Fleet shake off relegation fears - Smith strike sends Vics packing
PUBLISHED: 12:24 09 April 2009 | UPDATED: 10:37 23 August 2010
LIAM Daish hailed his players as Ebbsfleet United recorded their third win in five days against Northwich Victoria last Saturday, writes Charles Webster. Following disappointing performances against Salisbury and Kettering, which had left the Fleet mired
LIAM Daish hailed his players as Ebbsfleet United recorded their third win in five days against Northwich Victoria last Saturday, writes Charles Webster.
Following disappointing performances against Salisbury and Kettering, which had left the Fleet mired in the relegation zone, head coach Daish has since seen his side record a trio of 1-0 victories.
"Three wins, three clean sheets. It is a magnificent run," he said, having steered them closer towards Blue Square Premier safety.
Northwich came to Kent second-bottom of the table, hovering above already doomed Lewes. Nine places and 19 points behind the Fleet at the start of the game, the Vics' performance belied their league position and Andy Preece's side showed a durability missing from higher ranked teams who have visited Stonebridge Road this season.
A rare moment of frailty from the visitors came in the opening minutes when Vics goalkeeper Ryan Clark spilled a cross, yet he was able to leap on the ball and recover possession.
At the other end, Jonny Allan made the most of a lack of communication in the Fleet rearguard and burst between James Smith and Paul McCarthy only to fire wide with just Lance Cronin to beat.
As both sides battled to gain dominance, it was Luton referee Matty McLaughlin who took centre stage.
In the 33rd minute, Ricky Shakes was felled on the edge of the Northwich area when he tangled with 6' 7" defender Matt Bailey. The duo tussled as they disengaged and a melee involving several players ensued, after which Mr McLaughlin saw fit to book Shakes and Bailey, plus Ryan Brown, Northwich skipper Simon Grand and Michael Gash.
This spark seemed to work in the Fleet's favour and Stacy Long blasted over from the edge of the box. Lee Elam then wasted a good chance moments before half-time when he fired the wrong side of the post after pouncing on a half-clearance from veteran McCarthy.
Bailey looked set for an early bath on 50 minutes when he scythed down Gash, yet he only received a final warning from Mr McLaughlin, who also told Grand - as captain - that he would take no further such behaviour from the visitors. Moments later, following a foul by Kyle Perry, Grand was given a second 'final warning' leaving players and supporters bemused.
By now, the tide was increasingly turning in the home side's favour and Shakes sent a stinging strike wide on the hour, prior to McCarthy's withdrawal, to be replaced by Guiseppe Sole as Daish pressed for a goal.
John Martin then had a free kick tipped away by Clarke before the Fleet midfielder was flattened by Joel Byrom, who was shown a yellow card. Martin, however, was soon on his feet and, two minutes later, delivered a corner from the right flank that was met by central defender Smith, who stormed in at the far post to head powerfully into the net.
Perry eventually ended up in Mr McLaughlin's bad books and earned himself a booking - that was as much for earlier indiscretions as it was for his 72nd-minute foul - but nothing could derail Ebbsfleet, who hung on for the points.
Ebbsfleet United: Cronin 7, Crooks 8, Charles 8, McCarthy 8 (Sole 58, 7), Smith 8,Shakes 7, Martin 7, Long 7 (West 79), Gash 7, Slatter 7, Ricketts 7. Subs not used: Mott, Opinel, Purcell. Att: 1,003.