As at Oxford City almost exactly a month ago, Fleet were pegged back by a late penalty as Bath City refused to be beaten by the league leaders this season. It was Fleet’s eighth draw of 2016 but with rivals Sutton and Maidstone both being held in their respective games, it was as-you-were at the top of the Vanarama National League South at the final whistle.
Fleet made a couple of changes to their line-up, Dean Pooley in for Joe Howe, Kenny Clark replacing the suspended Tom Bonner and Sean Shields getting his first league start of the season ahead of John-Paul Kissock. There was no place for Matt Godden once more, his hamstring still an aggravation, while Anthony Cook and Matt Fish also sat this one out through suspension.
Daryl McMahon’s side were eager to be about their business and it took Bath a while to gain any territory in the opposing half. Fleet carved out half-chances with Bryan Van Den Bogaert’s effort blocked, Danny Kedwell firing wide and Aaron McLean just failing to get on the end of another chance.
But from the 10-minute point, Bath – chiefly via Andy Watkins – began to gain a foothold. Watkins came up short as a ball skipped through towards Nathan Ashmore and had he managed to bring it under control, Fleet would have been in trouble. As it was, it was Bath’s Matt Taylor who was in trouble, limping out of the action on 13 minutes but Watkins was still making a nuisance of himself.
Van den Bogaert saw yellow for hauling the Bath striker back and then Watkins was grappled in the box as he ran through to a chorus of appeals from home fans but the referee waved play on.
Fleet hadn’t threatened the Bath goal with an attack of real note until the half-hour mark when the lively Sean Shields attacked down the right and sent over a ball for Sam Deering who lashed a shot goalwards that keeper Steve Phillips had to push over the crossbar. The game swung back Bath’s way briefly when Dave Pratt flashed a header across goal from a corner and then Ashmore was busy, parrying Watkins’ shot as far as the feet of Pratt but the Fleet goalkeeper managed to recover and pounce on the ball.
If City ended the half the stronger of the two teams, Fleet began the second in style. Only seconds after the restart, skipper Dean Rance’s drive wrong-footed Phillips as it spun off a Bath defender and looped past the post. The visitors were glad to see the back of Watkins a short time later when he, too, limped away from the action before Andy Gallinagh’s run caught the Fleet defence on the hop and Acheampong hauled the Bath man down, with the referee reaching for a yellow card after a seemingly worrying (for the Fleet defender) consultation with his assistant.
Fleet then changed tack, with Kissock introduced for Stuart Lewis before Jordan Parkes and Charlie Sheringham soon followed. Kedwell blasted a free-kick over and then launched a break upfield that ended up with the No.9 seeing a downward header hacked off the line.
As the game entered its final 15 minutes, Fleet were in familiar territory looking for something to break the deadlock. It duly arrived when Kedwell unsettled a defender and managed to deliver into the box where Sheringham was waiting but he struck the crossbar from close range. Fleet groans turned to cheers, however, as Parkes pounced on the rebound and drove it home for a crucial strike.
Sheringham saw another shot skid just off target as Fleet sought to wind the clock down and exploit the gaps as the Romans went forward in search of an equaliser. It looked to have been enough until substitute Ashley Kington was barged in the back by Rance with a minute to go and the referee duly awarded a penalty. Reading loanee Liam Kelly made little mistake to ruin Ashmore’s clean-sheet record at the Fleet.
BCFC: Phillips; Gallinagh, Taylor (Bowman 13), Ball, Greenslade; Hemmings, Artus (Kington 80), Murphy; Kelly, Pratt, Watkins (Williams 51). Subs not used: Simpson.
EUFC: Ashmore; Pooley, Van den Bogaert, Lewis (Kissock 59), Acheampong, Clark, Rance, Deering, Kedwell, McLean (Sheringham 72), Shields (Parkes 72). Subs not used: Miles, Howe