Fleet pulled a performance out of the bag under the most trying of circumstances to become only the third team to take points off leaders Salford at home. A gutsy, committed 90 minutes from front to back denied Salford a win on the day they equalled a club record 14th game unbeaten and it sets the visitors up well for Tuesday’s Kent derby.
Daryl McMahon made one enforced changed, Dean Rance out with an ankle injury sustained in training and so Myles Weston made a return as part of a midfield four.
Salford didn’t have it all their own way as Fleet worked ever so hard to limit them to shots from outside the box and utilise Corey Whitely’s speed on the break.It was clear from the off that Salford were going to play neat, flowing football and in Scott Wiseman and Tom Walker down the right, they had an effective attacking flank. From that route came City’s first attack on three minutes but Nathan Ashmore was nearest to the cross.
Fleet then enjoyed a spell in the ascendancy, forcing three corners. The first was earned by Danny Kedwell who stooped to meet Sam Magri’s pass after Whitely had started the attack, but goalkeeper Chris Neal tipped it over the bar.
Neal made another save moments later, rather fumbling Luke Coulson’s low shot around his post before needing the crossbar to come to his rescue when Dave Winfield’s header through a crowd came down off the woodwork.
Salford gradually began to force the issue and Magri had to be on hand when Walker got the better of Payne out wide and his cross was an inviting one into the six-yard box.
On 15 minutes a swift counterattack down the left had Fleet wide open and a cross arrowed towards Adam Rooney, who cut inside, tried to slide a shot past Ashmore but found Kenny Clark well-stationed in the six-yard box to clear.
Salford were on top by this stage and enjoying more possession but Fleet’s defending and hard work forced them to shoot from distance and frustrate the home fans. The visitors continued to take their opportunities on the break and another Whitely attack was cleared only as far as Jack Payne whose shot seemed on target but deflected to one side of the goalkeeper who managed to gather.
Danny Whitehead had a couple of shots that were saved by Ashmore and then blocked before Fleet opened the scoring on 35 minutes. Whitely again sprinted away on the break and in one swift movement, switched feet and lashed a shot from outside the box that flew beyond Neal’s dive.
The lead lasted only three minutes, however, as a cross from the Salford left landed somewhat fortunately at the feet of Gaffney. His first shot was ever so well saved by Ashmore but the rebound only came back out to Gaffney who forced the ball home.
Salford were on the attack straight off in the second half and Gaffney launched a shot across goal two minutes in that had Ashmore scrambling.
Fleet weren’t being subdued, however, and Weston twice showed some skill to dink in front of his marker and get shots away, the first deflected behind for a corner. Weston was at the heart of everything that was good about the Fleet in that spell, linking up well; to receive passes from Payne and Andy Drury in the middle.
Magri sped into the box on the hour mark only to see his low delivery just about cleared as it made its way to Coulson before the defender showed good poise to keep Danny Lloyd under wraps as Salford broke in a rare attack.
Fleet continued to fight and press and unravel Salford’s sporadic attacks, frustrating the home fans at every turn. Payne broke up play in the middle but Salford still threatened with their quality all over the park finding them an extra yard here and there and Ashmore had to be at his very best.
Substitute Dennis Politic found another gear for the home side and his width and direct play was a problem for the Fleet but Magri in particular stood up to that. Politic’s ball into Lloyd was brilliantly saved by Ashmore and Salford’s follow-up effort seemed certain to hit the target but another Fleet body got in the way of that.
Fleet had to withstand some pressure in the final 10 minutes and it threatened to be the Politic show as the substitute dipped a shot just over that Ashmore helped on its way. Magri hacked clear the resulting corner and then thwarted Gaffney out wide as the goalscorer threatened to home in on the target. Ashmore saved the best for last three minutes from time, diving at full stretch to turn away a goalbound effort of real force and with that the home fans got up to leave.
Fleet finished strongly, Drury lobbing over the bar after Shields had got round the back and the blue shirts justifiably kept Salford at bay to take a point for their gargantuan efforts.
EUFC: Ashmore, Magri, Bush, Winfield, Clark, Payne, Drury, Weston, Whitely (Shields 79), Coulson (McQueen 84), Kedwell. Subs not used: Miles, Adams, Wilson
SCFC: Neal, Wiseman, Touray, Shelton, Pond, Piergianni, Lloyd (Rodney 90), Whitehead, Rooney, Gaffney, Walker (Politic 68). Subs not used: Crocombe, Hogan, Maynard,