GIUSEPPE SOLE GOAL CANCELLED OUT AS BEN WRIGHT WRONGS THE FLEET…
KETTERING TOWN 2-1 EBBSFLEET UNITED
Report by Allan Main
This was another away day reverse that had promised so much more in an opening encounter in which the visitors scored first and looked almost bright and bushy-tailed before the home side’s play-off ambitions proved stronger than the Fleet’s survival instinct. With Mark Ricketts suffering from a knock, Sacha Opinel and Giuseppe Sole won recalls while Michael Gash returned to the starting line-up at the expense of Luke Moore.
It was a rapid opening with both Stacy Long for the Fleet and Ben Wright for Kettering testing their sights with shots. But the Fleet found their aim soonest and with only six minutes on the clock, they dashed the initial expectations of the Poppies fans when Derek Duncan’s shot came back off the crossbar and for once the Fleet were in luck and in the six-yard box, allowing Giuseppe Sole to poke the ball home.
The Fleet were making a deal of space for themselves and playing with a measure of confidence, Gash troubling the centre back pairing of Exodus Geohaghan and Guy Branston, and his header on to Luis Cumbers provided the on-loan Gillingham youngster with an effort on goal. It was good, positive stuff from the Fleet with Jamie Stevenes settling well into the right back role and Duncan battling well in midfield.
But the home side, pressing for a play-off spot, delighted their fans on 22 minutes when Branston supplied the fleet-footed JP Marna down the left and the winger’s fine cross was tucked away by on-loan Peterborough striker Wright who placed a shot past Lance Cronin who was rooted to the spot. It was a simple enough goal but a good build-up that rather outfoxed the Fleet defence which until that moment had been coping admirably.
Wright had another shot minutes later before Gash went close at the other end, his effort diverted by Dale Bennett. On 32 minutes Sole was inches away from converting Darius Charles’ free kick but couldn’t make a solid connection while Gash again tried his luck with a flick-on that cleared the bar as the Fleet continued to show their mettle in the final third. At the back, Sacha Opinel was hardly endearing himself to Kettering’s noisy following, booked early on for a challenge on Alfie Potter and then facing a stern talking-to for a second, though less ferocious, tackle despite Potter making the most of it. That said, the referee missed – or chose to take no action against – Gareth Seddon’s clear hand to face motion in an off-the-ball incident with Opinel.
But Fleet’s stickability away from home has been in doubt most of the season and they were undone quickly after the restart. No sooner had Moore replaced Cumbers than Wright managed to outwit Charles and get to the ball first from where he bagged his second goal of the game with an adroit lob over Cronin from the edge of the box. Alfie Potter could have put the game beyond the visitors on 61 minutes, firing high after good work from Seddon.
James Smith then replaced Opinel and all credit to the Fleet in so far as they showed a little more bite in their haste to equalise and they were only prevented from doing so by goalkeeper Lee Harper. As he did at Stonebridge Road in November, the ex-Sittingbourne keeper got down superbly to block Moore’s 69th minute shot from close range that seemed certain to go in.
Gash also pulled an overhead kick out of the bag that had Fleet fans momentarily excited and he had another two chances from corners while substitute Shakes looked to make progress as he raced down the wing, but Luke Potter managed to halt him in his tracks.
But that was as near as the Fleet came in a league campaign that has now seen only two victories in 2009 and if the realisation hadn’t dawned that points in the bag are more important than games in hand, it is fast doing so. The Fleet cannot afford another one of their losing streaks and given a mediocre away record, a home game cannot come soon enough. And as the packed fixture schedule would have it, that arrives on Tuesday in a must-win clash at Stonebridge Road.
TEAM: Cronin, Stevens, Opinel (Smith 61), Crooks, Charles, Duncan, Martin, Long, Sole (Shakes 78), Gash, Cumbers (Moore 53). Subs not used: Mott, Yussuff.