Any thoughts of an FA Cup hangover were wiped out as Fleet got back into their stride in Skrill South with a clinical victory over Concord Rangers – whose chairman later promised on Twitter to refund any travelling fans after what he termed a “pathetic performance”. With four different goalscorers registering on the scoresheet, it was nothing short of a team effort as Fleet – driven by Aiden Palmer and Michael Thalassitis, who both got amongst the goals – moved into sixth position.
Steve Brown shook up his tired squad, Thalassitis deservedly rewarded for his half-hour against Dartford in midweek with a right midfield berth in place of Alex Osborn, while on-loan striker Andy Pugh started ahead of Billy Bricknell.
It was a fairly workmanlike opening period, with Tony Stokes and Anthony Cook registering fairly tame efforts on goal for either side as Concord sought to shake off a 5-0 defeat at Weston and a 3-0 reverse at Barnet in recent weeks. But just as they looked to have established a foothold in the game, Fleet went ahead in the 11th minute.
A Cook corner caused consternation in the visitors’ six-yard box and the ball was hooked out by Ben May who turned and fired a low shot through the bodies in the box to put his side in front.
Fleet really didn’t look back after that though twice Sam Higgins got space out wide to whip low deliveries along the six-yard box, the first zipping past Fleet’s open goal, and the second hooked away by Paul Lorraine. But the home side were winning a tough battle in midfield and Cook was centimetres away from winning a penalty when he was clipped by Bradley Hamilton. The referee deemed it outside the box and Cook sent the free kick off target. A second free-kick, after goalkeeper Jamie Butler handled outside his box, also came to nothing as Daryl McMahon’s delivery was cleared.
With Thalassitis and Pugh combining to good effect, and playing well off May, the Fleet had plenty of options in the final third, but it was a 40-yard run that unlocked Concord for the second goal. Dean Rance’s quick free-kick inside his own half was played square to Palmer who ran half the length of the pitch to deliver an inch-perfect cross onto the head of Thalassitis who nodded past Butler for his third goal of the season.
Cook could have added another late in the half when May played him in behind the full backs and his mazy run and shot was parried by Butler into the path of Pugh who blazed his shot over the crossbar.
A flurry of substitutions at half-time saw Brandon Hall replace a visibly struggling Preston Edwards, whose strapped knee had not protected him from a knock, while Concord made two changes of their own in a bid to rescue the game. And barely three minutes into his first league appearance, Hall was involved in an altercation with Stokes after taking exception to a kick as the goalkeeper gathered the ball at his feet.
Fleet were in no mood to relinquish their grip, however, and they went further ahead seven minutes into the second half. Pugh, out wide, played Thalassitis into a good position on the edge of the box and as his shot was blocked, Pugh followed up with a hopeful low drive that goalkeeper Butler fumbled and couldn’t prevent from spilling over the line.
Concord weren’t entirely finished, however, and Hall made a great save from Reece Harris’s shot, tipping it over the bar. But playing with a freedom borne of a 3-0 lead, Fleet’s passing game was neat and a great move involving Cook, Palmer and Thalassitis almost opened up the Concord defence. Cook ran the left flank, played a clever back-heel into Palmer’s path near the byline and another fine cross from the Fleet full-back saw Thalassitis’ header just about cleared from danger.
Brown shored up his midfield as Michael Corcoran replaced McMahon on 62 minutes, and Bricknell came on as Thalassitis made way a short time later. Bricknell’s neat one-two with May almost produced a fourth before the Fleet wrapped things up eight minutes from time.
A free-kick awarded 25 yards out led to some discussion over who would take it and having won the argument with Cook, Palmer stepped up and delivered a fine left-foot strike to cap his man-of-the-match performance with the Fleet’s fourth goal.
Despite at times being something of a grind in midfield, the 90 minutes and scoreline was more than Steve Brown could have asked for as a reaction to the Dartford games. A midweek off will do a tired Fleet the power of good as they seek to finally get into those play-off positions at Kent neighbours Tonbridge next week.
TEAM: Edwards (Hall 46), Sessegnon, Palmer, McMahon (Corcoran 62), Lorraine, Sankofa, Thalassitis (Bricknell 68), Rance, May, Pugh, Cook. Subs not used: Long, Osborn