Scott Ginty scores his first goal but Fleet are beaten by the league leaders…
If somebody had handed the Fleet six goals and six points a week ago, they would undoubtedly have accepted it with open arms. So defeat at Oxford and a drop to 23rd – as a result of Forest Green Rovers picking up three points – is certainly not a catastrophe and in spells today the Fleet showed that their recent good form is no flash in the pan.
The visitors lost Stefan Bailey to tonsilitis which meant a recall for Ishmael Welsh in an otherwise unchanged side that was hoping to upset the form book against a top five side for the third time in succession. But league leaders Oxford were certainly a different proposition having dropped only two points from a possible 30 at home and conceded only three goals.
And they showed their credentials within four minutes when former Fleet frontman Onome Sodje exchanged passes with Adam Chapman before Alfie Potter wrong-footed Leon Crooks and cut inside the Fleet defence to unleash a shot that whistled across Lance Cronin’s goal and into the roof of the net. Barely had the Kassam Stadium settled down from that beginning than Oxford’s barnstorming display yielded a second five minutes later. Simon Clist showed a cool head to find space for James Constable who slipped behind the Fleet defence to fire home his 16th goal of the season.
The in-form striker could have made it three on 16 minutes with the Fleet defence rocking, but his shot went wide. Gradually, the Fleet dug in to prevent a rout and could have pulled one back on 22 minutes when Welsh got the better of Chapman on the flank and supplied a fine cross that Magno Vieira met with his head and it required an equally superb save from Ryan Clarke to stop it going in.
Constable was again within a whisker of making it 3-0, on 33 minutes, after he turned Crooks inside out, fine build-up play and a pass from Adam Murray leaving the defence flat-footed. Smith and Crooks were finding it difficult to shackle Constable and Sodje, while Potter kept Darius Charles busy, but the Fleet kept the yellow tide at bay until half-time as Oxford eased off, much as they had done in their 2-0 win at Stonebridge Road earlier this season.
Any thoughts that the Fleet were in for a non-event of a second half were dispelled on 55 minutes when Crooks again found himself trailing behind a yellow shirt as Sodje raced through, his drilled shot driven into the side netting. But at the other end, the Fleet carved themselves a lifeline. With 57 minutes on the clock, Michael West kept his head with yellow shirts closing him down to play a fine ball through to Welsh and the winger’s excellent cross was converted by Vieira from close range. The Brazilian almost produced a magical equaliser a minute later when West’s cross landed eight yards out but Vieira could only overrun it as he tried to connect.
That miss proved costly as Oxford stepped up a gear and Potter ghosted through the Fleet lines, shrugging off Charles and Crooks with too much ease. With Cronin off his line, Potter chipped a stunning effort from 30 yards that eluded the goalkeeper’s hands and hit the back of the net. The fourth wasn’t long in coming, Potter again the central figure on 68 minutes, forcing Cronin into a stop but the Fleet number one couldn’t prevent Constable converting the rebound.
But all credit to the Fleet who refused to buckle or throw in the towel and they ended the match on the front foot. Scott Ginty, on for Welsh on 73 minutes, shot through a crowd of players, the result bouncing narrowly wide. Then on 81 minutes Alex Stavrinou found himself in space and he headed down into the path of Ricky Shakes but again Clarke was able to watch the shot drift past the post.
Oxford twice saw substitute Francis Green put through one-on-one with Cronin but his aim was off on both occasions. The same couldn’t be said of the Fleet’s Ginty when he ended a great move two minutes from time. Ross Smith sent the Fleet away down the right flank and West, catching the eye with another mature display, floated in a cross which found Ginty on the left of the Oxford box and he curled a fine shot round Clarke to add respectability to the scoreline.
Although the Fleet were rarely in this game, other than the spell just after their opening goal, a spirited display that yielded another two goals will have kept the confidence levels up. Given Oxford’s home record, and the fact that the Fleet have scored two of only five goals converted by visitors to the Kassam this season, it is one more reason for Daish’s ‘belief’ mantra to be taken seriously. That said, the manager was not at all happy with his side’s defending and refused to take solace in their two goals. “We’re playing Oxford, not Manchester United,” he told BBC Radio Kent. “They’re in the same league as us. And we’ve not given ourselves a chance by rank bad defending. I’m disappointed by our defending. You can’t come to Oxford and give them a two-goal head start in the first 10 minutes.”
TEAM: Cronin, Heeroo, Charles, Crooks, Smith, Stavrinou, Holmes, Welsh (Ginty 73), West, Shakes, Vieira (Wills 79). Subs not used: Lamprell, Salmon, Pooley.