Fleet pounce on military error to march on
Fleet booked themselves a date with Hartley Wintney in the Aldershot Senior Cup final at The Recreation Ground next month with a battling display against the Army Development Squad. Mack Vary capitalised on a defensive mix up just before the break and his replacement Matty Pearse’s third of goal of the season sealed it with a blistering run and finish five minutes from time.
Both teams set up in a 3-5-2, The Army side not keen to launch the ball forward without good reason. The midfield lynchpins Luke Trice and captain Scott Urwin were happy to receive the ball wherever they pleased, often off one of the swaggering back three. The visitors’ confident approach would however, time and again, land them in trouble as a many of the interchanges were conducted on the cusp of their final third, leaving Fleet in a great position to counter.
The first real opening, though, came from The Blues’ own back line after a quarter of an hour. Khalid Babikir’s heavy touch forced him to poke a ball into the right channel. Vary did well to keep the ball in and lifted a delightful cross to the far post, where the Army’s Joshua Rogerson did very well to deny the incoming, unmistakable frame of Elliot Amadieu from nodding into an empty net.
While the Army dominated much of the ball, Fleet were happy to keep the shape and wait for the opening, causing problems with the rampaging Ryan Esprit and mobility of Vary and Billy Oram. It was Vary that dispossessed Trice thirty-five yards out, rolling into Amadieu on the edge who flicked back to Oram, but after beating two men and advancing just into the box Sam Coppard was out quickly to squander him.
Although it was tippy-tappy for large parts, the Army were more than happy to turn their hosts around when the space arose. Jamie Turner and Callum Vincent would do the running into the seemingly dangerous areas, but Babikir and captain Wensley were glued to them – Dan Bone sweeping up for Fleet seldom had much to think about.
It took half of the first period before the Army had so much as a pot-shot, Vincent chesting down a throw-in on the left and seeing his volley spin off a defender. From the resulting Evans-Jones corner, however, Danny Constable spurned a gilt-edged change when he sliced over from six yards after Rogerson flicked on.
The first goal came just before half-time and, certainly on the balance of last third openings and chances if not possession, was deserved. Wensley rolled a ball into the left channel between Constable and Rogerson which was seemingly heading comfortably towards Coppard in the box, or so the otherwise-defensively-faultless Constable assumed. As defender and goalkeeper both dithered to a point where the ball was almost stationary, Vary had seen enough indecision and nipped in to round Coppard and practically dribble the ball in for his sixth of the campaign.
The Army, to their credit, at no point stopped playing their football, even as far back as Coppard himself. Their patient play found them just short of the halfway line in the 57th minute, while Fleet maintained their thus-far brave high line, but on this occasion Clay Bryant’s knock found its way through. Jason Barnes had forty yards and a few seconds to think about what he was going to do with this finish, but in the end a tame effort was no trouble for Roux Hardcastle in the Fleet goal.
Not long after, Barnes picked up a diagonal ball on the right and whipped in forcing some impressive last-ditch Wensley defending to stop it flying right across goal.
Another goalkeeping misjudgement nearly levelled things twenty minutes into the half, Evans-Jones tried to skip inside James Dinsdale on the right and Hardcastle thought the ball was rolling safely
towards him, but Turner stole it and shot on the turn from a tight angle forcing a backpedalling Hardcastle save with his legs.
The ice-cool Urwin picked up on the edge of the Fleet box after the resulting corner and invited a challenge on the inside right, stepping past it with consummate ease before firing low towards the far corner and forcing Hardcastle into his best save of the night.
Fleet kept their bottle and didn’t drop deep, Dinsdale on the left covering round several times to stop Evans-Jones racing clear.
The dancing feet of Billy Oram found some space on the left for Fleet and he launched a cross to the far post, Amadieu rising to force Coppard to tip the header over.
A three minute spell where Town penned in the Army eventually sealed their progression. Bone met two Oram corners from the right, first of all half-volleying over and then nodding down for substitute Matty Pearse to hit a snapshot on the turn and force a save.
After seemingly dealing with the pressure, the Army’s propensity to play their way out of trouble had exactly the opposite effect. Harry Beckley turned right into two men ten yards into his half and when Urwin couldn’t recover it Pearse picked it up on the inside right. With the defence shifted over he drove past Constable, who in truth would’ve had to do something cynical to stop him, and slotted home with his left foot with five minutes remaining.
Fleet’s progression means they head into their European adventure at Jersey Bulls this weekend with at least two more games to complete the season, just the ASC final and the winners of Reading City and Cobham in the Southern Combination Cup semi.
Fleet: Hardcastle, McLean (Larner), Dinsdale, Bone, Babikir, Wensley, Sharratt, Esprit (Maunders), Amadieu, Oram, Vary (Pearse).
Army Dev: Coppard, Constable, Grayson (Polius), Trice (Hill), Bryant, Rogerson, Barnes (Beckley), Urwin, Turner, Vincent, Evans-Jones (Ale).
By Ryan McMenamin