Aaron McLean picked the perfect time to open his Fleet account with a winner deep into stoppage time that saw Fleet go from a four-point lead to an eight-point gap in the space of a minute or two, following Concord’s near-simultaenous equaliser at Maidstone.
With the December late shows at Hemel and at home to Bath City, and last week’s defeat to Margate, the heart-stopping drama continued for Fleet fans who saw their side put on an excellent second-half performance from a goal down after a mediocre first half.
Daryl McMahon made two changes to his side, Stuart Lewis returning ahead of John Paul Kissock while Anthony Cook replaced Danny Haynes. Cook made most of the early running for the Fleet, with Matt Fish and Bryan van den Bogaert also bombing forwards from their full-back positions. Indeed Fleet got a clear sight of goal with their first attack, Lewis threading a pass through to Jordan Parkes inside the area. His shot was low and on target but goalkeeper Dan Lincoln palmed it behind for a corner.
After that brief spell of attacking verve, Fleet slackened off however and it was the home side who forced the majority of the corners. From one such set piece on 25 minutes, Tom Bird floated the ball into the danger area and striker Reece Connolly rose above the Fleet defence to get a powerful header on target which the visitors were fortunate to block.
It was an even enough half in terms of possession but Fleet lacked any real penetration and didn’t unduly trouble the home back line. The best the visitors could muster came on 27 minutes when Cook found room to cross but his delivery was just nicked off Danny Kedwell’s toes by Lincoln.
Basingstoke then took full advantage, converting one of their corners on 39 minutes. Another good delivery from Bird was met Jack Deaman whose firm header was on target and with enough power to find the back of the net. Having tested the goalkeeper in the first minute, Fleet then had to wait until the 43rd to do so again, Cook forcing the issue and firing through a crowd of players but Lincoln was in line with the flight of the ball and gathered it easily.
With Kedwell and Matt Godden short on service in the first half, the team talk certainly changed things around as Fleet came out with renewed spirit. Straight on the attack, Parkes got some room out left and saw a shot blocked. When the ball eventually came forward again, Parkes was once more on hand and lashed a shot on target that Lincoln tipped over the bar.
Anthony Acheampong then saw a header from a corner cleared off the line before Parkes, who clearly fancied his chances with his shooting, sent in another effort that Lincoln put behind his goal. With barely seven minutes of the second half gone, Fleet continued to dominate and could really have scored when Deaman and his goalkeeper fluffed their lines, a back header looping over Lincoln into Godden’s path but he was out too wide and the defender managed to close him down as he shaped to angle a shot past the post.
On 65 minutes Godden had another chance when Dean Rance’s quick-thinking unlocked the Basingstoke defence and Godden ran on goal but the keeper dived low and managed to tip the ball off the striker’s boot.
And minutes after McMahon’s double substitution, sacrificing Matt Fish for a front player, Fleet equalised. Cook brought down a delivery on the edge of the box and made some space to shoot, arrowing a low drive into the corner beyond the dive of Lincoln.
Shortly after that the two substitutes combined, Danny Haynes’ good running finding Aaron McLean who had to lean back to direct a header at goal but again Lincoln snatched it on his goalline.
The home side weren’t settling for a point, however, and continued to show enough flashes up front to trouble Brandon Hall and his defence. Liam Enver-Marum sent a wickedly curling ball goalwards that Hall put out for a corner and the former Fleet man almost found Connolly lurking in the middle of the box before Tom Bonner got a tackle in.
But it was Fleet who still looked more likely for the second goal. Kedwell saw another header diverted for a corner before his shot minutes later rebounded out to Stuart Lewis whose touch perhaps needed more power but was scrambled clear from the six-yard box. McLean followed that up with an ambitious but nonetheless promising shot from 25 yards that disturbed the side netting before Lewis again whipped a shot just wide.
The clock was ticking down, however, and Basingstoke looked to be standing firm as the game entered four minutes of stoppage time, but then came one final Fleet onslaught. Brandon Hall’s long kick downfield found Kedwell and he headed diagonally into space where McLean was lurking. The Fleet new boy stretched a leg out and just caught the ball well enough to send it past Lincoln and give his side a precious, morale-boosting and who knows how important three points.
BTFC: Lincoln, Case, Bird, Soares, Gasson, Deaman, Dunn (McAuley 80), Southam, Connolly, Flood (Enver-Marum 63), Williams (Macklin 69). Subs not used: Smart, Howe
EUFC: Hall, Fish (Haynes 65), Van den Bogaert, Lewis, Acheampong, Bonner, Rance, Parkes (McLean 65), Kedwell, Godden, Cook. Subs not used: Sheringham, Kissock, Miles