THE FLEET GET DEJA VU ON THE TROPHY TRAIL AS A GOALLESS DRAW YIELDS A REPLAY…
WREXHAM 0-0 EBBSFLEET UNITED
Report by Allan Main
Don’t speak it too loudly, but some of us are getting a definite sense of deja vu. This time last season the Fleet produced an identical scoreline in the quarter-finals of the FA Carlsberg Trophy to bring Burton Albion back to Stonebridge Road and this afternoon they were spared even the backs-to-the-wall mentality of that match as they edged proceedings against a Wrexham side that lacked sparkle.
For all the familiarity of this competition at the Fleet, Daish’s starting XI contained only three players who were in the Wembley final squad but they were than up for this game and grew in stature as it progressed. Wrexham got off to a bright start in midfield, Wes Baynes probing down their right and causing Derek Duncan a little anxiety, so much so that the Fleet defender saw a yellow card as early as the sixth minute and had a talking-to from the referee shortly after for a succession of robust though harmless challenges.
The home side almost nosed in front on the quarter-hour mark when on-loan Gillingham midfielder Andrew Crofts broke clear and though his pass was collected by Neil Barrett, the Fleet man inexplicably lost possession on the edge of the box to Jefferson Louis but the rangy striker’s shot was at Lance Cronin who dealt with it comfortably. Minutes later Louis forced Craig Stone into a clearance as he slid a pass across the six-yard box with Wrexham looking to stamp authority on the game.
But after those couple of let-offs, the Fleet grew more composed and wide men Ricky Shakes and Giuseppe Sole were beginning to find their feet. On 18 minutes Shakes supplied Sole who forced debutant Aurelien Collin into conceding a corner and the ex-Woking striker added to that in a promising spell with two shots saved by Wrexham keeper Gavin Ward and one fired over the bar. Fleet’s own debutant, John Martin, was buzzing around midfield and doing a better job than his opposite number Crofts, linking up well with Sole down the left where Wrexham looked most shaky.
The visitors were also benefitting from a number of free kicks and with the quality of Martin, Long and Sole in the team, were actually making the most of them. Long had a direct free-kick gathered under the crossbar by Ward while Martin’s supply route was eagerly attacked by Michael Gash in the air. As the Fleet maintained their slight upper hand, Wrexham fans grew frustrated with their side who, Louis’ chance aside, were struggling to find a way past the Fleet rearguard where Darius Charles and Leon Crooks reigned supreme.
On 40 minutes, however, the Fleet had more serious problems as Wrexham broke away from a Fleet attack, Stone was left prone on the ground inside the home side’s half. He was attended by both physios and a lengthy period of treatment ensued before he was stretchered off with a suspected broken lower leg. Mark Ricketts’ introductionand a Collin volley which flew wide of Cronin’s post were the last real actions of the half which the Fleet ended looking comfortable at the back and while lacking conrete chances up front, had unsettled Collin and Christian Gyan in the Wrexham defence.
Sure enough in the second half, Dean Saunders removed Gyan and his replacement Nicholas Fairhurst almost capitalised as Gash dithered over a pass but his shot was off target. It was a sign that the home side had woken up and they enjoyed a spell of pressure around the hour mark, winning a number of corners as Baynes put Duncan under pressure and Louis’ combative style created a little space up front.
But the Fleet weathered that storm and when Luke Moore was introduced for Sole, their energy levels rose again. It was credit to Daish’s forward thinking as the Fleet adopted a more rigid 4-3-3 approach. Moore was looking eager and his quick feet were leaving Collin in his wake, an outlet that won Fleet a free-kick on 67 minutes and a rather harsh red card for Collin after he fouled Moore on the edge of the box. It looked more obstruction than anything else but with his departure went lacklustre Wrexham’s hopes of avoiding another game in their hectic schedule.
With the referee’s constant fussy interjections enraging the home support, the sending-off decision encouraged the Fleet no end, of course, and Long’s turn and shot almost caught out Ward, who also had to hold onto a low shot by Shakes from inside the box. Moore too threatened again and it was only a last-ditch Baynes interception that stopped the Fleet striker surging into the six-yard box.
At the other end Crooks almost outwitted his own goalkeeper under pressure from Jon Brown but that was all Wrexham had to show up front. Louis was withdrawn with 15 minutes left having contributed little in the second half and Fleet fans will hope he is no more dangerous when suspended strike partner Marc Williams returns on Tuesday.
With Fleet looking to wrap up the tie there and then, Matthew Judge came on for Shakes with three minutes left and he could have won it at the end when Ricketts’ cross into the box rolled along the six-yard line but the substitute found himself just out of range.
So it’s back to Stonebridge Road on Tuesday night in an uncannily familiar rerun of last season’s Trophy campaign. This was a game that Fleet’s travelling support of 160 were nervous about but bar a two-minute spell in either half, it seems that the Trophy magic and Fleet cup spirit is still in plentiful supply.
The only blot on the landscape was the injury to Craig Stone – and the latest news on that is he will be operated on to have a pin inserted in his broken leg. Officials and fans of the club would like to wish Craig the speediest possible recovery.
TEAM: Cronin, Stone (Ricketts 41), Duncan, Crooks, Charles, Barrett, Martin, Long, Shakes, Sole (Moore 61), Gash. Subs not used: Mott, Pooley, Moore, Judge.