including time added on and the Fleet should really have wrapped it up before the final whistle but the scoreline stood and Liam Daish’s side finished the year by moving into the play-off places.
For Dartford, they were undone by their first-half sending-off and Fleet’s refusal to give any quarter at the back in a display that will have no doubt disappointed their large following – but should these two sides meet again next season, then you can probably guarantee more fireworks.
TEAM: Edwards, Stone, Duncan, Howe, Easton, Lorraine, West, Marwa, Willock, Williams (Ginty 90), Phipp (Shakes 77). Subs not used: Hagan, Henry, Pooley
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