FLEET FRUSTRATED AGAIN AS THEY FAIL TO EXACT REVENGE ON BORO…
STEVENAGE BOROUGH 1-0 EBBSFLEET UNITED
Report by Allan Main
The Fleet may have been cast in the role of vengeful crusaders by some as they sought to dismantle Stevenage’s play-off hopes in return for the FA Trophy defeat but a sixth game in 12 days was hardly the platform from which to spring such a surprise in a game where both sides looked under par.
Liam Daish made one enforced change from the team that drew with Kidderminster, on-loan Charlton midfielder Rashid Yussuff coming in for the injured Danny Slatter, while Stevenage were missing familiar former Fleet pair Michael Bostwick and Andy Drury.
Any fears that the Fleet’s flagging energy levels and second-string midfield might mean they were overrun were quickly dispelled as the visitors matched Stevenage in the opening encounters, Michael West again catching the eye. But for all their resistance, the Fleet had problems making much count in the final third and though they enjoyed a spell in the ascendancy in the opening quarter – especially when West forced Lawrie Wilson into a mistake that saw the ball drift just wide of the home side’s post – Boro looked the more likely to open up a defence.
Indeed they could have taken an early lead on 16 minutes when Steve Morison capitalised on a poor clearance from Lance Cronin and though he got the better of Leon Crooks who was the only man back, his shot was easily gathered by the Fleet goalkeeper.
Cronin became busier thereafter and though he made saves from Callum Willock and Gary Mills, he was relieved to see another Willock effort on 17 minutes brush the post. At the other end West, Stacy Long and Ricky Shakes combined well and Shakes’ deep cross-cum-shot was intercepted by Chris Day as it flew across the goal.
And hold their own though they did, the Fleet proved vulnerable to the one move of genuine quality on 32 minutes. Winger Mitchell Cole played a quickfire exchange with Willock as Mark Ricketts found himself in a world of confusion and Cole ran into the box and beat Cronin with a precise shot that ended up in the corner of the net.
Fleet heads went down and the home side stepped up their game, Willock firing at Cronin and Morison just clearing the bar with an effort forged by Scott Laird. Long kept the Fleet in the hunt just before half-time, snapping off a shot from outside the box that wasn’t too far wide of the post.
Daish’s half-time team talk provided more impetus for his side in the second period and three minutes in Crooks’ shot from Michael Gash’s knock-down was somehow blocked by Day with Fleet fans scarcely able to believe their bad luck in front of goal in recent games.
Sacha Opinel was extending his usual courtesies to the crowd at the Lamex and he saw yellow on 54 minutes for a foul on Wilson but oblivious to the catcalls ringing out around the ground, the Frenchman was on hand two minutes later to head Cole’s shot off the line with Cronin beaten. It was his final contribution as he made way for Dean Pooley.
Boro continued to press but with less vigour and the game ran more or lesson auto-pilot for the remainder. Gash was fighting a losing though non-stop battle with the impressive Jon Ashton and the Fleet midfield appeared to be exhausted long before the final whistle. Boro’s best efforts came from on-loan Aldershot winger Junior Mendes on 67 minutes when he bent a shot just wide of the post while three minutes from time Peter Vincenti couldn’t repeat his late semi-final heroics and blasted wide when well-placed.
There was just time for traditional Boro villain Dino Maamria to make a cameo appearance, giving Liam Daish a minute’s peace from the Boro coach’s constant pitchside antics, before the final whistle and another brief respite for the Fleet less than 48 hours before another game on Monday brings them closer to the end of a weary season.
TEAM: Cronin, Stevens, Opinel (Pooley 61), Crooks, Charles, West (Purcell 80), Yussuff, Ricketts, Long, Shakes, Gash (Ibe 74).
Subs Not Used: Mott, Sole.