The Fleet maintained their grip on second place and closed the gap on leaders Braintree after a hard-fought victory over Havant & Waterlooville. It was a double over the south coast side after Fleet had won the away fixture exactly one month ago.
Liam Daish was able to recall Michael West to the starting line-up after injury and his side started well, with Ashley Carew and Calum Willock immediately in the thick of things. And Paul Lorraine was inches away from putting his side ahead as Carew’s pacy corner shot across the goalmouth clear of the goalkeeper but the Fleet skipper couldn’t apply the finishing touch.
That miss proved costly as Havant took a shock lead on six minutes. Stephen Ramsey sent in a cross from the right and as Mustafa Tyriaki pulled Lorraine out of position, Wes Fogden connected well with his head, wrong-footing Preston Edwards and leaving the Fleet with it all to do.
But the home side responded well after an initial period of Havant dominance and West had two opportunities that he crafted himself but was let down by weak or inaccurate shooting. He almost forced defender Sam Pearce into an own goal as well, his cross ricocheting off the Havant man’s leg and looping over the goalkeeper and crossbar.
Fleet’s build-up play was good and Marwa supplied a cross that Willock lashed at while Carew and Erskine also got sight of goal inside the box before being muscled out of possession. But the home side deservedly were back on level terms on 26 minutes when Marwa smashed a high ball over the Havant defence and Willock outpaced his marker in his accustomed manner before finding space to smash home a shot past goalkeeper Nathan Ashworth.
With the scores level, Fleet continued to probe. Willock almost headed home Joe Howe’s free kick and West’s shot was another lacking power as the visitors were put on the back foot for the remainder of the half. But they defended resolutely, with hard challenges that saw Erskine and Ian Simpemba tangle on the edge of the box while Lorraine and Tyriaki were enjoying their own running battle at the other end of the pitch.
Simpemba and Erskine provided the first talking point as the second half opened as the Havant man was booked for what appeared to be an elbow on the edge of his penalty area and Carew sent the resulting free kick just past the post. Willock and Erskine were beginning to click and the Fleet’s top scorer got on the end of a long kick upfield to send a fine shot just wide with the goalkeeper a mere spectator.
He made no mistake with his next effort on 61 minutes, however. Marwa spread play wide to Erskine and he powered down the left to the byline, leaving Pearce in his wake. There looked to be few options but the Fleet new boy sent in a low cross and Willock deftly steered the ball past Ashworth from close range for his 16th league strike and 22nd goal in total of the season.
It was met with relief by the Stonebridge Road faithful but the fans were left chewing their fingernails as Havant stepped up their game and introduced former Fleet striker Giuseppe Sole. He instantly drew a save from a free kick from Edwards and then Sammy Igoe missed a glorious opportunity from Ian Selley’s cross with the Fleet goal gaping.
Sole was at the heart of much of Havant’s revival and he set Fogden up for his chance to score his second of the afternoon but he launched his shot wide from inside the box. Sole then attempted an audacious lob from the right touchline after Edwards had emerged off his line to attempt an interception and Fleet hearts were in mouths as the ball only just cleared the crossbar.
It was end-to-end stuff and Willock twice loosed off shots from good positions on the right side of the box that lacked any real power. Erskine let fly with another that was just too high and then he and Willock combined well to supply substitute Ricky Shakes who somehow lifted his shot over the bar from six yards out with Ashworth beaten.
Fleet dug deep in the final minutes to record an important three points after a couple of games without a win. With only Welling of the chasing pack dropping points, there was good news, however, in the form of Braintree’s defeat at Farnborough, meaning the Fleet are only four points off top spot.
TEAM: Edwards, Howe, Dunca, Carew, Pooley, Lorraine, West (Shakes 66), Marwa, Willock, Erskine, Phipp. Subs not used: Hawkes, Adam Williams, G Williams, Sherlock
Dean Pooley won man of the match last week. Vote now for today’s key player.