Fleet got back to winning ways as Cody McDonald and Bagasan Graham registered their first goals for the club, with the former setting up his one-time Gillingham strike partner for the first of Danny Kedwell’s brace. Braintree got a lifeline courtesy of a sloppily defended corner and a penalty but the home side enjoyed the lion’s share of the game and ran out deserved winners.
Garry Hill continued to rotate his squad with Lawrie Wilson and McDonald coming in for Jack King and Corey Whitely and his side repaid his tweak to the lineup within a minute of kick-off. McDonald received a pass to the right of the penalty area and made space to spread play to Danny Kedwell in a central position and he lifted a shot over Ben Killip to get the Fleet off to the perfect start.
But that start was undone by a poor clearance six minutes later. The visitors had already looked bright down the left flank with Ricky Gabriel and it was from that side that a corner was hoisted into the Fleet box. Lyle Della Verde’s set piece was met by Ashmore with a punch that didn’t clear the box and sat up kindly for Joe Ellul to send a header between the inside of the post and Jack Payne covering on the line.
The setback was momentary for the Fleet, however, as they continued to be effective in possession, Graham sprightly on the left wing and Payne controlling the space in front of the back four. Kedwell tried to return the favour for McDonald with a pass inside the Braintree defence but the visitors got a leg in as McDonald picked his spot. The luckless McDonald was unfortunate again on 12 minutes when Andy Drury’s clever pass to Payne was crossed to the far post but the former Gills striker slipped as he met the ball.
A minute later, however, and Fleet were back in front. It was Kedwell again as he worked his way on to a ball on the edge of the box and a crisp strike was deflected to send goalkeeper Ben Killip the wrong way.
The home side continued to probe and Graham side-footed a pass into McDonald’s path in the box. He was forced wide by two defenders but managed to get an effort directed into the six-yard box that was cleared away from the goalline. Drury’s 34th minute cross into the same area was also headed clear from beneath Killip’s upright as Fleet looked good for a third goal.
Momentum was interrupted then when Winfield went toe to toe with Callum Morton as he tried to clear and was caught in the challenge, producing a lengthy delay as the Fleet skipper was stretchered from the field.
That delayed matters for seven minutes and Braintree almost got back into it when Della Verde’s sweetly struck free-kick flew just wide of Ashmore’s post as the goalkeeper stretched to meet it. But rather than drawing themselves level, Braintree then found themselves further behind. In time added on, Drury’s low drive after a great Bush pass was turned behind. From the second of two corners, Graham picked the ball up and with nonchalance and no little technique, his drive flew beyond Killip for 3-1.
Fleet were slow out of the blocks in the second half, giving Braintree two opportunities on goal before the visitors earned a penalty two minutes in. Bush challenged Courtney Richards for a ball to the left of the Fleet box and the referee deemed it a push, pointing to the spot. Morton struck a confident kick past Ashmore and it was game on once more.
It took the home side a while to find the fluidity of the first-half but with Dean Rance introduced after Bush was booked on the hour mark, Fleet took control once more. And they scored just as they began to re-assert themselves, the fourth goal coming on 62 minutes. It was McDonald who did ever so well to fight off the attentions of a defender as he controlled a pass, eased into the box and for once his luck was in as his effort on goal carried just enough weight to roll beneath Killip and over the line before Richards hacked it off the line.
The home fans found themselves frustrated by a succession of curious offside decisions while Adams was substituted after taking plenty of punishment, Gabriel lucky not to receive a second yellow for either of two fouls on the Fleet midfielder.
Drury could have made it five on 66 minutes when McDonald spread play to the edge of the Braintree box but Killip was out to block as Drury hesitated. The visitors had a spell of pressure eight minutes from time as they kept the Fleet pinned into their own box, Wilson cutting out one shot for a corner and Ashmore diving on a loose ball in a goalmouth scramble following another set piece.
But Fleet finished the stronger and Myles Weston’s cross in time added on found Kedwell with a chance for a hat-trick but his eye was on the corner flag as well as the hat-trick as his first-time shot was well off target.
The Kuflink Stadium spectators didn’t mind that so much as they celebrated the three points that takes Fleet to 37 points, three behind Saturday’s opponents Eastleigh.
EUFC: Ashmore, Wilson, Magri, Bush (Rance 59), Winfield (King 41), Adams (Weston 75), Payne, Drury, Graham, Kedwell, McDonald. Subs not used: Cheek, Moncur
BTFC: Killip, Borg, Ellul, Lyons-Foster, Richards (Sagaf 63), Della-Verde, (Clayton-Phillips75), Barrington, Morton, Gabriel, James, Okosieme (Crook 84). Subs not used: Allen, Curran.