Fleet made it six wins in a row in all competitions – and three in the league – as Ben May’s second-half goal proved to be enough to cancel out the valiant efforts of struggling Gosport, who found themselves bottom of the table at full-time.
Steve Brown welcomed back Shane Huke, who returned to defence at the expense of Osei Sankofa, while Dean Rance’s suspension meant a start for Stacy Long. And the former Stevenage midfielder didn’t have to wait to make an impression when Ben May raced through but his shot was kept out by Gareth Barfoot and Long followed up with a volley over the goalkeeper.
Gosport responded and had the ball in the back of the net courtesy of Dan Wooden, but that was chalked off after the striker was ruled offside, while at the other end Anthony Cook showed some panache when he flicked the ball over his marker, spun and shot just wide on the turn.
Fleet’s gameplan was disrupted on 22 minutes when Alex Osborn succumbed to an earlier knock and he was replaced by Chris Sessegnon. The substitute twice got low crosses into his teammates in the box but that was as near as Fleet came to adding to their tally.
Instead, the visitors pressed for an equaliser and a succession of corners threatened the home defence, while Daniel Smith whistled a shot just past the post as he slipped in unnoticed behind Huke. But Fleet failed to heed the warnings and Gosport were back in it on 31 minutes when Sam Pearce’s somewhat hopeful drive from just outside the box looped off Paul Lorraine’s leg and over Edwards into the top corner of the goal.
For a side who struggled to score, the visitors suddenly had their tails up and they exploited Fleet’s temporary disarray as skipper Jamie Brown ran things in midfield. The home side had little rhythm and their passing went astray too often as Gosport found the deep defensive line to their liking.
Ebbsfleet still carried a threat going forward, however, and Sessegnon was in a good position from Cook’s cross but shot wide, while a direct free-kick on the edge of the box in time added on caused momentary anxiety in the Gosport defence.
Encouraged, the visitors emerged in the second half still on the front foot but their eagerness was cut short on 53 minutes when Fleet got the vital goal somewhat against the run of play. Sessegnon utilised his space to send in a high cross from the right flank where Barfoot fumbled the ball in the six-yard box. May had to dig the ball out of Barfoot’s tenuous grasp – on both the ball and his leg – and turn into space before slotting the ball home for 2-1.
With that goal, Fleet were able to re-establish their authority and didn’t look unduly troubled for the remainder of the game. Indeed they had a golden opportunity on 75 minutes to take a 3-1 lead after Cook was tripped just inside the box. But Billy Bricknell’s spot kick was well saved by Barfoot, diving low to his left, and Sessegnon planted the rebound past the side netting.
There was same late excitement for both teams as first Fleet passed the ball along the Gosport back line with some skill, an approach of at least 20 passes, before Long put McMahon through on goal and his shot was parried by Barfoot, before McMahon followed up with a curling drive that the goalkeeper had to tip over the bar. At the other end, a free kick in the dying seconds for Gosport saw Wooden drive a shot through a crowded box but fortunately for the Fleet, it was off-target.
The victory takes Fleet to sixth in the league table ahead of a vital week in their season – a trip to Bishop’s Stortford on Tuesday that could see Brown’s side climb above their opponents in fourth place – and then the big FA Cup clash at home to Dartford.
TEAM: Edwards, Howe, Palmer, McMahon, Lorraine, Huke, Osborn (Sessegnon 11), Long, May, Bricknell (Corcoran), Cook. Subs not used: Hall, Sankofa, Thalassitis