Ebbsfleet United produced a stunning comeback yet again as they wrestled three points from the jaws of defeat at home to Stockport County. And the win – on a day when this fixture was the only league game in the country’s top five divisions – lifts Fleet up a place to 14th.
Liam Daish was forced into just one change, Tom Phipp replacing Ricky Shakes who was away on World Cup duty with Guyana, while long-term injury victim Liam Enver-Marum was fit enough for a place on the bench. Fleet were straight into the action after a well-observed minute’s silence for Remembrance Sunday and Ram Marwa got on the end of Michael West’s corner to the far post but scythed his shot wide of the upright.
On nine minutes West’s free-kick was smashed low across goal by Phipp with Neil Barrett just failing to connect while Stockport looked to use their pace advantage down the right flank where Joe Edwards and Michael Paton were giving Joe Howe plenty to think about. Indeed Paton got the first effort at goal for the visitors as he outpaced Howe and struck a low shot into the side netting.
Nathaniel Pinney was making his presence felt and he was in a great position from Howe’s cross but the ball eluded him first time and his bicycle kick at the second attempt was blocked. Danny Rowe went close for visitors on 18 minutes with a header and then Paul Lorraine pulled off a superb, if crunching tackle, eight yards out to deny Nick Chadwick as Stockport howled for a penalty. However, two minutes later they got one as Phipp – rather harshly in the eyes of many among the home support – was adjudged to have pushed Tom Elliott on the edge of the box and Chadwick converted the spot kick though Edwards got a touch on the ball but could only divert it into the side netting once over the line.
The goal galvanised managerless Stockport and they seemed busier and quicker to the ball in midfield than the Fleet on a slippery surface. They should have made it 2-0 when Rowe wriggled free of Yado Mambo and played in Jon Routledge who smacked a shot off the post from 10 yards. Fleet’s attacks were limited to a couple of Calum Willock headers that generally lacked real power, while Chadwick looked menacing for the visitors. But it was Pinney who had perhaps the best chance for the home side to equalise, powering into the box from Barrett’s pass and shaking off Halstead’s challenge – and trailing leg. Others might have gone down looking for a penalty or a dismissal for the goalkeeper but Pinney continued to chase as the ball went out for a goal kick.
The visitors pinned the Fleet back early on in the second half as they grew in confidence and maintained their ascendancy in midfield and Rowe’s rather half-hearted effort almost escaped Edwards at his near post. But the home side gradually upped the tempo and West had a couple of decent deliveries from free-kicks cleared. Then came Fleet’s best chance up to that point when Willock set Pinney clear on 53 minutes and the loanee striker did well to hold off his marker but dragged his shot wide of the far post. Five minutes later Pinney was in the thick of the action again as he chose the solo route but blasted into Halstead’s arms. From the kick out Halstead hit the ball at Pinney’s back and as the Fleet striker looked to head the rebound into the danger area, Carl Piergianni crashed into him in mid-air. Fleet fans howled for a penalty but the referee waved play on.
He further enraged both sets of supporters after Euan Holden’s momentum took him tumbling over the Main Terrace wall in what could have been a nasty incident but awarded Stockport a free kick and then booked the taker for time wasting.
Enver-Marum returned to action in place of Phipp on 59 minutes and he thundered one of his trademark shots just wide six minutes later. The striker’s introduction gave Fleet more threat going forward but they still failed to trouble Halstead in the Stockport goal and it was difficult to see where an equaliser was coming from. But if this season has proved anything, it’s that the part-time Fleet are particularly dangerous in the final 10 minutes. And so it was again as Pinney unlocked the defence and his effort caused a scramble in the six-yard box that saw Nabil Braham-Bounab eventually clear off the line from a succession of potshots. From the resulting West corner, Howe drifted in a cross and Willock rose highest from a ruck of players to send a header over Halstead for the equalising goal.
Most Fleet fans would have taken the point but the 11 men in red had other ideas. Seven minutes after Willock’s goal, and two minutes from time, they broke Stockport hearts. Pinney took advantage of a tiring County defence as he raced down the right flank and sent in a cross that eluded the goalkeeper and went in off the post – though Enver-Marum claimed the goal with the final touch. It was another late flurry that had Stonebridge Road bouncing – six league games without defeat, and the fourth win of that run, has put the Fleet into a respectable lower mid-table berth – and there’s no reason to doubt they can’t climb higher.
TEAM: Edwards, Stone, Howe, Mambo, Lorraine, Marwa, Barrett, Phipp (Enver-Marum 59), West, Willock, Pinney. Subs not used: Welch, Herd, Simpemba, Darvill.
Preston Edwards won man of the match v Newport. Vote now for today’s player using drop-down menu above.