The Fleet were hit for six in the middle of a troubled week as table toppers Fleetwood showed exactly why they are gunning for the Football League come May.
And it was hardly the homecoming goalkeeper Lance Cronin might have expected after returning to the club on loan as he took up his position between the sticks in place of suspended Preston Edwards. Elsewhere, Neil Barrett came in for Tom Phipp.
And the visitors, after a gruelling 275-mile, had the temerity to take the lead when Liam Enver-Marum fired home a trademark shot from outside the box. That 15th-minute lead lasted just long enough for Fleetwood to kick off and regroup, Gareth Seddon netting from close range.
Thereafter, the dominant home side turned on the style and raced into a 4-1 lead before half-time. Peter Cavanagh, arriving late in the box made it 2-1 from Alan Goodall’s ball in on 23 minutes, Jamie Vardy added a third five minutes after that as he knocked in a rebound after Cronin parried his initial shot and the same player won a penalty after being brought down by Yado Mambo two minutes before the break. Andy Mangan duly converted that.
The Fleet, who lost Joe Howe to injury on the half-hour mark (to be replaced by Ross Smith), sacrificed the stricken Paul Lorraine at half-time, with Phipp coming on, while Ricky Shakes replaced Nathaniel Pinney. That arrested Fleetwood’s superiority but didn’t eliminate it and Vardy lashed home his second on 48 minutes, curling in a wonderful shot from the right. It got even worse on 58 minutes, Vardy completing his hat-trick with a quite audacious lob over Cronin from the centre circle as Fleet fell 6-1 behind.
With half an hour to go and visions of an even heavier defeat, Fleet hardly needed to see the likes of Richard Brodie and Danny Rose come on, but the visitors managed to stem the flow and even take some edge off the scoreline when Enver-Marum repeated his feat of the first-half with a good shot five minutes from what was a very welcome final whistle.
It was certainly a long way to come “just to lose” as the saying goes, but Fleet must look forward and hope Southport feel the same way come Saturday evening.
TEAM: Edwards, Stone, Howe (Smith 30), Lorraine (Phipp 46), Mambo, Marwa, Barrett, Enver-Marum, Pinney (Shakes 46), Ugwu, Willock. Subs not used: McNeil, Williams.