Relegation-haunted Maidenhead United showed iron resolve and stood firm in the face of an Ebbsfleet side desperate to confirm their play-off place before a possibly frenetic final few days of the season. That, however, did not come to pass and as a result of this defeat at York Road, Fleet head into the final weekend needing one win to guarantee them at least fifth place.
Steve Brown made only one change, Michael Thalassitis coming in for Billy Bricknell, against a Maidenhead side who knew that a defeat together with wins for their rivals would send them down. The home side, with ex-Fleet front men Lanre Azeez and Jacob Erskine (in an unfamiliar defensive role) in their line-up, had the first chance inside five minutes when Azeez forced his former teammate Preston Edwards into a low save.
Thalassitis had a lively enough first half, drawing a save from Jonathan Henly on 11 minutes but the Magpies battled well and refused to let the Fleet settle into a pattern of play. Danny Green fired an effort in from long-range to keep Edwards busy before Thalassitis again led the Fleet line, his shot from distance upsetting Henly who needed two goes at it to get the ball under control.
Gradually, though, Maidenhead began to fancy their chances and Dan Brown sent a shot over before Reece Tison-Lascaris buried an effort into Osei Sankofa’s midriff with the home fans screaming for handball inside the box. Those supporters got their reward three minutes before half-time, however, when Azeez found space to send in a low delivery to Green and though his shot wasn’t the cleanest, it was enough to wrong-foot the Fleet defence and roll past Edwards for what would prove to be the match winner.
With scant time before the break for an equaliser, Maidenhead nevertheless did their best to let the Fleet back into things with a couple of defensive howlers. Brett Longden’s half-clearance fell invitingly for Anthony Cook but his shot was blocked by Henly. A minute later and Thalassitis powered past his marker following another dreadful back pass but his shot was off target.
Fleet huffed and puffed in the second half to no avail and the first 15 minutes was devoid of entertainment or solid chances. Michael Corcoran woke the crowd up on the hour mark as his interception and shot flew at Henly whose quick reactions pushed the ball off the bar and back into his arms.
For the home side, Azeez still buzzed energetically before leaving the field on 63 minutes, but not before he gave home fans another penalty shout, though Daryl McMahon’s firm tackle appeared to take the ball before the man. Fleet had a lucky escape minutes later when Harry Pritchard fizzed a low shot along the six-yard box but there was no Maidenhead foot to turn the ball over the line.
With Bricknell’s introduction, Fleet had another good chance as he drilled a volley straight into the goalkeeper’s arms while Cook’s shot cannoned off the post and along the six-yard box. Henly was almost left wiping egg off his face in the dying moments when he dropped a routine cross but a defender was on hand to hook the ball to safety and with it Fleet’s last chance to wrap up a play-off spot.
Instead, that piece of unfinished business now runs until Thursday at Concord, should Fleet’s FA appeal on Wednesday fail. The Essex side saw their own play-off chances scuppered at Sutton but a win for them on Thursday would mean Fleet needing to beat Dorchester while hoping to keep either Havant or Dover at bay. Depending on results, it could all still come down to goal difference.
TEAM: Edwards, Howe, Palmer, McMahon, Acheampong, Sankofa, Corcoran (Osborn 65), Rance, May, Thalassitis (Bricknell 58), Cook. Subs not used: Hall, Lorraine, Sessegnon.