Fleetwood Town 6, Ebbsfleet United 2. HAT-trick hero Jamie Vardy unleashed a wonder-strike as six-goal Fleetwood sunk The Fleet.
Town’s hotshot increased his season’s tally to 25 with an audacious lob from virtually the halfway line – the crowning moment on a night Micky Mellon’s men ran riot.
Mellon spoke of changes ahead of the clash with Ebbsfleet United and stuck to his word – Gareth Seddon was handed a start in place of Richard Brodie, with Jamie McGuire also back in the XI, Peter Cavanagh filling in for the injured Shaun Beeley at right-back.
And the shake-up appeared to have had the desired impact as Fleetwood started brightly, Seddon, Magno Vieira and Peter Cavanagh all having early chances. But it was the visitors who grabbed the lead against the run of play.
McGuire gave up possession too easily inside the Fleetwood half, Liam Enver-Marum unleashing a stinging shot from 20 yards which beat Scott Davies. Their advantage would last less than a minute.
From the restart, Town broke down the left, McGuire making up for his earlier error with a pass to tee up Vardy. The striker’s shot rebounded to Seddon, who tucked home the equaliser. With Andy Mangan, one of four strikers named in Mellon’s starting XI, running the show, it was only a matter of time before Fleetwood grabbed a second.
Vardy made space wide on the left and picked out Alan Goodall, whose looping cross went beyond Seddon. Fortunately, Cavanagh was following in at the back post – 23 minutes played and Town were ahead.
And it took the home side less than seven minutes to double their advantage – Vieira’s stinging shot was parried by Lance Cronin in the Ebbsfleet goal, Vardy pouncing to open his account for the evening.
Fleetwood were in total control, opening up the visitors’ defence at will. And before the break they made it four.
Vardy’s run was brought to an abrupt end by Yado Mambo and referee Richard Clark had little choice but to award a penalty. Mangan coolly converted the spot-kick and the Cod Army cruised into the break with a three-goal advantage.
And, from the restart, they wasted little time in adding to it. Vardy’s run went unchecked and the striker was given space to unleash a stunning right-foot curler past Cronin. Ebbsfleet had rung the changes at half-time and looked to test Fleetwood’s ever-fragile defence.
Goodall had to be on the ball to prevent substitute Ricky Shakes from going one-on-one with Davies, and McGuire got stuck in with a crucial block after Gozie Ugwu was allowed room to shoot.
Attack for Ebbsfleet was, almost certainly, the best form of defence as the visitors struggled to cope with Town’s goal threat.
Ranbir Marwa earned a booking after cynically clipping the heel of Vardy as the frontman looked to launch another raid into Ebbsfleet territory.
Two minutes later, the striker proved he didn’t need to break deep into the visitors’ half to grab his hat-trick.
Spotting Cronin off his line, Vardy launched an inch-perfect lob from just inside the Ebbsfleet half – the stranded keeper nothing more than a spectator.
Mangan could easily have made it seven minutes later, his shot blasted over the bar, and Gareth Seddon also fired wide as Town looked to turn a rout into a massacre.
Five goals up, Mellon decided it was time for changes – first Vardy was replaced by Brodie, then Jamie Milligan made a welcome return to first-team action in place of Lee Fowler.
Without their Mohican-haired talisman, Town looked a shadow of their earlier selves but still created chances.
Brodie had a glorious opportunity with almost his first touch of the game – had that touch been considerably more subtle, he would surely have beaten rattled keeper Cronin.
Fleetwood’s struggle to adapt to the second half changes handed Ebbsfleet a way back into the game and the visitors carved out a number of good chances.
Keeper Davies could only chest down Ross Smith’s piledriver, Nathan Pond clearing the danger. And Davies was called into action again minutes later, tipping Neil Barrett’s shot around the post.
With Town’s foot most definitely off the gas, the visitors did grab a second with five minutes to play.
Enver-Marum’s speculative shot from the edge of the 18-yard box took a nasty deflection, wrongfooting Davies and sneaking low into the bottom right-hand corner.
A needless late booking for Goodall, following a clumsy tackle, was symptomatic of Fleetwood’s stumbling finish – the home side did rally in injury time but were unable to convert any of a series of corners.
Two soft goals are a reminder of the frailty of Town’s defence but thankfully Mellon’s men have no such fears up front – good news for the goal difference with Wrexham, two points behind Fleetwood with a game in hand after last night’s 1-0 win at Kidderminster, seemingly relentless in their pursuit.
Fleetwood: Davies, McNulty, Pond, Goodall, Vieira (Rose 57), Mangan, Maguire, Seddon, Cavanagh, Fowler (Milligan, 67), Vardy (Brodie, 60); not used: Atkinson, Stevenson
Ebbsfleet: Cronin, Stone, Lorraine (Phipp 45), Marwa, Willock, Howe (Smith, 30), Enver-Marum, Mambo, Ugwu, Barrett, Pinney (Shakes, 45); not used’: McNeil, Williams
Referee: R Clark; Attendance: 1,411