Mambo, number five, scoring after five minutes – it was a headline writer’s dream. But for Fleet, the dream start faded as a slow beginning to the second-half allowed Whitehawk back in the game to claim a point.
Yado Mambo’s goal on his first league start for Fleet since his return came as he received a call-up at the expense of the injured Anthony Acheampong. That was the only change to the line-up, though Shane Huke’s appearance on the bench only a week after resuming full training was testament to his natural fitness and Steve Brown’s lack of available centre halves.
It was fair to say that Whitehawk’s Enclosed Ground was something different in Skrill South with its chalky bank down one side, array of newly-installed seats at either end and tucked-away location a stone’s throw from the English Channel. But Fleet certainly suffered no culture shock as they got off to the perfect start. Whitehawk had a decent Jake Robinson free-kick hastily cleared in the opening spell but a corner on five minutes was floated to the far post and there was Mambo, like Acheampong a week before, climbing highest to head beyond Spurs loanee Jonathan Miles in the Hawks goal.
Billy Bricknell had the ball in the net on 12 minutes with a nicely-executed overhead kick but play had been pulled back for an infringement moments before, denying the Fleet striker what would have been a fine goal. Whitehawk lacked ambition in the opening period and the best they mustered was a 23rd minute effort from Waide Fairhurst who struck a low shot from the right flank that Preston Edwards gathered.
Anthony Cook had the first of three shouts for a Fleet penalty turned down a minute later as he felt he was upended by Tom Cadmore but the referee wasn’t interested. And on 28 minutes, the visitors lost Michael West to an injury, the No.9 having taken a knock earlier that was clearly hampering his progress. He was replaced by Michael Thalassitis.
The home side grew in confidence as the half went on and could have been back on level terms when a deep corner saw Danny Da Silva flash a header across a gaping goal which Aiden Palmer managed to clear, the first of a clutch of corners as Whitehawk slowly ratcheted up the pressure. Fleet survived that, however, and then had a second shout for a penalty when Cook was again impeded wide on the right, this time by Lee Mills, but the despite remonstrations to the assistant referee, the Fleet winger was left frustrated.
Fleet came close to a second four minutes before half-time with one of their better moves of the half, Dean Rance and Daryl McMahon combining with Alex Osborn but his ball into Osei Sankofa was despatched into the side netting.
The visitors emerged in the second half seemingly lacking energy as Whitehawk were allowed to play further forward and enjoy more possession. Fairhurst worried the Fleet defence early on with a shot that Edwards almost spilled before top scorer Danny Mills grabbed the equaliser on 52 minutes. Fleet gave away a rather needless corner and from the right, Robinson drifted in a cross that Mills rushed on to and headed through a crowd and into the back of the net.
Back came Fleet and Thalassitis headed into the goalkeeper’s arms from close range after a good free-kick delivery courtesy of Cook. Then at the other end, Mills could have added a second when he sprung the offside trap and attempted a lob over Edwards that bounced wide of the post.
Fleet suffered another injury on the hour with Sankofa struggling, giving Huke his first opportunity since October, and he showed no ill effects despite the dry, bobbly pitch underfoot.
Despite the slow pace of the game, there were still chances and Rance was involved at either end, going close with a header on 61 minutes that he flicked over the bar from McMahon’s free kick and then making a vital interception to deny Mills. Thalassitis tested Miles with a good strike on 67 minutes as he got in behind the Whitehawk defence and then the game swung back the other way, Tom Fraser’s shot across goal almost creeping in as the Fleet defence lost concentration.
But the visitors finished the game the stronger of the two sides and Rance was denied the strongest shout yet for a penalty nine minutes from time when he appeared to be brought down by Sami El Abd. Then right at the death, with Fleet pressing, Cook beat two defenders to curl a shot just wide of the upright and then fired over after excellent work from Osborn on the wing to get a cross in.
They were Fleet’s last chances, however, and they had to settle for a point – making up some ground on Bromley but falling further behind the new Skrill South leaders Eastleigh.
TEAM: Edwards, Howe, Palmer, McMahon, Mambo, Sankofa (Huke 59), Osborn, Rance, West (Thalassitis 28), Bricknell, Cook. Subs not used: Hall, Corcoran, Sessegnon.