The Fleet put in their best performance since last season’s play-off semi-final against probably their sternest test of the season as an afternoon of exhilarating football entertained the home fans. And as he did in the corresponding fixture last season, Billy Bricknell bagged two goals against a Sutton side who struggled to live with the Fleet once they moved into top gear.
Steve Brown made two changes from the side that beat Hayes & Yeading, Daryl McMahon returning after suspension, replacing the injured Alex Osborn, while Brandon Hall earned his first full league start in place of Preston Edwards.
Sutton came out firing on all cylinders and penned Fleet into their own half for much of the opening period, Craig Dundas unsettling the Fleet centre, while Jo Kuffour and Dale Binns tested Joe Howe and Ricky Wellard threatened to win the midfield battle early on.
But Fleet carved out the best chance on 10 minutes when Matt Johnson’s persistence paid off and he delivered an excellent cross into the middle from where Charlie Sheringham thumped a header against the crossbar. Given Fleet’s luck in hitting the woodwork already this season, home fans could have been forgiven for thinking it wasn’t going to be their day. How wrong they were.
Sutton continued to fancy their chances, however, and Jack Evans blasted a shot low and wide when given space down the right. For the Fleet, Cook played a neat one-two with McMahon on the halfway line in the 20th minute and waltzed into the penalty area but his final shot was found wanting.
He was clearly only warming up. Two minutes later, Fleet scored a quite wonderfully worked goal. Johnson started the move down the Fleet right, splitting the Sutton back line with a pass to Howe. He took it inside his marker, crossed for Bricknell whose shot was blocked and Cook pounced on the rebound, rasping it home past Alan Julian from 10 yards.
Fleet doubled their lead only four minutes later. Johnson’s long throw from the right fell kindly for Bricknell and he perfected a clever turn before firing home his first of the afternoon, with Sutton’s defence slow to react.
Sutton responded, beating Fleet’s offside trap but found Howe and Kenny Clark in the way with some last-ditch challenges. Then Bricknell had another effort saved at the other end as he found it far too easy with three men backing off him, while Cook sent a looping shot curling over the upright.
Sutton finished the half as they’d begun it, putting pressure on the Fleet back line. Dundas carved out an opportunity when he pulled a shot back to Kuffour with the Fleet centre backs out of position but Hall, alert to the danger, had retreated to his line and plucked the lobbed shot out of the air.
Fleet gave the visitors no chance to get a foot back in the game as they began the second half at a lightning pace. Charlie Sheringham’s header was cleared at the foot of the post and Julian had to get in the way of a McMahon shot on target.
Hall tipped a Sutton free-kick over the bar but Fleet hardly needed to have worried as they extended their lead minutes later. With the Sutton back line pushing up looking for offside from a corner, Bricknell and Sheringham timed their forward runs to perfection. Yet both seemed surprised to find no Sutton defenders in the way of Cook’s ball back into the box and Sheringham couldn’t quite beat Julian with his shot. But Bricknell could as it ran free and Fleet were 3-0 up and home and dry.
Sutton, by now a spent force, made three substitutions at once but full-back Harry Osborne’s introduction was a tough one. Cook almost performed miracles on 67 minutes when he hooked the ball over Wellard’s head, took it down, then knocked it over Osborne’s head before haring down the wing and crossing for Sheringham who couldn’t quite apply the finishing touch to what would have been the goal of the season.
Fleet could have been four goals to the good when substitute Matt Godden wrong-footed the Sutton defence with a back heel into the path of Sheringham but Julian got the save in while Osborne had to put the ball behind as Godden slid in at the post with the goal at his mercy. Godden then saw his next shot blocked in the six-yard box and Clark reacted quickly but couldn’t keep his powerful header down.
It mattered little at that point. What did matter was the result and the manner of it as Fleet finally posted a real statement of intent in the Vanarama Conference South.
TEAM: Hall, Howe, Palmer, McMahon, Acheampong (Huke 79), Clark, Johnson (Sessegnon 83), Rance, Sheringham, Bricknell (Godden 67), Cook. Subs not used: Edwards, Pooley.