LOCAL STRIKERS COME GOOD FOR THE FLEET’S FIRST WIN OF THE SEASON…
TORQUAY UNITED 0-2 EBBSFLEET UNITED
The Fleet’s homegrown talent put much-fancied Torquay United to the sword in tonight’s televised clash in the West Country as goals in either half from local-born strikers Luke Moore and substitute John Akinde elevated their side to 11th in the table, just three points off second place at this early stage of the season.
Liam Daish made his first changes of the season to his side, bringing in skipper Paul McCarthy and Mark Ricketts in place of James Smith and Peter Hawkins respectively. In a game that was billed as Torquay’s chance to avenge their FA Trophy Final defeat, observers could have been forgiven for wondering what all the fuss was about in a low-key game affected by strong winds and wet conditions.
Neither side began particularly well, with Fleet’s initial forays tending to blow back in their faces while Torquay – with the wind behind them – merely thrashed the ball forward and often as not saw it carried by the wind into the away stand behind the goal. Fleet’s first chance fell to Ricky Shakes on 6 minutes after a break from a Torquay corner but the winger somehow spooned his shot well wide of the post from a central position. Shakes continued to get in good positions down the flanks as Fleet counterattacked well, but his crosses tended to be overhit or gathered easily by the tall figure of Michael Poke in goal.
It was the unlikely figure of Poke, in fact, who caused the first worry for the Fleet on 22 minutes when he launched a goal kick that evaded everyone and bounced over even Lance Cronin before clearing the bar, much to the relief of the men in red.
Neil Barrett went close with a snapshot from the edge of the box and then Moore hit the side netting with a shot seconds later but on 26 minutes he went one better. Michael Gash cleared from a corner and Moore, picking the ball up inside his own half, sprinted into the Torquay box, squeezed between Kevin Nicholson and Lee Mansell and then swerved away from another defender before hitting a shot past Poke and into the back of the net. It was a superb goal, illuminating an otherwise murky affair, and was just reward for Moore whose three appearances this season have all been noteworthy.
The goal lifted the Fleet and they started to hold more control in midfield, though the home side should perhaps have equalised on 36 minutes when Chris Todd’s low shot looked goalbound until tipped round the post by the outstretched arm of Cronin. Long, surprisingly quiet for much of the half, had a shot parried by Poke as the rain began to teem down and the game degenerated in tandem with the weather.
Torquay emerged positively in the second half, though their fire seemed only to last minutes as the Fleet defence weathered the storm somewhat shakily. But as the rain abated, so the Fleet grew in confidence. Elliot Benyon looked Torquay’s most potent attacking threat as Tim Sills seemed strangely out of sorts, but even Benyon’s efforts came to nought in the face of a decent display by Darius Charles. Torquay boss Buckle made a triple substitution on 64 minutes but where in the previous two games this had turned the tide against the Fleet, Liam Daish’s men showed no signs of letting their three points drift away.
Sure enough on 77 minutes, the Fleet made sure of it. A harmless-looking long ball forward found only Chris Hargreaves back for Torquay and Akinde – on for Shakes – stole in between the makeshift defender and the advancing Poke and guided the ball into the back of the net. Four minutes later it should have been 3-0. As he did at Wembley, Akinde robbed the full-back on the byline and crossed for Long, whose close-range shot was unfortunately straight at Poke. There was time for a debut appearance from new signing Jamie Hand as substitute as the Fleet played out the remaining minutes but Torquay never looked capable of scoring – quite something considering the attacking prowess they exhibited courtesy of Zebroski, Sills, D’Sane and Mohamed in the corresponding fixture last season. But then, given that only one of those players was on the pitch tonight, coupled with a rock-solid defensive partnership in McCarthy and Charles, it was hardly surprising that the home side looked toothless at best.
TEAM: Cronin, Ricketts, Opinel, McCarthy, Charles, Barrett, Stone, Long (Hand 84), Shakes (Akinde 66), Moore, Gash (Purcell 90). Subs not used: Mott, Hawkins.