Ebbsfleet United removed Staines’ threat with a first-half goal blitz that was more than enough to consolidate their position in the play-off zone and with it move to within a point of second-placed Eastleigh.
With the weather once again eating up a large chunk of the Skrill South fixture list, Stonebridge Road withstood a downpour shortly before kick-off to give Fleet the chance to get more points on the board in what is becoming an ever-more hectic spring schedule for their rivals.
Steve Brown was forced into one change, Joe Howe replacing the suspended Chris Sessegnon, against a Staines side that carried the threat of former Fleet hero Calum Willock and the rangy 13-goal Louie Theophanous.
Fleet got their tails up immediately and within five minutes were a goal to the good. Anthony Cook set up the first of a hat-trick of assists with a neat ball across the box that fell to Billy Bricknell and the Fleet’s top scorer had room to rifle it home beneath Jack Turner.
Staines played some neat football initially, driven by Stephane Ngamvoulou, but were wasteful in the final third with two or three efforts off target, while danger man Theophanous was well shackled by Howe.
McMahon hoisted a free-kick high of the upright after a foul on Cook as Fleet pressed for a second and on 30 minutes a neat interchange between Bricknell and Michael Thalassitis saw the ball sit up for Dean Rance but his low drive skimmed just wide of the near post.
Any threat Staines carried fell further away and it invited the Fleet onto them. On 33 minutes, a fortunate gust of wind carried a long ball over the visiting defence and Bricknell ran onto it before being felled as he crossed into the penalty box. The striker and home fans were convinced the foul had occurred inside the penalty area but the referee awarded only a free-kick. The catcalls were transformed into cheers moments later, however, as Cook played a delicate pass along the ground to McMahon on the edge of the area. He took one look and placed a shot out of Turner’s reach for 2-0.
Fleet had the game sewn up five minutes later, Cook again providing the ammunition with a high corner to the back post. Anthony Acheampong, on his home debut, climbed highest to power a header into the net – a technique he used to great effect in helping Welling to win Conference South.
With time ebbing away in the first half, there was one final chance as Aiden Palmer curled a cross into Bricknell who headed it over from 10 yards, though the striker probably had more time to bring the ball down than he thought.
Staines were out early for the second period and while they managed to stem the flow of goals, they had only one spell where they looked like getting any change out of the Fleet defence. That said, it should have been 4-0 when Alex Osborn squeezed past his full-back to the byline and delivered a great ball into Bricknell but the Fleet No.10 fired it over the bar with just Turner to beat. And on 53 minutes, Cook’s cross caused consternation in the Staines’ six-yard box, with Jerel Ifil getting a lucky break when in the process of clearing it from the line he managed to hit the underside of his own crossbar.
Thalassitis departed the field for Ben May on 54 minutes after he injured his wrist but Staines spent the immediate aftermath on top. Theophanous hit a Sanchez Ming cross high while Chris M’Boungou’s header was chested off the line by McMahon and then Louie-Rae Beadle struck a volley just off target as for once Staines caused Fleet some problems in their own penalty area.
But the game was over as a contest and Fleet, try as they might to add a fourth, just couldn’t conjure up a finish. Cook ran tirelessly at the Staines defence and twice could have been rewarded, once with a fizzing low cross that needed only a touch and then the same trick that did get the touch – but May’s ‘goal’ was ruled out by an offside flag.
That was that, however, and Fleet will count themselves fortunate if they have another home victory this season with seemingly so little hard work to produce such a scoreline.
TEAM: Edwards, Howe, Palmer, McMahon, Acheampong (Lorraine 74), Sankofa, Osborn, Rance, Thalassitis (May 54), Bricknell (West 78), Cook. Subs not used: Hall, Corcoran