TROUBLE AT MILL FOR THE FLEET AS STAGS STRIKE A BLOW TO WINNING RUN…
MANSFIELD TOWN 2-0 EBBSFLEET UNITED
Report by Allan Main
The Fleet’s three-match winning streak was ended by a clinical Mansfield Town side at Field Mill tonight with the Stags scoring in either half to pick up all three points.
With the Fleet midfield hit by yet another blow as John Martin was recalled by Stevenage Borough, PASE graduate Michael West was called into the starting line-up for his full league debut after making his first league appearance of the season from the bench against Northwich on Saturday.
Sacha Opinel returned to defence and Giuseppe Sole also made the starting line-up, while Luke Moore was still out with a knock. No doubt the Fleet are starting to feel the effects of their non-stop schedule and with another three games to come before Monday, this away trip was always likely to prove tricky.
However, there was no signs of exhaustion in the early stages of this match and West’s enthusiasm presented his side with their first chance on three minutes as he supplied Ricky Shakes whose cross caused consternation in the Stags ranks.
Fleet then won two corners that saw Michael Gash and Saturday’s scorer James Smith go close as an eventful and even game looked set to delight the travelling Fleet fans. But there were warning signs from the home side and the ever-threatening Louis Briscoe bothered the Fleet defence with the first of many crosses on eight minutes, while on 16 minutes he fed Daryl Clare with a well-crafted pass but Darius Charles did well to put the striker off his shot.
But just as the Fleet travelling contingent were beginning to get into full voice, their side fell behind. On 22 minutes Clare lofted a pass into space that got the better of Opinel and Briscoe took advantage, executing a good run and shot past Lance Cronin.
The lively Briscoe sent a second effort just wide on the half-hour mark and towards the end of the first period, he again turned Opinel inside out on the right of the pitch before crossing for Clare who was rather wasteful with a shot over the bar.
The Fleet kept plugging away, utilising Shakes for the most part who was proving much quicker than his marker and the best opportunity on 32 minutes saw Mark Ricketts and Shakes combine to present Gash with a shooting chance but his decent effort from distance was well held by goalkeeper Andy Marriott. The goalkeeper again got in the way of a speculative Sole effort from a corner as the Fleet kept pressing.
With two minutes to go until half-time, Cronin almost gifted the home side a second as he hacked an Opinel back pass straight at Briscoe but the Mansfield goalscorer blazed his shot wide with the goal at his mercy.
But any thoughts the Fleet may have entertained about getting back into the match were undone within 90 seconds of the restart. Former Aldershot and Weymouth winger Ryan Williams caught the Fleet defence napping and sent a decent cross towards the far post where Rob Duffy rose highest to glance the ball in off the woodwork.
The home side now pressed home their advantage and Cronin and Stacy Long had to produce last-gasp blocks to deny Clare and Duffy. But having withstood that, the Fleet enjoyed a spell of pressure with Shakes and Ricketts working hard in midfield and George Purcell, when he replaced Opinel on the hour, getting a couple of crosses in and producing a shot that just cleared the crossbar.
There was still plenty of openings in the game though it had started to peter out in the last 20 minutes. Clare forced Cronin to save with his legs after rounding Crooks, though the Fleet defender had earlier denied Briscoe. And it was Clare again on 78 minutes who looked certain to score after Williams’ low shot was parried by Cronin but the Fleet goalkeeper recovered to avert the danger.
Substitute Danny Slatter kept Marriott working with a shot at the other end while Shakes got the better of Curtis Woodhouse to play in Purcell and he in turn crossed for Gash who forced Marriott into a smart save.
That was the last of the Fleet’s energy reserves depleted and it was a valiant effort given their application over the last few weeks. They survived another late scare, however, and an unfair reflection of the game had the scoreline been 3-0 when Cronin rather misjudged an Aaron O’Connor effort but the Fleet managed to scramble it away for a throw as it bobbled ominously inside the penalty area.
TEAM: Cronin, Crooks, Opinel (Purcell 60), Charles, Smith (Stevens 86), Ricketts, Long, West, Sole (Slatter 72), Gash, Shakes. Subs not used: Mott, Henry.