Fleet manager Kevin Watson admitted to extreme disappointment after his side had all but grabbed a replay only to see it wrestled out of their grasp in a frenetic Emirates FA Cup finale.
“What a way to lose a game and I just said to the boys to take a little bit of heart from it,” he told BBC Radio Kent’s Charles Webster. “I’m extremely disappointed but as a club and a team we’re making great strides and I couldn’t have asked for much more from our boys today.”
The manager did feel, however, that he could have asked for a bit more from referee Carl Brook and his officials, some of whose decisions will at least merit a second look on the video footage.
“I’m not going to make excuses but two of their goals, the first one the lad’s literally got hold of one of my players and blocked him,” an aggrieved Watson said. “It wouldn’t have looked out of place in Japan last week in the Rugby World Cup Final. The officials failed to see it. The last one, everyone in the ground is wondering why the referee is blowing his whistle for a foul. From the foul comes a free-kick, from the free-kick comes a corner, [then] comes their winner.”
But the questionable decisions aside, Watson took nothing away from the winning performance of a strong Notts County outfit.
“All credit to Notts County to come here and get a result,” he conceded. “They’re on a fantastic run, a big team in this league. Notts County are a good side so Neal [Ardley]’s obviously got them in at half-time and given them a little bit of a rocket. It was a very good test. [They] only lost I think two in 13, none in nine, and we were on a decent run, it was an even game of football.”
Fleet had a gameplan to combat County’s strengths and that paid off in a solid first-half display.
“We worked on what we thought Notts County’s strengths were,” said Watston, “and it worked a treat. Especially in that first half where we limited them to hardly any chances. Our shape was excellent. I’m not sure we’ve run out of energy. I don’t think you can dominate a game from start to finish at any level but we needed to do more of what we were doing in the first half. We didn’t start quickly at all in the second half, they had their 15-20 minutes and they scored.
“But I’ve got to give my lads a pat on the back because when we went 2-1 down we got flat for five or 10 minutes and all of a sudden we’ve dragged ourselves up again, had numerous chances, scored the penalty and I thought there was only going to be one team going to win from then on. It didn’t turn out to be that way but all credit to our boys for coming back into it and getting the penalty. You just always felt that there was a winner in the game for someone and Notts County got it.”
There will of course be analysis about Fleet conceding from a set piece once more but Watson is also wanting his side to be more ruthless up front. That said, his side haven’t failed to score since he was in charge and indeed all season, Fleet have managed to find the net in most games.
“We are scoring goals and I still think we can be more ruthless in front of goal,” said the manager. “We had several chances in the second half after they’d scored their second goal so a little bit disappointed we didn’t get the goal before the penalty which came late. If we had, I think we may have gone on and nicked the game.
“And we need to stop conceding goals which we are. But scoring goals, you most certainly get value for money when you watch us at the minute. But we [need to] tighten up a little bit defensively, and we’re always going to score goals. So that will be the main thought in the week before we play Hartlepool.”