Ten-man Tranmere held out for a point despite conceding a vast percentage of second-half possession to the Fleet, who will be frustrated they didn’t mange to clinch the three points with their pressing football following Jay McEveley’s 49th minute dismissal.
Daryl McMahon changed his starting lineup around, bringing in Danny Mills, Myles Weston, Jack Connors and skipper-for-the-day Andy Drury, while Danny Kedwell, Darren McQueen, Dean Rance and Anthony Cook made way. It meant Sam Magri went to right-back in a flat defensive four while Weston and Luke Coulson pushed forwards in support of Mills from either flank.
With both sides suffering from a lack of wins on the board, neither was overly committed in the opening minutes. Jack Powell did well to get a foot on a ball from Jack Payne over the Tranmere defence but his first-time shot from the edge of the box rolled wide. Fleet put together some nice passing football but equally both sides were guilty of surrendering possession cheaply in a quiet opening 20 minutes. Tranmere should probably have taken the lead on 17 minutes when Sam Magri’s pass was intercepted and Jay Harris found James Norwood with a cross but the striker drove it wide from a decent position with the home defence exposed.
Nathan Ashmore had to reach well to get to Ollie Norburn’s low cross and then almost lost possession when attempting to dribble the ball away from Norwood inside his own box. The supporters woke up on 27 minutes when a flashpoint by the new main stand erupted between Chris Bush and Jay McEveley. With Bush powering clear of the former Scottish international, McEveley pulled his shirt, Bush reacted and the pair clashed with arms raised before other players were involved. Sensibly, the referee calmed the situation with a yellow card apiece, meaning a suspension for Bush. McEveley’s punishment would come later.
On the half-hour mark, Powell’s dipping free-kick found Drury at the back post whose cushioned header was hacked behind for a corner before Ashmore pushed Adam Buxton’s low shot away, the loose ball fortunately rolling for a Fleet defender rather than to a blue shirt. The home side had the final chance just before half-time when Magri’s low cross dropped for Mills who had two blocked efforts inside the six-yard box and Drury could only follow up with another attempt that hit a leg.
With just four minutes gone in the second half, McEveley had a rush of blood that changed the game. A ball out of defence to Weston saw him roll past McEveley on the halfway line and as he threatened to run clear, the Tranmere player blatantly pulled him back and received a second yellow for his troubles.
Immediately Fleet switched to the front foot and controlled much of the rest of the second half. Weston seemed to have a whole new lease of life and won a corner that Drury ended up firing just over. Mills sent a header in the same direction as Tranmere struggled to contain a home midfield led by Payne who penned them in their own final third. Weston was denied a penalty by the referee when checked on the edge of the box and then on 67 minutes skilfully dashed in between two defenders to send a low shot that Scott Davies gathered.
Moments later came Fleet’s best chance when a low cross caused confusion in the six-yard box and Mills’ toe-poke was almost sent over the line by Ritchie Sutton before Davies scrambled it away for a corner. Payne saw an effort curl clear of the crossbar and Weston then turned his exasperated marker inside the box once more but a pass just evaded a stretching Drury.
In all their frustration up front, Fleet had to maintain concentration at the back and Norwood’s determination got him sight of goal and he drew a good save from Ashmore. Tranmere’s lack of support for their lone striker said much about their hopes of winning the game and it was mainly a containment operation by Micky Mellon’s men as the half wore on.
Kedwell and McQueen were sent on for the final 12 minutes but neither saw much of the ball as most of Fleet’s attacking came via the midfield and wingers. Clark had a flick-on from a free-kick gathered by Davies and Weston once more was involved as his shot took a small deflection on its way to the goalkeeper’s arms.
Fleet couldn’t do much more from midfield and Tranmere held firm inside their own box as it remained another blank for the home strikers and another point for the home faithful.
EUFC: Ashmore, Magri (McQueen 78), Connors, Clark, Bush, Coulson, Powell, Payne, Drury, Weston, Mills (Kedwell 78). Subs not used: Rance, Mambo, Miles
TRFC: Davies, Buxton, McNulty, McEveley, Sutton, Ridehalgh, Harris, Hughes, Jennings, Norburn, Norwood (Waring 84). Subs not used: Pilling, Cook, Alabi, Dunn