Fleet achieved their best league win over Margate on the club’s 70th birthday with a sparkling performance as players from one to 11 – and even the substitutes that came on – contributing to an excellent overall team display.
In a considerable team shake-up, Daryl McMahon went with a back three plus wing-backs, meaning that out of the side went Sam Deering, Jack Connors and Marvin McCoy (the latter suffering from glandular fever) and in their places came Jack Powell, Anthony Cook and Sean Shields.
It was a bold line-up and it was rewarded with bold performances as Fleet immediately stamped their ascendancy on the game and never let up. Inside the first minute, Fleet utilised their flanks to storm forward and a Cook ball into Aaron McLean was thumped goalwards and very well saved by Lewis Ward. Charlie Sheringham collected the rebound and his shot grazed the outside of the post; Dave Winfield then slammed a header just wide from the resulting corner.
It could have been a different story, however, had Margate taken the few chances they were offered and a lapse in concentration at the back almost handed Elliott Buchanan an opportunity but he scooped his shot over the bar. Moments later, a high bounce caught Kenny Clark off balance and Buchanan muscled his way into contention but once more his aim was wayward.
That was really the only blot on Fleet’s copybook in the first half and the home side continued to dictate the game. On 11 minutes, Shields weaved a path through the Margate defence to create a shooting chance for himself but his effort lacked power and was easy for Ward. Two minutes later, Fleet claimed what seemed a decent shout for handball inside the box but their protests weren’t long voiced than their side was ahead. Jack Powell’s free-kick hit the Margate wall, but Dean Rance was on to it in a flash, crashing a shot against the post that came back out to McLean who made no mistake to fire in his first goal of the season.
It was Rance’s last contribution as he limped off following a challenge – but the change, bringing Deering into play, didn’t seem to upset the rhythm. Seven minutes after the first goal, Fleet really should have had two when a break allowed Sheringham to release McLean through the centre and his ball into Shields was nicely turned inside by the Fleet winger, but the shot was blocked as it seemed he must score.
Undeterred, Fleet continued to pour forward. Cook, always a threat as he attacked the line, delivered a fizzing low cross for McLean whose diving header wasn’t far from connecting with the ball. Margate had a few half chances of their own but failed to hit the target on several occasions, with Buchanan increasingly peripheral and former Fleet man Michael Thalassitis growing more frustrated as the game went on.
The talking point of the half arrived on 36 minutes when Sheringham, whose lay-offs were providing constant ammunition for the players around him, sent Deering through on goal. The Fleet substitute knocked the ball past goalkeeper Ward who brought him down and the home fans howled for a red card but the referee, apparently convinced Deering was heading away from goal, produced only a yellow. It barely mattered as up stepped Powell to despatch his second free-kick goal of the season with an inch-perfect effort out of Ward’s reach for 2-0.
The home fans continued to be treated to a virtuoso attacking display as the first-half closed out. Shields had another effort on target while McLean was constantly busy, even racing to the halfway line to rob Matt Johnson at one point. Margate survived one more late scare when another Powell free kick saw a scramble in the six-yard box that the goalkeeper eventually grabbed.
For Ward, that was his final action; as the teams emerged for the second half, former Fleet loanee defender Brett Johnson was kitted out in the goalkeeper’s kit as it turned out that Ward had been concussed in a challenge in the first-half. Expecting something of an onslaught, the makeshift custodian dealt well with McLean’s first two efforts at him, the first on 47 minutes a rasping turn and shot that Johnson did well to palm away.
Fleet continued to attack but spared Johnson too many direct interventions. One move that deserved a goal saw Deering hare into space inside the box and back-heel for Cook in a delightful combination that had the Margate defence outfoxed but Cook’s shot was blocked. Mark Phillips saw a header converted but that was deemed offside before Margate somehow cleared another attack off the goalline, with Dave Winfield and then Powell having potshots on target.
Margate couldn’t hope to hold out and they didn’t. Just past the hour mark, Sheringham held play up well to bring Powell into contention. His threaded ball through the middle was met by the onrushing Deering who skipped over a challenge and fired past the oncoming Johnson for 3-0.
Still Fleet kept coming and Cook’s persistence saw him free of the Margate back line with acres of space ahead but his cross to McLean was just ahead of the Fleet striker.
With 20 minutes left, Fleet took a short breather and twice Nathan Ashmore had to be alert, first to send a low cross at his near post behind the goal with his leg and then to make a decent save from Buchanan’s turn and shot.
But that really was Margate’s only respite and Fleet finished the game well on top. Sheringham did well to find the back of the net on 75 minutes and was very unlucky to see that chalked off to what must have been a borderline offside decision. The same player then exchanged passes with Deering in a clever one-two that saw the latter’s curling effort go just too high.
There was late excitement at the Plough End when Phillips’ sliding challenge on Luke Moore certainly got more of the ball than the man, but Moore was outraged – to the consternation of the home fans – and Phillips saw yellow.
More was yet to come, however, and Fleet fans were delighted to see substitute Darren McQueen get off the mark a minute from time when he ran in behind Manny Parry to collect a pass on the left flank that he swept past Johnson for a thoroughly deserved 4-0 for the Fleet.
EUFC: Ashmore, Cook, Shields (Connors 74), Phillips, Winfield, Clark, Rance (Deering 27), Kissock, Sheringham, McLean (McQueen 77), Powell. Subs not used: Bubb, Miles
MFC: Ward (B Johnson 46), Cash, Tumwa (Fitzsimons 27), M Johnson, Mambo, Parry, Fuseini, Moore, Thalassitis (Barrington 82), Buchanan, Donnelly. Subs not used: Akindayini, Osborn