Bradley Bubb’s 11th league goal of the season kept Fleet in the hunt and the title in our own hands as his 90th minute strike earned the visitors a point against 10-man Hampton & Richmond Borough.
Fleet’s chance appeared to have gone when Danny Kedwell saw his penalty well saved by goalkeeper Sam Howes but Bubb’s late equaliser kept Daryl McMahon’s side three points behind Maidenhead with a better goal difference by four.
Fleet made two changes from the side that thrashed Bishop’s Stortford in midweek with Jack Connors back in place of Jake Howells and Dean Rance in for Jack Powell. There was little delay to proceedings despite the referee turning up late but it was both sides who looked a little jaded in a tepid opening spell.
Hampton had the best of the first few minutes, with former Fleet winger Brendan Kiernan showing some skill on a dry, bobbly pitch that didn’t appear conducive to much good football. Anthony Cook was the first Fleet player to get a look at goal but he blasted two shots over the bar with the goalkeepers at either end remaining spectators for much of the first half. MarvinMcCoy sent a similar effort ballooning over the bar as the ball bobbled on the surface as he went to tee up a shot.
Fleet’s best chance of the half came on 13 minutes when Andy Drury whipped in a free-kick and Kedwell glanced his header a foot wide of the far post. While Hampton looked positive and solid, they didn’t threaten much and Duncan Culley’s 20th-minute rampage down the wing was the only time Fleet’s defence looked particularly vulnerable, though Mark Phillips showed strength to muscle Culley wide and out of play.
On 27 minutes, the home side went closest to scoring when a cross from the left sped into the box and took a touch before Shamir Mullings close range effort bounced off the turf and cleared the bar, though Ashmore must have got a touch as the referee awarded a corner.
As far as goalmouth action went, that was the sum total of the first half and the remainder was played out with little to get the two sets of supporters going. Fleet struggled to find a way through Hampton’s setup and Darren McQueen looked a little isolated though his pace did trouble Nathan Collier on the occasions he got the ball at his feet.
With a quiet game heading towards the break goalless, Hampton’s Culley – who had been booked earlier for an unnecessary challenge on Sam Deering – ran onto a through ball with his leg up and he connected with Nathan Ashmore’s midriff, sending the Fleet goalkeeper to the floor. The referee pulled out a second yellow and Culley trudged to the dressing room a few minutes earlier than his colleagues.
The second half was set up for Fleet to go at the home side but Hampton set up intelligently and looked to close down every blue attack on the halfway line. Indeed the home side had the best chance to open the scoring on 50 minutes when on-loan striker Mullings had two bites at the cherry following a goalmouth scramble, his first blocked by Phillips and his second lofted over the bar.
Fleet weren’t quite so lucky with Hampton’s next attack just before the hour mark. Midfielder Harold Odametey latched on to a pass and powered beyond the Fleet back line, keeping his head as Ashmore came out to lob the Fleet keeper and put the home side ahead.
Hampton had the ball in the net again moments later but the referee had long since pulled back play as the assistant’s flag was raised. The visitors then brought Sean Shields and Jack Powell into the fray and Shields showed some good industry down the left, delivering a couple of crosses, but the home side continued to defend purposefully.
On 68 minutes, Fleet were thrown a lifeline when Cook’s legs were taken from him as he shaped to shoot on the edge of the box and the referee didn’t hesitate to point to the spot. Kedwell’s resulting spot kick was low and firm to the keeper’s right but Sam Howes’ judgement was good and he was able to get a decent hand to it and push it behind for a corner.
Fleet pushed for a couple of corners in the 20 minutes left and Shields kept them on an attacking footing but it was difficult to see where a goal was going to come from. But McMahon’s side haven’t failed to score in a league game since September and Bubb managed to keep that proud record going with an excellent equaliser as the game approached its final minute. It was a goal from nothing as Hampton defender Sam Gallagher hoisted a clearance into the air that swung back into his own box. It landed at Bubb’s feet eight yards out but with his back to goal and a defender right behind him, the Fleet striker managed to control it, turn at speed and despatch a low drive past Howes.
There was still time for the Fleet fans to entertain an unlikely win when Drury and Kedwell combined to play Cook clear down the right but he shot over and a potentially valuable point it was for the Fleet.
EUFC: Ashmore, Cook, Connors (Shields 64), McCoy, Phillips, Clark, Rance (Powell 64), Drury, Kedwell, McQueen, Deering (Bubb 73). Subs not used: Mambo, Jordan
HRBFC: Howes, Jelley, Kamara, Gallagher, Murphy, Collier, Kiernan (Jolley 75), Solomon, Mullings, Odametey, Culley. Subs not used: Bishop, Hicks, Hippolyte-Patrick, Gasson