Fleet moved up to 10th in the National League with three more points this afternoon to record their 300th win at National League/Conference level, though it wasn’t an easy ride as four goals in the last 20 minutes made the result far from from a foregone conclusion.
Daryl McMahon opted for Aaron McLean to partner Danny Kedwell in attack and that saw Danny Mills drop to the bench against a Barrow side that hadn’t won in eight matches. But with the visitors under the new temporary stewardship of Neill Hornby, they had promised a high-tempo game.
With the windy conditions on a wet surface, this wasn’t one for the purist early on, especially with plenty of high balls played out from defence by both sides. Fleet began in their usual style, stamping their authority in terms of possession and looking to get Sean Shields away down the right. The wind almost had a hand in the opening minutes, with just four on the clock when Barrow looked to clear a ball in defence but saw the wind carry it into the path of Dean Rance who met it well but saw his shot driven just past the post.
The visitors barely got forward in the opening 10 minutes but were increasingly more adventurous from that point. They enjoyed a 10-minute spell where they knocked it around well in midfield and kept Fleet penned inside their own half but Nathan Ashmore wasn’t called upon.
Fleet were back in charge on 20 minutes when Jack Powell’s clever shimmy in midfield opened up the Barrow defence and his inch-perfect ball through to Kedwell was miscontrolled, allowing Bradley Bauress to get a foot in. There was a mix-up at the other end as Ashmore played a kick out to Chris Bush, while the defender was looking the other way and it was intercepted by Jordan White but he couldn’t beat Ashmore with his shot.
Fleet got their noses in front on 24 minutes. Jack Connors’ long free-kick from the left-back position was hoisted upfield where Kedwell knocked it down and with McLean loitering 10 yards out, the Barrow defence were too slow to react but McLean was on to it in a flash and smashed a shot into the roof of the net.
Barrow went in search of an equaliser and two efforts from Asa Hall were dealt with by Ashmore. It was a busy spell for the Fleet keeper and on 38 minutes he did well under pressure to punch a threatening corner out from right under his crossbar before getting a foot to Byron Harrison’s run from the byline to turn the ball around the foot of the post.
The visitors came out in much the same mood in the second half and Alex-Ray Harvey against tested Ashmore with a low effort. But the game settled into a lull before Jordan White had a golden opportunity to equalise on 55 minutes. A cross from the right caught the Fleet defence sleeping and White was in acres of space but inexplicably sent a soft header into Ashmore’s arms from close range.
Fleet woke up on the hour mark and McLean outfoxed a defender out wide to whistle a shot on to the roof of the net before a frustrated Rance had his second decent effort of the game, finishing a tidy Fleet build-up with an attempt that Joel Dixon was well behind.
A flurry of substitutions saw Myles Weston and Luke Coulson on for the home side while Barrow introduced former Sutton man Bedsente Gomis and Adi Yussuf. The effect was noticed at the Swanscombe End, where Barrow started to find their feet again. Having dealt well with a big striker like White, Fleet failed to get to grips with Yussuf’s physicality with the substitute all arms and legs as he bullied the home defence.
On 69 minutes, probably the best pass of the game saw Powell pick out Coulson’s run through the middle with a delightfully weighted delivery. Coulson outpaced the defence but Dixon was out well to block and Kedwell’s lob towards an open goal was off target. Coulson was on the ball again two minutes later when he met Andy Drury’s quick ball inside and curled a fine effort goalwards but Dixon was well placed.
Those misses might have proved costly as Barrow found a route back into the game straight away and it was a goal McMahon won’t have been happy to concede. Yussuf again used his muscle, though it seemed a clear push on Kenny Clark in the build-up, but a ball wide to Jack Barthram was fired towards goal. It seemed Ashmore had a hand to it in the six-yard box but Gomis raced in and got enough of a foot on it to force it over the line.
It was a messy equaliser from a Fleet point of view but all credit to McMahon’s men, they shrugged off that disappointment. Within five minutes, they were back in front. Powell took his chances with a shot from outside the box that Dixon saved but couldn’t quite gather and the ball dropped in front of him where the quick reactions of Drury proved crucial and he gratefully slammed home his side’s second of the afternoon.
Things got even better with 10 minutes left. A goal kick out to the right was brought down by Kedwell and though he might have gone for a shot himself, he squared it into the box catching the covering defender and goalkeeper out and that left Powell just to hit the target, which he did with a sureness of foot to bring the home faithful out of their seats.
Barrow continued to press, however, with Gomis – perhaps with a point to prove to a Fleet crowd that was quickly on his back – eager to get forward. Yussuf sent a shot across goal late on. Then, in the final minutes of added time, a corner reached Gomis and he fired low through a crowd, a deflection wrong-footing a possibly unsighted Ashmore.
It was too late to disrupt the Fleet, however, and the referee’s whistle sounded barely 20 seconds later to confirm Fleet’s 24th point of the campaign.
EUFC: Ashmore, Magri, Connors, Clark, Bush, Rance, Shields (Coulson 66), Drury, Powell, Kedwell, McLean (Weston 61). Subs not used: McCoy, Miles, Mills
BFC: Dixon, Thompson, Bignot, Diagne, Barthram, Harvey (Gomis 65), Hall, Clements, Bauress (Panayiotou 77), White (Yussuf 60), Harrison. Subs not used: Moore, Hughes