Fleet shock Mansfield to grab superb first home win…
Goals from Magno Vieira and Peter Holmes ended 723 goalless minutes of torment for Fleet fans and at the same time broke the Fleet’s home duck as locals exited Stonebridge Road victorious for the first time since late April.
Liam Daish handed a debut to on-loan Addicks teenager Alex Stavrinou and he slotted in just in front of a back four that more or less picked itself given the Fleet’s suspensions and injury woes, while Ricky Shakes tucked in behind Magno Vieira rather than alongside him as has been the case in recent outings.
Mansfield, unbeaten in seven league games, had debutants of their own, Andy Burgess starting in midfield following his move from Luton and ex-Burton striker Lee Morris was on the bench.
But it was the Fleet who got off to a dream start barely three minutes into the game when a flowing move saw Vieira slip the ball out wide right to Shakes and the winger advanced into the final third before releasing the ball into the box. Vieira, continuing his run, sped on to it and stretched a leg to volley it past goalkeeper Andy Marriott from 10 yards.
The reaction on the terraces included a conga as goal-starved fans could barely believe their start, though Daish quickly calmed his charges and demanded they get on with the job in hand.
The visitors looked to reply immediately and striker Blair Sturrock showed good touches to unsettle the Fleet defence, though he headed wide from Michael Brough’s cross on 11 minutes. But the Stags’ equaliser on 16 minutes came from a far more erratic source as referee McLaughlin issued the first of a series of questionable decisions. Burgess, outside the box, sent a scorching shot goalwards that appeared to hit Gavin Heeroo on the chest and deflect for a corner. Even had it hit his hand, it was certainly a case of ball to hand given the speed at which the ball was travelling. Mansfield made vociferous protests for a penalty and the referee initially appeared to wave them away before deciding that he did in fact agree with them after all.
Former Oxford striker Rob Duffy confidently struck the spot-kick past Cronin and it seemed all the Fleet’s good work was once again undone. Yet the Fleet, rather than feeling sorry for themselves, went in search of justice. Dean Pooley showed great determination to climb highest from a corner to head just over the bar and then Vieira slid in and looked certain to convert Peter Holmes’ cross from the left byline but a combination of Luke Jones and the woodwork kept it out.
Mansfield continued to press, but Duffy’s wayward shot aside, never came close to taking the lead. Several times they threatened to break through but Heeroo and Ross Smith in particular pulled off excellent last-ditch tackles.
Stefan Bailey found himself victim of Mr McLaughlin’s inconsistency towards the end of the half for a challenge on Brough that certainly looked no worse than Jon Challinor’s on Will Salmon a minute before, and he picked up his second yellow card in as many games.
But if Fleet fans had seen it all before in terms of a promising first 45 minutes, they were in for a treat in the second as their side refused to let up. And a combination of Shakes, Holmes and Vieira – which became the pattern for the second-half – almost unlocked the Mansfield defence on 50 minutes. Shakes advanced down the right, slipped the ball wide to Holmes, and he crossed into the box where Vieira carved out a delicate shot that ended just wide of the near post.
On 55 minutes, Michael West broke upfield and Bailey despatched a wonderful crossfield pass for Vieira and though the Brazilian took it down well, he could only fire wide of the goal. Stavrinou tried his luck from distance a minute later as the Fleet enjoyed a spell of pressure and the Chalrton youngster had a hand in a quite brilliant second goal two minutes later. He calmly exchanged passes with Shakes before a ball over the top of the Stags defence found Vieira who produced a sublime back-heel into the path of Holmes and the Fleet skipper smashed a great shot past Marriott for 2-1.
It was exactly what the Fleet’s pressure deserved and they kept pouring forward with a purpose born of confidence. Vieira was giving the Mansfield central defenders a torrid time with his movement and skill, while Holmes’ ability to press forward, in part because of Stavrinou’s good defensive work, was giving the Fleet a hitherto-unknown dimension. West too was enjoying a much-improved game and he almost caught Marriott off his line as Mansfield dallied in defence and the Fleet midfielder’s 20-yard shot went just wide of an empty net.
The Stags had little to offer, even on the introduction of Morris for Sturrock; Duffy still looked to be a handful in the air but he was continually second best to Smith and Pooley and was eventually booked for his continued complaining at the officials, a punishment his colleague Matt Somner somehow escaped. At left-back, Salmon had a fine second 45 minutes and was able to get forward as much as defend to relieve the pressure on his colleagues.
But on 68 minutes, the Fleet got their biggest scare when Challinor crossed from the left and as the ball cleared Cronin, Pooley was on hand to hack it out of the six-yard box with yellow shirts lurking. Yet still the Fleet dominated and Shakes was giving left-back Paul Heckingbottom a torrid time, enjoying his role on the flanks where he was able to supply Vieira with a succession of opportunities. And the home side could have eased the worries of their fans five minutes from time when Vieira was bundled over by Burgess on the edge of the box as he attempted to turn, though it was another decision that looked a touch soft.
Vieira’s resulting penalty was also a touch soft, but would likely have made it into the back of the net had Marriott not guessed the right way and gathered it low. The Stags looked to profit and Cronin had to be alert to tip away a deep Louis Briscoe cross from under his bar but desperate for the three points, the Fleet refused to sit deep and Holmes had one final opportunity on target while man of the match Vieira struck another wide.
Three minutes beyond the 90 were not enough for Mansfield and the Fleet celebrated their first home win for seven months, their first win of any kind since August, and their first goals in 12 hours of football. It took a long time coming but the smiles at the end suggested it was well worth waiting for.
TEAM: Cronin, Heeroo, Salmon, Smith, Pooley, Stavrinou, Holmes, Bailey, West, Shakes, Vieira. Subs not used: Lamprell, Read, Wills, Welsh, Ginty.