Last-gasp Dons deny Fleet their first home win…
The Fleet were left bereft as their first home league win was stolen from their grasp in the final seconds of this afternoon’s pulsating clash with AFC Wimbledon.
Liam Daish shuffled his pack, including new loan signing Luis Cumbers and starting James Lindie, with Magno Vieira and Simon Thomas dropping to the bench. Will Salmon slotted into the left-back role against his former club and Kane Wills kept his place on the right of midfield.
And with goals in short supply, the Fleet boss had clearly instructed his charges to get more efforts on target as the Fleet sought to shoot from their first attack, Gavin Heeroo firing wide on four minutes and forcing former Fleet keeper James Pullen into a good save, which he rather fumbled, eight minutes later. Dean Pooley also had a great effort from distance clip the crossbar after good distribution by Heeroo.
The visitors had the edge in the aerial battle and their midfield was gradually imposing itself, though Fleet had a good outlet in Ishmael Welsh when he got wide and troubled Jay Conroy, and he was linking up well with Stefan Bailey.
But the Fleet enjoyed good possession and it came as something of a surprise when the Dons opened the scoring on 28 minutes, Lewis Taylor finding Luke Moore in plenty of space. Moore turned brilliantly and struck a bending shot which just eluded the grasp of Lance Cronin and bounced into the bottom corner. It was a well-taken goal but Moore had the decency not to celebrate in front of his former supporters.
Recovery from goals hasn’t been the Fleet’s strong point this season and they were fortunate they weren’t two down three minutes later, Leon Crooks getting in ahead of Danny Kedwell three minutes later after good work from Sam Hatton.
But recovery was just the thing the home side managed five minutes before half-time when Heeroo glided a long ball over the Dons defence and Cumbers outsprinted and then outmuscled Paul Lorraine to thump a great shot past Pullen.
Fleet came out with their tails up and the impressive Wills was unfortunate to see a shot from inside the box creep past the post. Lindie made way for Vieira on 55 minutes as Daish started to change things earlier than usual and the Brazilian immediately went about his task with typical fervour.
The Dons still looked dangerous, however, and when Kedwell – whose workrate was impressive – shouldered Pooley out of the way down the left and crossed for Hatton, the Fleet were fortunate that Charles was on hand to clear. Hatton had another effort on 74 minutes with the Fleet defence at sixes and sevens, but a combination of Charles and Crooks managed to thwart the Dons midfielder as Cronin gathered.
The game’s finest moment came on 79 minutes when the Dons defence allowed Vieira to pick up a loose ball on the right and the Fleet substitute unleashed a precision shot that flew through what seemed to be the only gap between the goalkeeper and the post to send Stonebridge Road into ecstacy.
As the home fans sensed their first victory on their own turf, Charles and Crooks were superb in shutting out the threat of Kedwell, while Moore had a much quieter second half. But it was from Moore’s powerful surge on 81 minutes that the Fleet defence parted and Lewis Taylor somehow blasted the resulting cross over the bar with the goal at his mercy.
Three minutes from time and the Fleet looked to be home and dry. Substitute Jamie Forshaw ran on to Bailey’s high ball and Conroy bundled him over quite unnecessarily. Fleet fans were adamant the push came inside the box but the referee awarded a free kick and produced an instant red card – Conroy was indeed last man though it was arguable whether Forshaw was clean through.
The Fleet began playing into the corners as the four minutes of time added on ticked away and nervous home fans – even the most pessimistic – prepared their celebrations. But as the game entered the fifth minute of injury time, Cronin was forced to kick a wayward forward ball into touch. From the throw-in, Chris Hussey lofted a high ball to the back post and substitute Ross Montague jumped high to head past Cronin to the delight of the vociferous away following.
Fleet fans had seen it all before but this was a bitter pill to swallow after a fine performance from their side. Daish will once again be disappointed at a late goal costing his side but he was more concerned with questioning the otherwise decent referee’s dubious timekeeping at the final whistle.
TEAM: Cronin, Salmon, Crooks, Charles, Pooley, Bailey, Wills, Heeroo, Welsh (Forshaw 64), Cumbers (Shakes 78), Lindie (Vieira 55). Subs Not Used: Abbey, Thomas.