Two superb second-half goals capped another victory for the Fleet as this 3-0 win over Gloucester saw Steve Brown’s men extend their winning run to six successive games and so move into Round Two of the FA Trophy.
Stacy Long’s midweek heroics earned him a starting place ahead of Alex Osborn while Michael Corcoran came in for Dean Rance and Billy Bricknell profited from Ben May’s shoulder injury to regain his spot up front.
It was a fairly lacklustre opening period with Gloucester’s early showing certainly belying their basement position in Skrill North as they looked more assured than some of Fleet’s Skrill South opponents. The visitors forced two corners in the first quarter hour and Preston Edwards made a save from Joe Parker as City started well.
Parker had another shot and Edwards forced Kyrtis McKenzie’s long-range effort behind for another set piece as Fleet sat back. That changed midway through the first half when Long’s errant shot was the first sight of goal for the home side. That was quickly followed by a decent cross in from Daryl McMahon that Bricknell headed just over the bar. Anthony Cook then found Long in a good central position but he sent a wayward effort into the Swanscombe End.
The best chance for either side went Fleet’s way just past the half-hour point when Michael Thalassitis’ almost speculative effort from outside the box curled low and fast towards the foot of the post and goalkeeper Mike Green had to fling himself along his goalline to stop the ball creeping in.
An injury to the visitors’ McKenzie forced Jordon Goddard to fill in at left back and he almost immediately regretted it as a slip almost let Cook in with a free run on goal but the Fleet winger was stopped in his tracks at the last minute.
But four minutes before half-time, Fleet broke the deadlock. Chris Sessegnon whipped in a delivery from the right flank and as Thalassitis put Green under pressure, the goalkeeper failed to gather and Bricknell was on hand to slot the loose ball into the back of the net.
That goal gave Fleet the platform on which to build and at almost exactly the moment Thalassitis scored against Basingstoke last week, he repeated the trick. And what a goal it was. Gloucester had fashioned an opening on 53 minutes that saw Matt Liddiard set up Zack Kotwica with a great opportunity but his fresh-air shot was cleared upfield. Bricknell received it and laid off a fine pass into the path of Thalassitis that split the Gloucester defence. The Fleet striker could have played Bricknell back in but he chose to go it alone and burst into space before unleashing an excellent shot past Green for 2-0.
Osborn replaced Cook on the hour mark and almost immediately his deft ball wide to Bricknell saw Green just scramble the ball away but only as far as Long who fired over from 10 yards.
But the visitors refused to lie down and enjoyed a 20-minute spell when they were clearly on top. Edwards had to save well from Connor Waldon’s shot and Darren Mullings’ well-taken free-kick saw the Fleet goalkeeper produce a fine save to push the ball behind for a corner, one of a succession won by the Tigers as they attempted to claw their way back into the game. Steve Brown may well have sensed his side taking on too much pressure and swapped Long for Rance. It had the desired effect as City’s best spell of the match passed without a goal.
Bricknell and Thalassitis were both off target with efforts before Fleet wrapped things up three minutes from time with the goal of their season so far. McMahon stood over what looked to be a routine free kick from 35-40 yards but spotting Green slightly off his line he hoisted a fantastic shot deep into the City box, over Green and into the back of the net – with a celebratory run to match the quality of the strike.
TEAM: Edwards, Sessegnon, Palmer, McMahon, Lorraine, Sankofa, Long (Rance 73), Corcoran, Bricknell, Thalassitis, Cook (Osborn 59). Subs not used: Hall, Howe, Basey.