Ebbsfleet United secured the three points they so desperately needed with a convincing win over rock-bottom Bath City tonight as Calum Willock?s brace put him on six goals for the season. It was the long-awaited first home win of 2011-12 and the Fleet’s first clean sheet and lifted Liam Daish’s side out of the bottom four and into 19th place.
With Liam Enver-Marum still suffering from his injury of Saturday, Michael West was welcomed back to the fold. Paul Lorraine was deemed fit enough to start his first game of the season while Joe Howe had also recovered, meaning Lanre Azeez and Johnny Herd dropped to the bench. Elsewhere in midfield, Ricky Shakes made way for Giannoulis Fakinos.
Despite the changes, however, Fleet started as they’d finished at Alfreton – on the ropes. After Willock almost stole through in the opening seconds, Bath responded immediately when Lee Phillips – who played against the Fleet at Wembley in 2008 – ran through a static Fleet defence to rifle a shot just over the bar.
Marley Watkins came close with a shot blocked by Yado Mambo and then Preston Edwards twice denied the visitors, once from Phillips and then making an excellent save to nudge Ben Swallow’s effort round the post.
Fleet showed little sign of taking the game by the scruff of the neck, a dipping West free-kick that brushed the crossbar their best chance of the opening spell, while a John Akinde-esque rampage through the middle from Mambo entertained the crowd. But on 24 minutes the home side, with a slice of good fortune, took the lead when Tom Phipp’s rasping drive from 25 yards flew past goalkeeper Glyn Garner thanks largely to a deflection off Willock’s head, though neither player seemed too aware of where the ball was.
With their noses in front, the red shirts were like a team transformed. Moments later Mambo rose highest to smack a powerful header off the crossbar from a Craig Stone free-kick and West later had a shot and then header off-target.
Fleet were working hard, with Joe Howe and West always quick to tackle Bath wide man Sekani Simpson who had enjoyed plenty of space in the opening 20 minutes. They restricted the visitors to just one more chance, on 33 minutes, when Phillips ghosted clear of the defence but his attempt was a poor one and didn’t trouble Edwards.
Keen to avoid the pitfalls of previous half-time leads, the Fleet shut up shop early in the second half and within eight minutes had got the breathing space they needed. Craig Stone made room down the Fleet right and found West on the edge of the box in plenty of space as the Bath defence switched off and with a clever reverse movement, the Fleet number seven wrong-footed the goalkeeper and placed his shot into the corner of the net.
That goal bolstered the home side’s confidence and they went at Bath with great purpose, Fleet’s three men strung across the middle of defence allowing Howe and Stone the freedom to get forward at will. On 69 minutes Phipp got on the end of a West cross and thundered a shot past the upright and three minutes later West sent a free-kick fizzing through the wall which Garner did well to parry and Bath hacked it clear.
But the visitors held out only three more minutes as Fleet undid them with a wonderful, sweeping move. Phipp and Fakinos got the red shirts going on the break and then West produced a teasing cross that eluded Willock in the box but was gathered by Stone near the far byline. He returned the ball into the middle where Willock was still waiting and the Fleet’s top scorer dived low to place a header far out of Garner’s reach.
Fleet could and should have had more – and Willock should have had a hat-trick, particularly when he got the better of Jim Rollo and fired past Garner but the referee disallowed the strike for a foul.
Substitute Ricky Shakes almost made it 4-0 with a shot that Garner diverted with his legs and Willock had one more good chance for his hat-trick, pushing the ball clear of the last defender but just a little too near the goalkeeper who beat him to it.
Bath were restricted to pot-shots, with Scott Murray’s three decent opportunities wild and wasteful, but the Fleet were superbly marshalled by Lorraine whose man of the match performance was typified late on as he surged into the Bath penalty area to chase a Stone pass and seconds later was recovering the ball from Murray in his own box – not bad for a player with barely 90 minutes of football under his belt this season.
TEAM: Edwards, Stone, Howe (Herd 90), Simpemba, Lorraine, Mambo, Marwa, Fakinos (Ginty 82), Phipp, West (Shakes 82), Willock. Subs not used: Welch, Azeez.
Preston Edwards won his second man of the match vote in a row versus Alfreton. Vote now for tonight?s via the drop-down panel above.