Fleet delivered Christmas cheer with a four-goal blast and an extension of their lead at the top of the table to 10 points – but were pushed to the limit by a stubborn Concord Rangers side who fought back to within a goal during the second half.
First-half goals together with four clinical and well-taken strikes was just what Daryl McMahon had ordered from his side and though the second half may have been nervous watching at times, the home side deserved their win.
Playing three at the back after an injury in training to Joe Howe, McMahon deployed Anthony Cook and Danny Haynes on the wing, with Anthony Acheampong coming in for the suspended Tom Bonner. Dean Pooley was also drafted in on the bench as defensive cover.
The steady pace of the opening spell certainly gave no hints at the drama to follow as neither side could take the game by the scruff of the neck. Sam Bantick looked busy for the visitors with two early shots and he almost created a goal for former Fleet man Ben Greenhalgh but Kenny Clark got back in time to clear from beneath the crossbar.
Fleet hadn’t pressed much, with a half-chance for Matt Godden who headed just over from a Parkes cross the only effort early on, while Parkes himself carved open a channel through midfield to supply Cook, whose delivery into Danny Kedwell was cleared off the No.9’s head.
At the other end, Lewis Taaffe was afforded too much space to unleash a low drive towards the bottom corner that Brandon Hall saved at full stretch, one hand reaching to push away the goalbound effort.
But Fleet were clinical with their one surefire chance on 32 minutes. Cook robbed James Hammond in the Fleet half and Godden worked a superb through ball for Kedwell who skipped behind the nearest defender, sprinted through and though he seemed to have taken the ball too far, kept his cool to drive a rising shot past Ben McNamara.
Concord came back and exploited a gap in defence with Bantick picking his spot to fire a shot off the crossbar. It dropped kindly for Taaffe and Hall had to be careful to avoid a foul as he shepherded the player away from the goal.
The visitors were left cursing their luck with that miss when Parkes received a short pass from Kedwell and tucked away a shot at McNamara’s near post that the Concord goalkeeper might have been disappointed to let past him.
It was a fairly pedestrian first-half that Fleet’s two-goal spree had enlivened but the second-half was full of thrills – and spills. Only four minutes in, Cook got a head of steam up on the left flank and was felled by Hammond. Parkes lined up the free-kick from wide and sent a curling shot high and over McNamara into the far post top corner for 3-0.
Had Fleet had time to enjoy that three-goal cushion, Concord might have found no way back but the visitors responded within three minutes. Steve Cawley patrolled the 25-yard line before picking out Taaffe at Fleet’s left-hand post and he was in space to fire past Brandon Hall.
Fleet could have extended their lead when Godden saw a shot saved by McNamara, and then Stuart Lewis and Cook curled efforts just wide of the post but on 61 minutes, Concord put the cat among the pigeons with another goal.
A long back pass rolled off Hall’s foot for a corner and Greenhalgh crossed it in, with Cawley getting the final touch in a goalmouth scramble to force the ball over the line. Fleet stood off for a spell as Concord exploited the deep areas of midfield to press for an equaliser. McMahon buoyed his back line with the introduction of Pooley and a reversion to 4-4-2 but the reinforced defence could do nothing but admire midfielder James White’s terrific shot from distance that crashed off the crossbar.
Both sides kept plugging away, Godden getting clear of the Concord back line but overhitting his pass to Kedwell waiting in the middle. And as four minutes of time added on were declared, Fleet fans were desperate to avoid another late, late show.
They got one, but this time at the right end. As Concord pressed, Godden got a loose ball in midfield across to substitute Alex Osborn. He advanced quickly, picked out the supporting run of Godden who had plenty to do but held off a defender and rasped a gleefully-received shot past McNamara.
EUFC: Hall, Fish, Haynes (Osborn 80), Lewis, Clark, Acheampong, Rance, Parkes (Pooley 69), Kedwell, Godden, Cook. Subs not used: Miles, Sheringham, Kissock.
CRFC: McNamara, Hammond, Stephen, Dowie (Cornhill 82), Easterford, Bailey-Dennis, Taaffe, White, Greenhalgh, Cawley (Cox 74), Bantick (Gardner 74). Subs not used: King, Lee.