The acid test of a change in Fleet’s fortunes in recent weeks was always going to come down to this visit to Gander Green Lane, the graveyard of so many Fleet sides over past years.
It’s been 17 years since Fleet fans last tasted victory here and they hadn’t even seen a goal against Sutton in five games. Today they got three goals, witnessed the season’s first back-to-back wins and seen despair turn to jubilation in the 11th minute of time added on.
No wonder a drained Kevin Watson spoke of luck mingled with grit and determination as his side dragged themselves off the bottom of the table time and time again this afternoon, only to return there and then climb away once more with their last kick upfield.
“When Jordan goes off and they’ve equalised twice, you’re thinking you’re not going to get out of this, the luck’s against you,” Watson told BBC Radio Kent’s Charles Webster. “But they’ve proved me wrong. I’ve seen some things in football but sometimes you make your own luck and I think today we did for various reasons.
“At times we were very good, we saw it out and you get a bit of luck at the end. It feels amazing and I’ve got a group of players there whether good, bad or indifferent are giving me absolutely everything.”
Fleet certainly didn’t have it all their own way in a match that went to and fro on a slippery pitch. Watson felt his side weren’t always at the races and played into Sutton’s hands on occasion.
“We were under the cosh at times,” he said. “Not from shot after shot after shot [but from] set pieces. They have a way of playing, most teams in this league do, up to [Omar] Bugiel, getting bits and pieces off him. And they’re OK at it to be fair to them but we dealt with it. I’m disappointed to concede from a set piece again.
“If you keep giving away set pieces to a side like Sutton who clearly work on them, then you will concede. But on the whole I thought we dealt with it really well. There were corners we didn’t need to give away. We were a little bit loose in certain areas which we need to tighten up on, hence the couple of changes I did make.
“We stuck at it, we didn’t play particularly well… in despatches we did. I was surprised we were a little sloppy with the ball on a pitch I thought would suit us. But Sutton are used to it, they play on it every other week, we’re not and we’ve come to their patch and by hook or by crook we’ve got a result.”
Fleet opened the scoring with a free-kick from Albie Morgan that Watson said the Charlton loanee might not be able to claim as his own.
“He’ll claim it but unfortunately it will be given as an own goal because it came off the post and is coming back out and hit their goalkeeper on the back.”
The second goal was a peach of a volley from Josh Payne – whose strike at goal came despite his manager telling him to do the opposite!
“That is a once in a lifetime strike, an unbelievable strike,” Watson enthused. “I would have been proud of that when I was playing. Wonderful volley. I see him letting it drop and I just wanted him to head it back into the danger zone and I’m saying return it and he’s letting it drop and I think, what’s he doing here? He’s just hit it straight off the laces with loads of dip. Tristan [Lewis] has said to me the keeper should have saved it but I said you’re joking! It’s gone up and down so quickly he couldn’t get anywhere near it.”
As for the goals at the other end, Sutton’s second equaliser came as they crowded Jordan Holmes from a corner but Watson didn’t feel there was much wrong with that.
“We should have dealt with the ball in the near-post space where we do have someone who needs to attack that ball and clear it,” he said. “It should never have got where it got to, especially into our net. But you’ll very rarely get free-kicks out of that so no real complaints. I’d have been disappointed if it was up our end, we scored like that and the ref disallowed it.”
That set up the grandstand finish with the injury to Holmes as he took a shot to the face and Watson revealed his choice to go without a substitute keeper was just one of those things that comes back to haunt managers only on very rare occasions.
“I chose to leave a goalkeeper off the bench today for the mere fact Kingy was struggling a little bit with a hamstring,” he revealed. “I wanted Ayo and Grimesy there, right footer and left footer, to decide if Kingy did struggle what way I would go. The two midfield boys I left out today from the other night, I couldn’t leave one of them off completely and I had Tomi [Adeloye] as a forward. So I spoke to Harry [Palmer], who I’ve got a lot of confidence in, and I said I’ll leave you out today. What’s the chances of the goalkeeper going down? When you see that happen, which probably happens once in a blue moon, you think this really isn’t going to happen for us.
“When Jordan went down we were on 81 minutes and the game restarted at 86 so that’s five minutes and I don’t think there was four minutes more stoppages and then he still played 11 minutes, admittedly with the penalty. Some weeks decisions go with you, some they go against you. I thought on the whole they were going against us a little bit but at the end, it is a penalty and the lad has dragged Grimsey down as he’s gone to head it, the ref did have a good look.
“A lot of credit to Gozie who’s been left out of the side the last couple of weeks but he’s stepped up and taken a terrific penalty.
“And the support today from our fans was magnificent, too, turning out in their numbers.”