Fleet’s mini-resurgence came shuddering to a halt at fellow play-off hopefuls Havant & Waterlooville as the home side struck either side of half-time and survived having a man sent off to go 10 points clear of the Fleet and leave the visitors with an uphill struggle – to say the least – to make it to fifth spot.
There was only one change to the starting line-up with Theo Lewis recalled in place of Matt Johnson, while Danny Kedwell was on the bench after missing Fleet’s last two games.
The home side, looking to cement their place in the top five before a run of three successive away games, certainly came out of the blocks flying and put Fleet on the back foot with former Dartford and Bromley wide man Ben Swallow creating much of their threat from his position down the left.
Fleet relieved some of the early pressure on the counterattack with Sean Shields and Matt Fish getting forward as often as they were allowed but with Swallow, Bradley Bubb and Josh Huggins driving the home side, Havant looked a threat on numerous occasions. Tom Bonner got in the way of Bubb’s sixth minute effort and Brandon Hall did very well to save Ben Wright’s effort a minute later.
Gradually, however, Havant ran out of steam a little and Fleet dug in. Stuart Lewis caused confusion in the home box on 17 minutes with a shot that pinged up into the path of Dean Rance and there was a suspicion of a foul from Brian Dutton as he challenged but nothing was given.
And Fleet’s best spell came around the half-hour mark, culminating in their best chance courtesy of Fish’s forward ball which split the home defence for Adam Cunnington to run through but goalkeeper Ryan Young and his defenders mopped up.
Havant found their rhythm again as half-time approached and Hall had to save from Swallow once more. A goal really was coming at this point as the Hawks had numerous chances – Huggins, Wright and Swallow combined in an excellent move that saw Scott Donnelly fail to hit the target before a corner ran clear to Bubb lurking from eight yards out but his connection was minimal.
With the Fleet defence unsettled, Havant made the most of a Bonner foul 25 yards out which earned him a rather harsh booking. Nonetheless, the home side took full advantage and top scorer Donnelly stepped up to swing his set piece around the wall and straight into the back of the net.
Jamie Day’s side really tried to force the issue at the beginning of the second half and Shields raced through the middle and into the box only to be stopped by Dutton. Fish then fired just over as the visitors looked to make life difficult for Havant. And 10 minutes into the second half, things looked like they’d turned around for the home side. Brian Stock, who previously played in the Football League for Doncaster and Burnley, won a free kick after he’d been fouled but as the whistle went, he responded with a bad challenge on Rance and was shown a straight red.
The home side plugged the gap with midfielder Nick Awford while Fleet weren’t waiting too much longer to introduce Kedwell for Rance on 63 minutes. But before he could even get into the game, Havant took the pressure off themselves with a crucial second goal. It came as Fleet were pushing upfield in search of an equaliser but they lost possession, Swallow capitalised, raced upfield and got a shot away – and although Hall got in the way of his shot, the Fleet keeper let it slip through his grasp.
All 10-man Havant had to do was keep things tight and starve the lacklustre Fleet of space and they did that to good effect. The visitors had a few sniffs of goal, particularly when Warren Cummings almost headed into his own net from a high delivery into the box before the crossbar then saved Havant. Shields tried his utmost to create something of note, Cunnington saw one slide just wide and Young made a good stop late on from Fish but Fleet had long run out of ideas about how to turn things around.
TEAM: Hall, Fish, Jefford, Rance (Kedwell 63), Langmead, Bonner, Godden (Marsh 88), S Lewis, Cunnington, T Lewis, Shields Subs not used: Turner, Acheampong