Fleet 4-4 Crawley

FLEET SUCCUMB TO FOURS OF HABIT AS CRAWLEY SCORE LATE EQUALISER…

EBBSFLEET UNITED 4-4 CRAWLEY TOWN

Report by Ed Miller

Few inside Stonebridge Road could believe it, but the Fleet’s old habit
of conceding last-minute equalisers reared its ugly head in an
eight-goal thriller which saw Crawley Town steal a point after being
4-2 behind as late as the 84th minute. It will come as scant
consolation to Liam Daish that this was Crawley’s 10th game in the
Conference against the Fleet without a win and equally of little
consolation to fans that this was the highest scoring game at
Stonebridge Road since the 5-4 win over Kidderminster back in September
2007.

Daish opted to start with new signing Giuseppe Sole up front and gave
Ricky Shakes a well-earned start in midfield, sacrificing George
Purcell and Matthew Judge, but any plans he had went west inside four
minutes. Crawley defender Adam Quinn battled to a ball in the air which
Leon Crooks should have cleared but misjudged his jump and it fell
kindly to Robbie Matthews to stab in unopposed at the far post for his
first goal for his club.

The visitors could and should have extended their lead two minutes
later as they got the better of a Fleet defence in disarray but Crooks
atoned for his earlier error as he cleared in the six-yard box in front
of a gaping Fleet goal. Crawley worked the ball back into the danger
area and as Cronin rushed to block, Simon Weatherstone hit a shot
against the post from inside the box. Though the home side looked as if
they might be overwhelmed, the midfield managed to grab the game by the
scruff of the neck and as they pushed further up the pitch, the Fleet
began to relax a little. They equalised on 13 minutes when Michael Gash
received the ball 35 yards out and powered his way through two
challenges before placing a pass straight into Stacy Long’s path as he
roared down the left. Unmarked though he was, Long seemed to take an
age to pick his spot but made no mistake when he buried it past Simon
Rayner.

The home fans had barely wiped the smile off their faces when Gash was
involved again four minutes later. Shakes made headway down the right
and played in Jamie Hand whose pass to Gash was waist high but it
didn’t trouble the Fleet striker who controlled it and hit an exquisite
half volley from the corner of the penalty area that had the net
bulging. With the lead came confidence aplenty and the Fleet dominated
the rest of the half. Sole, playing slightly behind Gash in a wide left
position, looked comfortable on the ball and gave the Fleet an extra
dimension and his skill allowed him to run at players and create a lot
of opportunities. With the ball zipping along the ground and the Fleet
midfield playing some great stuff, Crawley barely got a look-in. Their
few chances were snuffed out by a commanding display from James Smith
in particular, though Derek Duncan rarely got a chance to get forward
as he countered the threatening link-up play of Lewis Chalmers and
Jon-Paul Pittman.

Sole had three chances, hitting one wide, launching a free kick over
the bar and he was just off target with a close-range effort while the
Fleet also hit the woodwork twice. It was all getting too much for
Crawley boss Steve Evans who found himself sent to the stands six
minutes before half-time for a customary expletive-ridden rant at the
referee and before long he was escorted out of there too. It might well
have affected his half-time team talk as within a minute of the restart
the Fleet extended their lead. Stacy Long was brought down by Glenn
Wilson and Sole fired off an inch-perfect free kick which clipped the
underside of the bar on its way into the net.

But then the defensive frailties which were ultimately to undo the
Fleet were exposed on 50 minutes when Adam Quinn made the most of a
goalmouth scramble to haul Crawley back into the game with a goal from
the centre of the six-yard box. The Fleet refused to buckle and Shakes
went close with a shot, while Duncan attempted a mazy run into the box
that took three players to halt him. Smith too headed just over from a
corner while at the other end, Pittman should have done much better
when played into space but he hit his shot wide of the post with only
Cronin to beat.

And still much the better team, the Fleet scored a crowd-pleasing
fourth on 65 minutes that looked as if it had settled the match. A
short corner from Long found Hand lurking outside the box. The Fleet
midfielder looked up and played a sublime through ball which split the
Crawley defence and Shakes was on hand to convert from eight yards.
With Crawley reeling, the home side didn’t look in any danger
whatsoever. Pittman had another wayward effort and Matthews hit a weak
shot at Cronin but Crawley looked to have little else to offer.

That all changed with five minutes left on the clock. Substitute Jon
Shaw, who looked more dangerous than anyone else in blue, found Pittman
out wide and though he had been out of sorts for most of the game, he
hooked a fine shot from the left corner of the box which looped over
the Fleet defence and into the top right of the net. Daish brought on
Dean Pooley to give Fleet a five-man defence against Crawley’s three
attackers but the midfield stood off too much and the defence looked
shaky every time Crawley launched a long ball and got in behind the
home side’s back line. That said, the Fleet appeared to have withstood
the pressure as two minutes of stoppage time were added until the
referee inexplicably gave Quinn the benefit of the doubt as he climbed
all over Gash and won the free kick. That released Jake Wright wide on
the left and he fired in a deep cross which outwitted the Fleet defence
and fell to the furthest man forward, Jon Shaw, to gratefully bundle
the ball over the line.

As the Crawley players celebrated – and their bench provoked the home
section behind the goal – the Fleet fans could scarcely believe their
side had let slip a two-goal lead. It was indeed a fine attacking
performance from their side, with Sole, Hand, Gash and Shakes in
particular worthy of special praise, but the two points droppped left a
bitterness to what was almost the sweet taste of success.

TEAM: Cronin, Stone, Duncan, Crooks, Smith, Hand, Barrett, Long,
Shakes (Pooley 89), Sole, Gash. Subs not used: Ricketts, Purcell, Ibe,
Judge.
Att: 795

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