A second-half comeback against 10-man Mansfield gave the Fleet their first home win of the season and went some way to erasing the Forest Green result in midweek.
An injury to Craig Stone and a tactical rethink by Liam Daish saw Fleet line up in a 3-5-2 formation, with Ryan Blake and Joe Howe operating either side of three central defenders. As against Wrexham, a hot afternoon made for a relatively slow tempo in the opening period and neither side could force a clear chance.
Blake created the first opening with a delicate cross that landed nicely in the centre of the Mansfield box but there was no striker in attendance. Blake also showed guile to wrongfoot a Stags defender and slip a ball to Liam Enver-Marum out wide but the Fleet No.7 couldn’t bring it under control. And Enver-Marum also had a free-kick on the edge of the box but twice hit the wall as the home side’s midfield had a more calm and controlled edge with Marwa pulling the strings.
At the other end, it was more about Paul Lorraine’s battle with the bustling Matt Rhead and the usually prolific Matt Green, with all players earning a talking-to from the referee, Rhead also earning a yellow card in the 20th minute. And that flashpoint sparked the turning point of the match on 33 minutes when Lorraine and Green went for a ball right in front of the home bench and Green’s elbow on the Fleet skipper was spotted by the fourth official and he was off for an early bath.
Fleet naturally looked a little livelier for the next five minutes as Elder headed just wide, Liam Bellamy wasted a free-kick from 25 yards and the same player then delivered a corner that goalkeeper Alan Marriott was forced to punch clear.
But the 10 men got their noses in front four minutes before half-time. Lindon Meikle got hold of the ball on the Mansfield right and ran along the edge of the box. Bellamy had a chance to clear but delayed his tackle and as Meikle regained control of the ball he went sprawling over Bellamy’s outstretched leg. The referee didn’t hesitate and Louis Briscoe made no mistake from the spot.
Fleet loudly appealed – but in vain – for their own penalty just before half-time when Elder went down under Ritchie Sutton’s challenge but the Stags held it together to leave the Stonebridge Road public disgruntled.
Bellamy was replaced by James Folkes at the start of the second half and within two minutes Howe had launched a shot just over the bar, the first real note of intent from the Fleet. But for all their possession, the home side lacked the penetration to unlock the Stags defence and the visitors began to stroke the ball around midfield, looking not at all uncomfortable with 10 men.
It was just as well, then, that Liam Daish’s side clawed their way back into the game on 57 minutes. Patrick Ada broke from defence for the Fleet and found space to surge forward before an incisive pass found Howe out wide. He delivered a perfect cross which Elder, unmarked inside the box, was only too happy to gobble up, giving Marriott little chance to keep it out.
Happy just to be level, Fleet fans had plenty more to cheer about two minutes later. Folkes fired in a corner from the right which caused immense confusion inside the Mansfield box and Phil Walsh arrived to lash it into the back of the net for 2-1.
Neil Barrett could have made it 3-1 on 68 minutes after good build-up play by Enver-Marum and Blake saw the ball knocked back into his path. Barrett had time to control it and pick his spot but dragged his shot just wide of the post.
Mansfield weren’t quite finished and substitute Jake Speight found space to turn inside the box and hit the side netting as Fleet started to play a little deep. But any anxiety was dispelled on 81 minutes when Elder surged into the box along the byline and was needlessly barged aside by Sutton, allowing Enver-Marum to bury the penalty and give his side a two-goal cushion.