Fleet move up another place as they win the New Years Day derby…
The Fleet recorded their first double of the season and enjoyed their first clean sheet since early October with a convincing win over fellow strugglers Grays Athletic.
Looking to build on the Boxing Day win over their Essex neighbours, and also to put behind them the disappointing result at Hayes, the Fleet were forced into changes with Clint Easton replacing father-to-be Darius Charles who was awaiting the birth of his child, while Michael West came in for Ishmael Welsh who dropped to the bench.
And just as they had on Boxing Day, the Fleet got off to an early start courtesy of some good fortune and suspect goalkeeping. With just seven minutes on the clock, Grays half-cleared a Fleet attack but only as far as Peter Holmes 35 yards from goal. He saw keeper Preston Edwards off his line and sent a speculative shot looping over the static goalkeeper which dipped at the last second to fly in under the crossbar.
The Fleet were fluid going forward on a very bumpy pitch and with West and Ricky Shakes in good form, they unsettled the shaky home defence every time they galloped towards goal. West got himself in several good positions and cannoned in a shot on 10 minutes that needed a block from a defender to stop Magno Vieira pouncing on the loose ball.
The same two Fleet players were involved again two minutes later, this time with better reward. West made space on the edge of the box, slipped the ball to Alex Stavrinou and his shot was deflected past the luckless Edwards by Vieira to give the Fleet a rare two-goal lead.
With the Grays midfield second best to the industrious Stefan Bailey and Holmes, and their defence continually on the back foot, the Fleet continued to probe for a third goal. Shakes twice got behind the back line only for Edwards to thwart him and he won plenty in the air against bigger men, with knock-downs falling to Dean Pooley and West again past the half-hour mark.
At the other end, Lance Cronin was rarely troubled, plucking a Richard Graham corner from off the head of Fola Onibuje, while his defenders did a sterling job getting blocks in on the rare occasions that blue shirts found their way into the box.
And the Fleet made the game all but safe three minutes before half-time following good build-up play down the left involving Bailey and Easton and when an incisive ball came flashing across goal to the far post, Shakes made no mistake in converting from close range for his second goal both of the season and against this opposition.
Harlee Deen got the ball into the back of the net for Grays shortly afterwards after Cronin spilled a shot but the effort was ruled out for offside while for the Fleet Bailey did well to accelerate into space but sent his shot just over the bar.
Home boss Julian Dicks made two substitutions after the break but while the Fleet seemed either to run out of steam or took their foot off the gas, Grays rarely looked like making a dent in the scoreline. They saw more of the ball and in wide men Graham and Deen found a little more room to make runs into the Fleet half, but Easton, Crooks and Pooley were well on top of their game while Will Salmon added plenty of forward momentum.
It was Crooks who thwarted Graham when he blasted a shot from close range that would surely have troubled Cronin and the same player flashed another just wide of the far post but that was the closest the home side came to scoring. The Fleet had to be content with potshots from Bailey and Shakes but the sizeable and vociferous travelling contingent were by then happy to take home three points without biting their fingernails for the final 10 minutes.
TEAM: Cronin, Salmon, Easton, Crooks, Pooley, Stavrinou, Bailey (Wills 87), Holmes, West (Welsh 75), Shakes, Vieira (Ginty 82). Subs not used: Henry, Forshaw.