Fleet moved 10 points clear of their opponents on the fringes of the relegation zone with a well-deserved Boxing Day victory courtesy of a Tom Phipp brace in the second-half.
With Liam Daish confined to the touchline by the FA for incidents after the Kidderminster game, there was also a surprise omission from the starting line-up, Calum Willock relegated to the bench, meaning Liam Enver-Marum went up front, Neil Barrett started in midfield while Paul Lorraine returned at the expense of Ian Simpemba.
For Hayes, they fielded former Woking and Chelmsford goalkeeper Carl Pentney in place of the suspended James Beasant while ex-Fleet midfielders Jamie Hand and Mark Bentley missed out through suspension and injury respectively.
Looking for a first league win in six, Fleet nearly went behind in the first two minutes when Pierre Joseph-Dubois’ run and cross forced Preston Edwards to parry the ball into no-man’s land outside the six-yard box but there was no blue shirt to follow it up and the home side were off the hook. Hayes looked to get the ball out wide to Dubois and every opportunity but the game became bogged down in the middle of the field with little to hold the interest for spectators.
Fleet’s first decent move arrived on 10 minutes as Michael West and Liam Enver-Marum swept the ball across the Hayes back line and played Nathaniel Pinney through the middle but he went tumbling under a challenge from Ryan Crockford. The home fans howled for a penalty as referee Hopkins appeared to point to the spot but actually waved play on.
The visitors took advantage of some sloppy Fleet defending on 20 minutes and Daniel Wishart picked out ex-Aldershot player Louis Soares who fired just wide. But Fleet were gradually starting to eke out superiority in midfield and upped the pressure from the half-hour mark, though with little creative up front to shout about. Phipp set about changing that on 35 minutes with a turn and shot from the edge of the box that billowed the side netting and briefly raised the voices of a crowd that was almost as flat as the game.
Finally, five minutes before half-time, Fleet’s patient game began to pay dividends. First, West slipped as he rifled in a free-kick but the ball sat up kindly for Yado Mambo and he struck a powerful shot that just cleared the bar with Pentney nowhere near it. And a minute later, the Fleet took the lead. Good work by Pinney saw his persistent run to the byline rewarded as Enver-Marum’s initial weak shot was blocked but only into the path of West who managed to scramble the ball over the line.
Within two minutes of the restart, the Fleet were again on the front foot. West’s floated corner was met by Lorraine in plenty of space but the skipper’s head was down and his effort off target. That miss wasn’t punished and instead Fleet doubled their lead on 51. Craig Stone’s raking pass from defence found Phipp clear of the defence and the Fleet number 11 had time to bring the ball down and slot it past the onrushing Pentney as Hayes appealed for offside.
Sensing more goals against a side seemingly lacking inspiration, the Fleet went for the jugular. Joe Howe did well to outpace his marker down the left channel and Pinney was inches away from converting his cross. And on 61 minutes, the Fleet killed the game when Pinney – by now enjoying a little more space up front – ran between two defenders to fire over a deep cross that Phipp just about met and his unorthodox hooked shot found the only place out of Pentney’s reach into the top corner for his second and Fleet’s third.
Corey Gameiro was introduced for the visitors and his willingness to run and chase invigorated a largely disappointing Hayes side, but Fleet were still relatively untroubled. The Hayes striker did force Mambo and Lorraine into a last-ditch challenge that was ultimately saved by Edwards though the more likely scorers were still the Fleet with Pinney and Phipp both going close to extending the lead.
So it was something of a surprise on 80 minutes when Hayes netted a consolation, Toby Ajala’s suspiciously offside run outfoxing the Fleet defence who, having not played to the whistle, created plenty of room for Tom Collins to finish low into the middle of the net. That could have produced a more nailbiting finish had Hayes found more forward momentum, but Fleet weren’t to be denied and hit back themselves, West firing into the side netting on 84 minutes and then substitute Ricky Shakes getting just in front of a low Calum Willock cross with the goal gaping.
It was enough to gain three comfortable and important points, however, and Hayes will surely be looking to buck their ideas up come New Year’s Day to avoid an unwanted double reverse against a Fleet side who will be determined to put further daylight between themselves and the division’s strugglers.
TEAM: Edwards, Stone, Howe, Mambo, Lorraine, Barrett, Marwa, West, Phipp, Enver-Marum (Willock 87), Pinney (Shakes 79). Subs not used: Welch, Simpemba
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