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Fleet go down fighting

PUBLISHED: 12:18 29 April 2010 | UPDATED: 11:40 23 August 2010

THE GREAT escape eluded them in the end, but Ebbsfleet United succumbed to relegation with a bang, leaving hundreds of travelling supporters with tearful eyes, writes Charles Webster. A final-day Blue Square Premier victory at Tamworth could have been en

THE GREAT escape eluded them in the end, but Ebbsfleet United succumbed to relegation with a bang, leaving hundreds of travelling supporters with tearful eyes, writes Charles Webster.

A final-day Blue Square Premier victory at Tamworth could have been enough to keep the Fleet in non-league football's top division last Saturday. But, Eastbourne's win over Oxford and Gateshead's three points from their game against AFC Wimbledon consigned Liam Daish's side to their first-ever campaign in the Blue Square South.

A Tamworth promotion of 'pay what you like' at the turnstiles boosted the attendance to 1,694 and an estimated 300-plus Fleet fans took advantage of the offer.

Dressed primarily in yellow, the colour of their team's shirts on the day, they backed their club enthusiastically from the off.

Tamworth included 48-year-old manager Gary Mills at right-back and he gave a good account of himself as the Lambs searched for an early breakthrough. It came on 10 minutes when Iyesden Christie found space behind the Fleet backline and shook off a challenge from Leon Crooks before drilling a left-foot shot past Lance Cronin.

The Fleet responded within two minutes; Magno Vieira heading home at the near post from a Michael West corner.

Vieira looked odds-on to score a second on 18 minutes when set free by Stefan Bailey, but keeper Danny Alcock denied the Brazilian with a block.

Missing hotshot striker Moses Ashikodi, Ebbsfleet had other players capable of hitting the back of the net. And, seven minutes before half-time, Ricky Shakes gave them the lead by pouncing on a Chris Wylde mistake to send Daish's Barmy Banana Army ecstatic.

Their joy was short-lived though as, 60 seconds later, Wylde ambled upfield and nodded home an equaliser at the far post from Neil McKenzie's corner to atone for his earlier error.

With the game delicately poised, and results elsewhere not going in the Fleet's favour, tension was rising among the travelling hordes and their concerns deepened on 58 minutes when Bradley Pritchard volleyed a brilliant goal from 25 yards. By this time, Gateshead had secured a 1-0 lead over AFC Wimbledon and a few miracles were required.

Wimbledon failed to deliver and play-off-bound Oxford rolled over at Eastbourne, yet the Fleet seized the last half hour to show they would go down fighting. Scott Ginty came off the bench to replace West and, within 14 minutes, had put the Fleet on level terms, swooping from six yards to turn in Shakes' goalbound drive.

Four minutes later, Ginty showed a sure touch as he lobbed Alcock to score what proved to be the winner.

By the final whistle, other results were in and the Fleet's fate was sealed.

Daish and his players saluted their magnificent following, who reciprocated as tears flowed and raw emotions were revealed.

It was a bittersweet ending to the Fleet's season as a tremendous performance with a fantastic result, in front of brilliant support, was overshadowed by the reality of relegation.

Ebbsfleet United: Cronin 7, Salmon 7, Pooley 7, Crooks 7, Charles 7, Stavrinou 8, West 7 (Ginty 62), Holmes 8, Bailey 7, Vieira 7, Shakes 7. Subs not used: Hagan, Heeroo, Wills, Read. Att: 1,694.

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