The Fleet exacted revenge for the defeat by Havant at the Kuflink Stadium in December by earning their fourth win in five games.
And, much like our previous game at Westleigh Park that ended 3-3 back in 2019, this one was packed with drama and incident as nine-man Fleet not only held off 10-man Havant, but picked them off too with a first goal with his first touch of the afternoon from substitute Dominic Poleon.
Fleet made three changes from the win over Hampton in midweek. Jordan Holmes and Chris Solly returned from slight injuries, with Will Wood taking the berth on the left, at the expense of Giosue Bellagambi, Josh Payne and James Dobson.
On Havant’s pristine 3G surface, Fleet were determined to implement their style from the off and the passing route provided the platform for an early goal.
It came just three minutes in, Solly finding the space to spread play wide to Tobi Adebayo-Rowling. He spotted Alfie Egan’s intelligent run between two defenders and as the midfielder got behind the Havant back line, he fired in a low delivery from the right that Rakish Bingham reached just ahead of Lee Martin to fire the Fleet in front and record his 11th goal of the season.
Havant tried to respond with plenty of ball retention but couldn’t unlock a Fleet back line that has become a lot meaner in recent weeks. Both sides played some neat football, spraying play wide, but further cast-iron opportunities were few.
Havant’s Josh Taylor took down a chested ball from Danny Kedwell but Holmes was quick to react to that and the Fleet goalkeeper continued to anticipate anything that came his way.
Bingham’s pace took him through the middle on 21 minutes as he briefly had only Joe Tupper to beat but Havant’s covering defenders did just enough as Craig Robson beat the Fleet striker to the final ball.
New signing for the home side, striker Tony Lee, twice had opportunities to grab an equaliser. On 24 minutes he was on the end of an attack from the left but Sefa Kahraman produced the tackle and Bobby-Joe Taylor the swift clearance.
Moments later, the tall Lee was on the end of a ball in from Kedwell and his free header should really have found the target but looped away from the Fleet goal.
On the half-hour, Martin showed some neat skills to take him past two defenders but as he weaved into the box and went down on the edge of it, the referee deemed it a dive and produced a yellow card.
Six minutes later, Fleet put together another flowing move. Jake Goodman found Egan with a long ball and the midfielder played a neat one-two with Jack Paxman before crossing low into the box once more, this time cut out by Robson for a corner.
The first-half delivered some more drama just before the break when both managers were red-carded after an exchange of frank views, with Paul Doswell and Simon Walton both inside the Fleet technical area until the referee put a stop to it and issued his first set of cards.
But Havant were soon back into the game shortly after the break. Like the Fleet goal, it arrived three minutes after the whistle. Billy Clifford’s deep cross from the right was chested down by Kedwell into the path of Lee. His shot was saved by Holmes but ran clear to Robson who had an open goal to aim at for his second of the season against the Fleet, having previously scored at the Kuflink Stadium.
The next two chances came Egan’s way. On 53 minutes, Adebayo-Rowling robbed Havant of possession on the right and Egan’s shot from the edge of the box skipped across goal but off target.
Six minutes after that, some great one-touch play involving Wood, Martin, Taylor and Paxman worked a route to goal and Egan was there on the penalty spot ready to strike before Anthony Straker nicked it off his toes.
But a minute later the game boiled over. Solly went to slide a ball out of midfield past Theo Widdrington who flew in on the former Charlton man’s ankles. In his first game back since being the victim of a similar tackle at Slough, Solly reacted briefly and the referee produced red cards for both players.
With 10 men a side and 1-1, the match was finely balanced but it tipped Havant’s way moments later. As Josh Taylor broke away on the counterattack, Adebayo-Rowling had to pull out of a tackle, allowing the Havant man to rampage forward. Martin chased him and lunged at him to dispossess him, the referee reaching for a second yellow and dismissing the Fleet skipper.
Changes were inevitable, with Fleet needing fresh legs for the task ahead to plug big gaps in the middle and Adam Mekki replaced Wood. Doswell sent for his big guns, with Bedsente Gomis on first to take advantage in midfield, followed by Roarie Deacon from the bench.
Fleet understandably tried to keep play out of the middle of the park, with Taylor getting through plenty of running down the left. It was little surprise that Havant gained an upper hand in terms of possession as they probed for a weakness but although they got into the box on a number of occasions, Fleet were unhurried and calm in defence.
With Egan and Paxman absolutely tireless in the middle, the visitors even began to turn the tide and carve out their own chances. Egan won a corner with a drive from the left byline before Tommy Wright’s useful shot from distance failed to beat Holmes.
Fleet maintained a positive outlook despite the numerical disadvantage and when Kutrieb called for a second substitute, it proved to be a masterstroke. Poleon said in midweek how much he was looking forward to striking up a partnership with Bingham but instead on this occasion, he replaced him… to devastating effect.
Moments after coming on, Poleon grabbed the winner in the 79th minute. Taylor’s free-kick deep in his own half was glanced on by Adebayo-Rowling towards Poleon. The substitute rounded Robson, left him on his back and fired past Tupper. He’d been on the pitch 24 seconds.
Havant pushed and pushed for a lifeline after that. Wright headed just wide and Sam Magri’s pinpoint cross for Joe Iaciofano was dangerous, the substitute’s firm header from close range held by Holmes.
But Fleet’s pluck and courage was summed up in the dying minutes when they very nearly added a third. Paxman got away on the counterattack, fed Poleon and Egan sprinted 60 yards to receive a pass. His ball across goal was perfect for a red shirt attacking it but Fleet couldn’t muster enough men to get there in time.
Instead, Egan went alone with his next chance. His run from the halfway line took him past three Havant defenders and his shot almost beat Tupper, the goalkeeper having to reach behind him to grab the second ball as Egan desperately tried to force it home.
Fleet had four anxious extra minutes to hold out but did so with relative ease to record a hugely welcome win in such adversity.
EUFC: Holmes, Adebayo-Rowling, B. Taylor, Kahraman, Goodman, Wood (Mekki 68), Solly, Egan (West 90), Paxman, Bingham (Poleon 78), Martin. Subs: Allen, Dobson
HWFC: Tupper, Straker, Magri, Robson, Clifford, Taylor, Kedwell (Iaciofano 84), Wright, Lee (Gomis 68), Widdrington, Williams (Deacon 73). Subs not used: Rowe, Chambers-Parillon