Fleet 4 Forest Green 3

Last-gasp Leon Crooks wins Fleet the seven-goal six-pointer…

Fleet were looking to improve on a poor record against a team they had beaten only once in seven attempts on home soil and Daish chose an attacking line-up, with Magno Vieira returning to the side alongside Moses Ashikodi, Ricky Shakes and Stefan Bailey behind them.

There was little to choose between the sides early on, with the ball being pumped high by both sides but Rovers were in no mood to sit back and Tomi Ameobi planted a shot just wide of the Fleet post on six minutes. Vieira and Ashikodi were interchanging well and with Bailey getting into good positions, the Fleet began to open the game up, Shakes heading a good chance into the goalkeeper’s hands from close range.

On 10 minutes Bailey sent a cross high across the six-yard box that required a Forest Green head to clear the danger and six minutes later, Darius Charles blasted high over the bar from a good position inside the area as Peter Holmes’ corner caused confusion for the visiting defence.

But the Fleet never got time to impose themselves as two minutes later they were behind courtesy of some dubious refereeing. Former Fleet trialist and Arsenal striker Isaiah Rankin took the ball wide of the Fleet defender and though Dean Pooley won the ball – clearly seen by everyone along the Stonebridge Road terrace – Rankin tumbled headlong into the grass and the man in the middle was duped into giving the spot-kick.

Rankin himself converted the kick to a chorus of boos from the home faithful but their jeers turned to cheers moments later. Bailey raced down the left wing and sent another high, pinpoint cross into the six-yard box that Vieira headed through the raised hands of stranded goalkeeper Terry Burton.

Defending, however, has not been Fleet’s strong point of late and four minutes later they were behind again. Stavrinou was unfortunate to lose a challenge on the edge of the Rovers box and the ball was cleared upfield to Rankin. With the Fleet defence mounting a desperate race to get back into position, Rankin sent a diagonal pass across to Danny Powell and he did well to shake off the home defence, cut into the area and shot past Cronin.

Fleet struggled to impose themselves in what was left of the first half, their best opportunity coming when Charles surged into the final third and sent a vicious dipping cross flashing across goal but there was no Fleet body to apply the finishing touch. The visitors seemed composed enough and Rankin, while not as mobile as of old, was certainly enjoying the experience and getting his younger teammates into good positions, as was former Fleet midfielder Craig Rocastle whose composure showed his time spent at a higher level.

With Fleet looking short on ideas, they grabbed a lifeline 10 minutes into the second half. Charles exchanged passes with Stavrinou and launched a speculative shot which Burton had to scoop on to his crossbar. The ball fell kindly for Vieira eight yards out and though his shot wasn’t the sweetest, it was low and straight and enough to cross the line.

Now the Fleet had their tails up and Shakes won a race with Burton to the byline to drag the ball back along an unguarded six-yard box but no red shirt could capitalise, while Vieira’s low free kick had plenty of power but not enough guile to beat Burton and Holmes’ shot from a good position was wild and wide.

Rovers made a change on the hour mark, another former Fleet trialist – Tyrone Berry – replacing Rankin, and he gave the visiting front line some renewed vigour, shooting wide after the entire Fleet defence stood off him. And sure enough, Fleet handed Rovers the advantage again when Powell got his second on 71 minutes, quicker to react than his markers and shooting low into the goal.

You could hear a pin drop in a deflated Stonebridge Road at that point and though the Fleet hauled themselves back into things again, nobody – least of all the Rovers keeper – saw it coming. On 79 minutes, Bailey danced through the midfield and from 25 yards flashed a shot that seemed to skid off the turf to bamboozle Burton before hitting the back of the net.

Still the Fleet defence provided a few heart-stopping moments for supporters who were not exactly jubilant at the thought of a point, even in the circumstances of this topsy-turvy game. Powell billowed the side-netting after getting behind Will Salmon and then Berry was left in a heap inside the box in an incident that, while not much of a case for a penalty, was nevertheless more so than Rankin’s in the first half.

With four minutes of stoppage time on the clock, the Fleet won a corner. Holmes delivered and it was cleared but Ginty picked up the loose ball and sent in a cross from the right that was met by none other than Leon Crooks – celebrating his 50th game for the Fleet – and he proved the unlikely hero as the ball flew off his head and into the net.

It was a vital three points for the Fleet as they climbed out of the drop zone for the first time since September and registered four goals, something they had not done since an equally bizarre 4-4 draw with Crawley in January 2009.

TEAM: Cronin, Salmon, Charles, Pooley, Crooks, Stavrinou (Ginty 67), Bailey, Holmes, Shakes, Vieira (Heeroo 90), Ashikodi. Subs not used: Wills, West, Welsh.
Att: 790


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