Fleet warmed up for the play-offs with an entertaining win over Eastbourne Borough, Matt Godden grabbing another hat-trick but finishing just short of the Golden Boot as Elliott Buchanan of Bishop’s Stortford extended his own tally today.
Daryl McMahon’s main changes came in defence where Dean Pooley and Joe Howe replaced Matt Fish and Bryan van den Bogaert in defence while Sam Deering and Anthony Cook got the nod ahead of Sean Shields and John Paul Kissock in midfield.
The talking point of the opening minutes centred mainly around Anthony Acheampong who got in an early tangle with Darren Lok and then went into the book moments later for bundling Elliott Romain over, both incidents seeing tempers fray early on.
Fleet soon got into their stride, however, and Danny Kedwell was played in by Deering’s short pass to lash a shot goalwards that was tipped over the bar by goalkeeper Lewis Carey. And the home side went ahead on 13 minutes after a good move begun by Deering. He found Howe on the left who set Cook free. The winger advanced to the byline and sent a wicked mid-height cross along the six-yard box. Carey managed to get a hand to it but it fell nicely for Godden who rifled a shot into the top of the goal.
Fleet continued to enjoy themselves in the April sunshine as they passed it neatly around midfield, Deering in particular showing vision and a good range of raking, diagonal balls. Parkes wasn’t far off with a free-kick that stung Carey’s hands at the near post and may well have clipped the woodwork and he floated another effort just over the bar from a useful Deering pass.
Pooley’s afternoon lasted only 18 minutes and he limped off, to be replaced by Kissock, Fleet playing a line of three at the back with Deering just sitting a little deeper. Former Fleet favourite Craig Stone had a sight of goal moments later as the visitors attacked down the right but he pulled his shot and it miscued wildly to fly harmlessly wide.
On 34 minutes, Fleet extended their lead. Kedwell created it from the left, delivering the ball onto Godden’s feet and the in-form striker tucked it out of reach of Carey for his and Fleet’s second. And he could have claimed the match ball just before half-time as a smart turn and shot was only inches away from making it 3-0.
Eastbourne came out with more purpose in the second-half and the introduction of top scorer Nathaniel Pinney six minutes in changed the complexion of the match. Jack Evans fired over just after kick-off as Fleet sat back a little too much, while Cook was substituted with what appeared to be a hamstring issue, academy defender Ollie Boulding making his league debut in his place.
But immediately, Eastbourne were back in the game. The Fleet defence suffered a lack of concentration and Pinney waltzed through, riding two tackles and getting the rub of the green as the ball fell for him to walk over the line with pretty much his first touch.
Fleet picked themselves up and Kedwell fired into the side netting as a couple of corners were won to keep Eastbourne at bay. Deering seemed to be clearly pushed in the box as he shaped to shoot by Kiran Khinda-John but the referee was unmoved and with their next attack the visitors had equalised. It came on 71 minutes, Pinney again, but this time with slightly more panache, driving a shot through a crowded box with the red shirts standing off him.
That would have seemed to have been that in this end-of-season affair but Fleet summoned up a little more energy to finish the game with a flourish. Charlie Sheringham was introduced and within three minutes had given Fleet the lead once more. Deering won a free-kick on the right flank and he floated over a decent delivery that Sheringham met with his head to plant his effort firmly past Carey.
And five minutes later it was 4-2, Sheringham this time the provider, crafting an excellent knock-on towards Godden. If the pass was good, the execution of the shot was superb as Godden smashed it first time, sending the ball rocketing beyond Carey and into the top corner. Kedwell almost teed Godden up for his fourth with a low drive across the goal but the Fleet striker just failed to get the couple more goals he required to share the Golden Boot.
Eastbourne were left without a win for the 15th time against the Fleet, whose win, four goals and late rally will have done their confidence no harm ahead of Wednesday’s crucial play-off semi-final first leg at Whitehawk. That pitch may have been sticky as marmalade when we last played there at Christmas, but Fleet will hope to be able to make it a spring night to remember ahead of the second-leg return on Sunday at Stonebridge Road.
EUFC: Ashmore, Pooley (Kissock 18), Howe, Lewis, Acheampong, Bonner, Deering, Parkes (Sheringham 72), Kedwell, Godden, Cook (Boulding 52). Subs not used: Miles, McLean
EBFC: Carey, Sheppard (Pinney 51), Khinda-John, Evans, Stone, Buckley, McCallum, Collier, Lok, Romain, Bosma (Taylor 46). Subs not used: Worrall, Worthington, Haysman