Fleet came unstuck in the final minute at Haig Avenue this afternoon – and for Fleet supporters it was deja vu as the home side were awarded two penalties to add to the four they gained against the Fleet last season. But the difference on this occasion was that Fleet got one of their own – missed by Liam Enver-Marum – in a first-half when missed chances ultimately proved costly.
Liam Daish was forced into changing his side due to Ryan Blake’s injury and that meant James Folkes was drafted in to the starting XI, with Moses Ashikodi and Craig Stone returning to the bench.
The home side got going on their set pieces early and a couple of corners put the Fleet defence under early pressure, while Phil Walsh also had to clear from a Shaun Whalley free-kick, the same player forcing Paul Lorraine into an important block on 8 minutes. Patrick Ada saw yellow on 12 minutes for a foul on Tony Gray as the referee set his stall out early… though he let plenty of other challenges by both sides go as the half progressed.
Fleet appealed for a penalty on 17 minutes when Enver-Marum went down as goalkeeper Tony McMillan advanced to clear the ball and then Ada was fortunate to escape with a ticking off as he blatantly handballed from Chris Lever. From the resulting free-kick Simon Grand somehow sent his close-range header over the bar.
With the home fans already disgruntled over the Ada incident, they were further incensed on 25 minutes when Nathan Elder flicked on a header from Folkes that hit Lever on the arm inside the box and a penalty was awarded. But, having scored in such a situation against Mansfield, Enver-Marum was not so accurate this time around and McMillan dived low to send the ball back into play from where Tom Phipp struck the rebound wide.
Enver-Marum was involved again six minutes later as he rounded James Smith and raced into the area but his shot went wide. The game became increasingly fractious, not helped when Neil Barrett pole-axed Andy Parry and earned a card for his troubles. And moments later Grand’s hefty challenge on Phipp went unpunished much to the disgust of the Fleet bench.
Phipp dusted himself down to almost edge the Fleet in front on the stroke of half-time when good build-up play by Elder and Ram Marwa saw Enver-Marum cross into the box but Phipp’s touch sent it wide of the post. And Phipp was again involved at the other end when Lever smashed a shot against his hand inside the penalty area but the referee waved away the home side’s protests.
Southport were more purposeful in the second half – indeed they earned a penalty within seconds of the restart when Whalley burst into the box and was sent tumbling by a combination of Folkes and Paul Lorraine. But Gray’s spot-kick was pushed against the post and bounced back up into a grateful Edwards’ arms.
Buoyed rather than disheartened by the missed opportunity, Southport had several good chances to take the lead. Whalley, Karl Ledsham and Alan Moogan had shots on target, the first of which was brilliantly saved by Edwards. Whalley fizzed another dangerous low shot across the box on the hour mark after Lorraine had headed Grand’s shot clear and with his side on the back foot Daish introduced Ashikodi and Liam Bellamy.
Ashikodi was straight into the action when his pace got him clear but his snapshot was well saved by McMillan. The home side regrouped and nine minutes from time substitute Michael Bakare lashed a shot towards goal that Edwards once again did very well to tip over the bar. From the corner, Fleet twice cleared off the line before Ada rather acrobatically dispatched the ball over his own crossbar to clear the danger.
Just as it looked like a point might be bagged and tagged for the Fleet, a third penalty on 89 minutes proved the difference. Ada brought down Chris Almond which resulted in Godfrey Poku and several other players squaring up. But ultimately it saw a second yellow for Ada and a chance for the home side to win it which – after a long, bad-tempered delay – they duly did, Lever finally outwitting Edwards with a well-struck kick.
TEAM: Edwards, Folkes (Greenhalgh 83), Howe, Walsh, Lorraine, Ada, Barrett, Marwa, Phipp (Bellamy 66), Enver-Marum (Ashikodi 66), Elder. Subs not used: Menz, Stone