Fleet hit East Thurrock United for six with one of the most fluid performances at Stonebridge Road for quite some time. If a tribute to late skipper Paul McCarthy who wore the number six shirt could have been scripted beforehand, it would surely have gone something like this, with the Fleet shrugging off the disappointment of conceding a penalty early on to power clear at the top of the table by the end of the match.
Jack Powell came in for the suspended Dean Rance in the only change of the afternoon but within five minutes of the start, Fleet were forced into another switch. Dave Winfield went to ground in the opposition’s penalty box and quickly signalled that he would be unable to continue, giving Mark Phillips his first taste of football since the FA Trophy clash at Kidderminster almost two months ago.
Fleet were busy in the opening minutes, playing a fluid passing game that would ultimately undo East Thurrock later in the match. Powell had the first effort on eight minutes, curling a shot well clear of the bar on eight minutes but the visitors got their noses in front unexpectedly after that.
With nine minutes on the clock, Scott Heard got free down the right in East Thurrock’s first attack of the game and found Femi Akinwande, who had only been signed on loan yesterday. Jack Connors bundled into him but it appeared little more than a shoulder charge that Akinwande made suitably much of and a penalty was given. Reece Harris sent Nathan Ashmore the wrong way from the spot and suddenly the mood on the terraces changed.
Despite the reverse, Fleet always looked capable of an equaliser though for 10 minutes were unable to really test the visitors. Danny Kedwell’s rather tame shot was saved by Lucas Lidakevicius and there was no sympathy from the referee when Kedwell seemed to be held back inside the box minutes later.
Akinwande almost had Fleet hearts in mouths on 18 minutes when his pace took him away from Kenny Clark but he was marshalled wide enough to only be able to trouble the side netting.
Fleet upped the tempo again from 20 minutes with Sam Deering and Powell combining to set up Anthony Cook but his shot was blocked.
However, Cook’s next effort was crucial. On 26 minutes, Bradley Bubb ran through with sufficient strength to hold off two defenders and he passed wide to Cook who was in a good central position but still had to switch feet to strike a ball beyond the goalkeeper for the equaliser.
Back in the game and hungry for more Fleet just didn’t let up for the next 75 minutes. Deering saw a header tipped over and Andy Drury somehow overran a corner that skidded along the six-yard box while Clark almost stole in with Bubb in attendance as the visitors stood off another set piece.
Fleet did have one let-off in between that when Harris looped a cross to the far post and with no defender covering, Tom Wraight should perhaps have done better as he flew in just too late to meet the delivery.
The visitors were punished for that miss when, on 36 minutes, Powell struck a powerful corner to the far post and Drury met it with a bullet header to put Fleet in front. Bubb then flashed a shot across goal and Marvin McCoy created and finished a decent one-two but was disappointed to skew his shot over the bar.
Undeterred, Fleet made it three goals three minutes from the break – and what a goal it was. A throw-in just inside the East Thurrock half landed for Cook and he opened up his body and let fly with a curling shot from 30 yards that bent around Lidakevicius with a wicked trajectory and landed inside the post for 3-1.
There was no suggestion of a let-up in Fleet’s play in the second half and they had two golden opportunities inside the first five minutes. Kedwell’s run and cross into Bubb would surely have been four but for the fact the ball got stuck under Bubb’s feet and he couldn’t get a shot away and after that, Drury’s cross into Deering was just about swept off the line by the goalkeeper.
Powell’s neat footwork inside the box presented him with another chance that the goalkeeper saved and Cook then turned into the side netting, before Cook again chipped the ball over Lee Burns, rounded him and met his own pass with a shot just across the goal.
The only surprise was that it took Fleet 20 minutes to find that fourth goal. On 65, Kedwell’s overhead cross found Drury inside the box and he casually skipped around one defender to create space before blasting a low shot back across goal beyond Lidakevicius.
And it wasn’t that Lidakevicius could be faulted for anything, particularly as made two great saves from Kedwell and Cook to keep the score down.
Fleet kept up the pace into the final 20 minutes, with Drury’s distribution out to Deering and Cook giving the home side an outlet every time the ball went forwards and the quality of passing was truly mesmerising at times.
A fifth goal arrived on 81 minutes, Kedwell digging a pass out from 25 yards and sending Powell through the middle. The ex-Millwall man just about outpaced the covering defender and slipped a shot the wrong side of the advancing Lidakevicius for 5-1.
And Fleet made it six for the first time in 12 months, since beating Hemel Hempstead 6-0, when substitute Darren McQueen picked up a pass from Cook and ran along the 12-yard line before arrowing a shot into the corner with the goalkeeper’s despairing dive summing up his brave but busy afternoon.
Nobody could argue that Fleet deserved the six goals – and possibly even more – as they went two points clear at the top of the table and with a vastly improved goal difference.
EUFC: Ashmore, Cook, Connors, McCoy, Winfield (Phillips 6), Clark, Powell, Drury, Kedwell, Bubb (McQueen 70), Deering (Shields 82). Subs: Jordan, Mambo
ETUFC: Lidakevicius, Osifuna, Ruel (Craddock 46), Peddie, Marvin Ekpiteta, Burns, Heard (Honesty 82), Wood, Akinwande, Harris, Wraight. Subs: Freiter, Marvel Ekpiteta