Win it they had to. And win it they did. In some style.
Fleet produced a scintillating first-half performance that saw them 3-0 up inside 14 minutes and four goals to the good before the half-hour mark as Southport’s poor form continued.
Fleet boss Liam Daish was forced into changes after Gareth Gwillim withdrew before kick-off as his wife had gone into labour. This meant Joe Howe and Tom Phipp as full backs, Stefan Payne and Neil Barrett returning in midfield and Liam Enver-Marum dropping to the bench.
With the heavy pitch cutting up in the wide areas after rain that had put the match in some doubt, the start was understandably scrappy. Fleet had the first sniff of goal when goalkeeper Tony McMillan miscued a kick as he advanced from goal and though the ball fell to Matt Godden, his attempt to beat the keeper was wildly off target.
Fleet took the second chance that came their way on six minutes, however. A relatively simple build-up saw Payne deliver a low ball into Liam Bellamy’s path and the young midfielder’s shot was beyond McMillan’s reach. There was brief panic at the other end when Shaun Whalley’s shot caused Preston Edwards a few problems, the Fleet keeper needing two attempts to gather the ball.
Southport’s defence went to sleep for the second time on 11 minutes when Joe Howe found space for a high cross that Payne, with his back to goal, did very well to meet with his head and glance the ball over McMillan. And Fleet fans were in dreamland only three minutes later when their side went 3-0 up. Southport skipper Simon Grand felled Nathan Elder and the big striker picked himself up to head home Ashley Carew’s free-kick at the far post.
With Carew running things in midfield, Fleet looked much more assured than their shellshocked opponents who could barely string an attack together, their striker Danny Hattersley getting nothing out of Paul Lorraine.
The brief respite of 15 minutes that Fleet allowed Southport ended just before the half-hour mark when Godden won a corner. Carew swung it in, it was flicked on by Elder and Godden was right there in the six-yard-box to stoop low and force the ball over the line.
With Fleet fans searching their collective memories to recall the last time their side was 4-0 up in the first-half, the game understandably fell into something of a lull. The visitors could only manage two shots high over the bar before Godden again got the ball in the back of the net, with a tidy finish past McMillan, but that one was chalked off for offside.
Half-time offered little rest for the Southport players who were barely in the dressing room for five minutes before being sent back out onto the pitch