A spirited second-half was not enough to cancel out an atrocious first as Fleet shipped three early goals and never quite recovered despite scoring two quickfire replies and seeing Barrow reduced to 10 men.
Ben Greenhalgh earned his first start of the season at the expense of Liam Enver-Marum while Craig Stone returned to the side with Patrick Ada out through suspension. And Fleet started the better of the two sides, Tom Phipp playing a nice through ball into Moses Ashikodi’s path 12 yards out but the striker’s shot was easy enough for goalkeeper Danny Hurst.
Fleet continued to enjoy the lion’s share of possession in the opening 20 minutes with Greenhalgh looking to set up crosses for Nathan Elder and Ashikodi buzzing across the back line looking for an opening. But the home side only had themselves to blame for for falling behind on 20 minutes. Phil Walsh should have cleared his lines but allowed Adam Boyes to nip in and he squared the ball to Richie Baker who fired past Preston Edwards. And five minutes later things got even worse when Paul Rutherford had space to set up a shot, though there was an element of good fortune as his shot deflected off Walsh and found its way into the net.
That was more than enough to put Fleet on the back foot and they struggled to find any of their earlier rhythm with Barrow buoyed by the unexpected two-goal windfall. And if the visitors found that something of a bonus, they were positively jubilant on 33 minutes. With Barrow again threatening, a ball was half-cleared to the edge of the box and as Baker came steaming in to take the shot, he was brought down by Phipp. Dusting himself down, the Bluebirds midfielder converted the spot-kick for his second and his side’s third goal.
By now thoroughly dispirited, Fleet seemed to be going through the motions as Barrow cruised towards half-time. Ram Marwa had a weak shot saved by Hurst and Elder headed over but the game looked all but over as the referee blew for half-time.
Liam Daish resisted the urge to make any player changes but he did push Joe Howe forward and rejigged his side into a 3-5-2 formation. And this more than paid off within the space of two second-half minutes, first with Phipp lashing home a low shot, almost in anger, as he roused his teammates. Then, from Greenhalgh’s corner, the head of Elder once again proved irresistible and suddenly it was 3-2, Fleet fans finding their voice and conviction once more.
Barrow were finally rocking as Fleet started to play some decent football, looking confident of getting an equaliser and Marwa’s shot from the byline cannoned off the post. Defender Sean Hessey was booked on 55 minutes for sending Stone tumbling and amazingly got his marching orders three minutes after that for raising his arm to teammate James Owen as the pair argued.
Now it seemed just a matter of waiting for the equaliser as Barrow seemed to have hit the self-destruct button but substitute Gavin Skelton’s introduction steadied their defensive ship. And Fleet then shot themselves in the foot again on 63 minutes. Walsh was caught in possession and as Boyes raced clear, he was fouled by Marwa on the edge of the box. Baker stepped up to curl an excellent shot just under the bar and out of Edwards’ reach to record his hat-trick.
That knocked the Fleet’s momentum for six and although the home side maintained the pressure on the Barrow goal, the renewed two-goal cushion was too dispiriting. Elder and Neil Barrett saw shots saved and then Elder headed a rising ball just over the bar from close range. Stone, Howe and Ashikodi all worked hard around the edges of the box to unlock the Barrow defence but another goal was just too far out of reach, summed up when substitute Enver-Marum got goalside of the defence but planted his shot over the bar.
Barrow could have made it 5-2 near the end when Boyes, who 30 seconds earlier had been rolling around the floor in agony, sprinted clear of the Fleet defence and hit a shot against the post.
The result allowed Barrow to pull clear of a Fleet side now just three off the bottom – and while the second-half fightback gave the supporters something to believe in, it shouldn’t paper over the cracks of a first-half performance that cannot be repeated if Fleet have ideas about climbing back up that table.
TEAM: Edwards, Stone, Howe, Walsh, Lorraine, Marwa, Barrett, Greenhalgh (Enver-Marum 72), Phipp, Ashikodi, Elder. Subs not used: Menz, Akinde, Williams, Bellamy.