Sean Shields came off the bench to deliver a deadly double as Fleet won their sixth match out of seven against Halifax at Stonebridge Road. The Shaymen were the league’s form side but Daryl McMahon’s men put in a fine performance and took the game by the scruff of the neck in the second half to post their first back-to-back win of the season and their third clean sheet in succession.
There were three changes for the Fleet with Dean Rance in for the injured Jack Payne an enforced one, while Darren McQueen and Danny Kedwell returned at the expense of Danny Mills and Luke Coulson.
The early stages were quiet enough with both sides getting forward well but neither creating a chance of note. Halifax looked assured on the ball and wide men Josh MacDonald and Matty Kosylo gave the Fleet defence plenty to think about when they broke upfield. It was the visitors who carved out the first chance on nine minutes when they were quickest to a ball in midfield and broke at speed, a cross to former Liverpool striker Adam Morgan well hit from the edge of the box but Nathan Ashmore got across well to palm it to safety.
That was Halifax’s best spell of the game and on several occasions Fleet failed to clear their lines and invited their opponents on to them. Connor Oliver was impressive in midfield and he picked out Morgan for another effort but the home side managed to see that off at the expense of a second corner.
At the other end, Fleet weren’t quite clicking but Darren McQueen was involved in plenty of runs and on a couple of occasions almost fought his way through, though he was well marshalled by Halifax skipper Matty Brown. He left Brown for dead, however, on 19 minutes when racing on to a ball by Jack Powell and surged across the penalty area before unleashing a shot that goalkeeper Sam Johnson reached easily enough given his 6ft 7in height.
The best chance came Halifax’s way on 23 minutes, however, as Kosylo nipped in to rob a poor clearance and with a few yards on Chris Bush already, he was able to outpace the Fleet defender and deliver a strike that smacked off the bottom of the post, much to the home crowd’s relief.
The game was beginning to open up and it was Fleet’s turn to perform, with Sam Magri bulldozing his way into the box and then sending a shot over as the clearance fell to him once more. On 28 minutes, Powell showed great skill to skip in between the defenders down the left and his surge into the box was only stopped by a good block from the goalkeeper.
Magri and McQueen both got sight of goal again before an injury apiece for either side caused a reshuffle. The influential Oliver went off for Halifax, while Drury took a knock shortly afterwards for the home side, allowing Sean Shields to be introduced.
And Fleet fans thought their side had nicked the lead two minutes before half-time when Weston eased himself into space and sent a low shot skipping past Johnson but it went the wrong side of the post.
Going in at half-time with a draw for the sixth time this season in 13 matches, Fleet emerged determined in the second 45. But they had an escape two minutes in when Morgan’s inswinging free-kick from out wide seemed to outfox Ashmore and the ball dropped in the six-yard box before being hastily cleared by the Fleet defence.
And then the Fleet were in front. The goal arrived on 48 minutes and from midfield, Kedwell saw an attack break down but managed to get the second ball into McQueen’s feet as the Halifax defence retreated. McQueen laid a perfect ball out wide just in front of Shields who ran on to it in space and fired it beyond Johnson for 1-0.
Town responded almost immediately when the referee missed a handball by David Lynch and awarded the visitors a free-kick instead for a tackle by Jack Connors. The set piece saw Tom Denton rise highest but his header was planted wide.
Kosylo was touted as Halifax’s real danger man but other than hit the post in the first half, his only other real moments of note came on the hour mark as he forced Ashmore into a good save at the foot of the near post and then found too much space to deliver a cross for the largely ineffective Denton, who was well marshalled by Clark.
Fleet played some excellent neat one-touch football in midfield at times and they extended their lead on 72 minutes courtesy of Shields once more. McQueen earned himself a second assist with an angled pass out to Shields on the right and the winger spotted a gap at Johnson’s near post and slotted an accurate ball into the space between it and the goalkeeper.
Halifax looked like they’d shot their bolt before the second goal and they struggled to rouse themselves against a competent home defence after it. The only other incident of note was almost laughable as Ashmore, shielding the ball to run the clock down in the last five minutes, was sent flying by a rugby tackle courtesy of Brown but referee David Rock showed only the Fleet goalkeeper a yellow card.
Ashmore found Halifax’s one shot on target easy enough to deal with while Weston twice had efforts go close before Powell launched a free-kick well wide as Fleet coasted to full-time two goals to the good.
EUFC: Ashmore, Magri, Clark, Bush, Connors, Weston, Rance, Drury (Shields 40), Powell, Kedwell, McQueen (Coulson 76). Subs not used: McCoy, Miles, Mills
FCHT: Johnson, Moyo (McManus 80), Brown, Hotte, Wilde, McDonald (Charles 63), Oliver (Clarke 30), Lynch, Kosylo, Denton, Morgan. Subs not used: Nicholson, Tomlinson.