Moses Ashikodi’s fifth goal in five games earns the Fleet another hard-fought but well-deserved away point…
Unbeaten away from home this year, taking their run to six games on the road, Ebbsfleet United might almost be thankful they have only three home games left. Today was another example of a spirited fightback against a side who might have hoped for an easy passage towards three points.
With top scorer Magno Vieira out injured and Ricky Shakes also not making the squad, Liam Daish handed Scott Ginty only his second league start of the season, while Will Salmon pushed upfield to accommodate Dean Pooley at right-back once more.
And Ginty had first sight of goal on six minutes, finding himself in space to head Salmon’s cross over the bar. But it was a slow enough opening to the game in chilly conditions and though Wrexham were starting to impose themselves in midfield, their goal came as something of a surprise. Fifteen minutes in and Christian Smith, who had already worked a few openings for himself, struck a fine pass from the right that found Andy Mangan in the box and the former Forest Green striker did well with little room to manouevre to fire past Lance Cronin.
The Welsh side could have nosed further in front but for the linesman’s flag ruling out Luke Holden’s conversion for offside. They continued to press the Fleet back and the visitors were struggling to deal with high balls to the speedy Mangan and Andy Fleming as Wrexham sought to take advantage of their aerial threat.
The home side should definitely have made it 2-0 when Mangan again got clear of the Fleet back four but Cronin was out smartly and pressured the striker into firing the ball wide of the target. Smith, Holden and Mangan had efforts while the Fleet were restricted to harmless half-chances courtesy of Pooley and Moses Ashikodi. That said, Peter Holmes could have grabbed an unlikely equaliser on the stroke of half-time when goalkeeper Sam Russell spilled the ball at the skipper’s feet but he smacked his shot into the side netting.
The Fleet emerged more purposeful in the second half and slowly began to increase their territorial hold, something plainly lacking in the first 45 minutes when Alex Stavrinou and Stefan Bailey struggled to assert themselves.
And with the Fleet defenders much more assured as they wised up to Mangan’s breaking runs, Wrexham were restricted to fewer chances. Smith had a good effort from close range fly over on 49 minutes but around about the hour mark, the Fleet had a good spell on top. Daish replaced Salmon with Kane Wills and adopted a more typical-looking 4-4-2.
It paid off for him on 69 minutes when Cronin lofted a free-kick from deep inside his own half that sailed sweetly to Leon Crooks who with Ginty’s help hoisted the ball back towards the lurking Ashikodi. The hotshot striker miskicked his first effort with the merest of touches before accepting the gift of a second chance to fire low beyond Russell. The strike made it five games running with a goal for Ashikodi and also seven from his 10 games this season.
Wrexham attempted to up the tempo but it seemed too little, too late, although when Fleming exploited Wills’ hesitancy in the final five minutes to scamper clear of the chasing pack and present Holden with a fine chance, the Red Dragons’ winger should really have shown his gratitude by hitting the target.
Cronin still had work to do, with two saves from Mangan, but the Fleet saw out the remaining minutes with confidence and Daish didn’t feel compelled to shore things up with Heeroo or stretch the play with Welsh or West from the bench, before he saluted the travelling 50 or so Fleet fans to acknowledge another hard-fought and perhaps crucial point.
TEAM: Cronin, Pooley, Collins, Crooks, Charles, Salmon (Wills 63), Stavrinou, Holmes, Bailey, Ginty, Ashikodi. Subs not used: Hagan, Heeroo, West, Welsh.