Ginty’s tonic not quite enough as fighting Fleet take a point in dramatic final flourish at Aggborough…
‘Believe’ may well be Liam Daish’s motto but on the evidence of this season, he should probably adopt ‘Expect the unexpected’ as well as his Fleet side so nearly bounced back from defeat to Barrow by taking three points from Kidderminster.
Behind to an early goal and having lost top scorer Magno Vieira after only 18 minutes, it looked like an uphill battle for the Fleet against a Harriers side unbeaten under new manager Steve Burr and unbeaten this year. But when Scott Ginty’s second-half strike put the visitors in front, three points were, however fleetingly, on the cards.
Keeping faith with his starting XI despite the reverse at the weekend, Daish must have been spitting feathers as his side conceded via yet another cross with only five minutes on the clock. It was Brian Smikle who was sent clear and he put over a cross for Darryl Knights, in too much space, to head beyond Lance Cronin’s flailing arm.
With 10 minutes gone, Cronin produced the first of a string of excellent saves as he narrowed the angle with Robbie Matthews bearing down on goal and it encouraged the Fleet to finally get on the front foot, Peter Holmes’ firing into the goalkeeper’s arms from distance before Alex Stavrinou went closer with a fine shot that was smothered by Ross Atkins.
Leon Crooks had to be alert as Smikle and Knights again combined and as Jordan Collins put Smikle off his stride, Crooks cut out the delivery to the waiting Knights.
Fleet’s hopes of a comeback were dealt a blow as Vieira made way for Ginty on 18 minutes, with some observers pointing to the Brazilian nursing a tweaked hamstring as probable cause.
And though Harriers enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, the Fleet refused to be downhearted. They were rewarded on 36 minutes when after a spell of pressure from the home side, the Fleet broke and Holmes picked out Moses Ashikodi, the striker producing an acrobatic volley into the back of the net for his fourth goal in as many games.
The half almost ended on a sour note when Collins’ half-clearance was intercepted by Knights who played in Smikle but he drove just wide.
There was more anguish for Daish after half-time when Will Salmon came on for Crooks and Dean Pooley pushed into the middle, earning a caution almost immediately for upending Smikle. Both sides were playing at pace, Harriers more dynamic coming forward certainly, but the Fleet mounting a superb rearguard. But it was Cronin who had most to be proud of as he continually thwarted the home side, twice stopping former teammate Chris McPhee from breaking through and again from Knights’ 57th minute effort.
With McPhee starting to dictate things in the middle and the running of Knights and Smikle causing problems, the home side forced a number of corners and Cronin pulled off yet another brave save from McPhee’s ball in with Smikle lurking and then again at Smikle’s feet on the edge of the six-yard box. It took Fleet until the hour mark to have a proper sight at goal, Holmes usual shot from distance no real threat.
But on 68 minutes the Fleet turned their lack of threat on its head, substitute Ginty advancing into space and letting fly with a long-range shot that beat Atkins at his right-hand post. But the jubilation of the small band of Fleet fans was short-lived as Harriers sub and debutant Adam Boyes headed down a long ball and Smikle was one-on-one with Cronin, a duel from which the Fleet keeper for once did not emerge victorious.
The final quarter-hour was dramatic and heart-stopping for the visiting fans as Harriers scented victory, particularly with Pooley struggling to keep up with the pace, nursing as he was a blow to the leg. McPhee had a shot on the turn that was brilliantly stopped by Cronin. And as the seconds ticked out another substitute, Marc Goodfellow, drove a shot goalwards that Cronin again parried and with Smikle odds-on to turn the ball home from four yards, Stefan Bailey slid in from nowhere to somehow send the ball skidding along the line and away to safety.
Still Harriers weren’t finished and neither was Cronin as he stopped McPhee’s header from a corner, Fleet’s Wembley goalscorer giving his former goalkeeper a rueful smile in the process.
Fleet’s win-or-bust attitude of the last few months has not allowed much room for draws, this their first since a goalless stalemate against Crawley back in early October. And while it may not propel them up the table, it could be vital given that Daish’s team’s goal difference is effectively a point lost in itself. This was a good night’s work by the Fleet, and not without its fair share of luck, but it shows that whatever the odds, this side can still pull goals and results from the bag.
TEAM: Cronin, Pooley, Collins, Crooks (Salmon 46), Charles, Stavrinou (Heeroo 75), Holmes, Bailey, Shakes, Vieira (Ginty 18), Ashikodi. Subs not used: Wills, Welsh.