Eastbourne Borough 0 Fleetwood Town 6
FLEETWOOD’S fourth successive win was their biggest yet in non-league’s top flight as Micky Mellon’s side exacted devastating revenge for their home defeat by second-bottom Borough in February.
The recalled Magno Vieira took his league tally to 21 with two of the Town goals, while strikes by Keigan Parker, Jamie McGuire, George Donnelly and a bizarre own-goal sent the Cod Army home in the highest of spirits, after the longest trip of the season.
They were further boosted by the knowledge that Kidderminster could only share the spoils in a six-goal thriller at Grimsby, meaning Town gained a two-point cushion in the final Blue Square Bet Premier play-off spot on the day Crawley clinched the title and automatic qualification to the Football League.
Mellon made two changes from the team which beat Tamworth at Highbury the previous Saturday as Gareth Seddon returned after three matches out injured, and Vieira made his first start in four games. George Donnelly dropped to the bench and Nathan Pond failed a late fitness test.
Long-serving Eastbourne manager Gary Wilson stuck with the side which had halted a five-game losing run with victory at Southport.
Setting them off down the road to victory at Haig Avenue was Matt Smart, whose free-kick goal was similar to his shock winner at Fleetwood.
The home side also included 36-year-old defender Darren Baker, for whom a presentation was held before kick-off to mark his incredible 900th appearance for the club.
Baker was soon forced into action as Town pressed forward from kick-off, forcing successive corners as the home defence came under pressure in the swirling wind.
Keigan Parker had the first chance after four minutes, his left-foot shot sailing just wide of Rikki Banks’ far post.
Three minutes later the former Blackpool striker turned provider, running strongly down the right before sending over a tantalising cross, from which Seddon’s goalbound header was cleared by home skipper Ben Austin.
Fleetwood continued to dominate and Eastbourne had to wait until the quarter-hour mark for their first attempt on goal, a long-range shot over the top by Smart.
Play soon returned to the other end, Seddon mis-hitting an attempted volley.
But an Eastbourne side battling for their league status fought back into the game as Town keeper Danny Hurst saved a firm shot from George Purcell, then scrambled the ball away for a corner, despite being wrong-footed when a 20th-minute shot took a deflection off Steve McNulty.
Banks topped this save just before the half-hour, turning Anthony Barry’s free-kick around the post at full-stretch.
Town’s supremacy was finally rewarded after 34 minutes, when Seddon ran on to a Junior Brown ball over the defence and crossed from the byeline. Vieira couldn’t capitalise but the ran through to Parker, who netted his second of the season with his right foot.
Seddon looked full of energy after his injury, causing the Borough defence many problems with his forceful running.
A half which Town dominated ended on a high note when they were awarded their second penalty in successive matches; Baker adjudged to have handled by referee Rob Whitton as the ball came in from the left.
Vieira placed the spot-kick precisely to Banks’ left as the afternoon turned sour for Baker, who left the field at the interval protesting his innocence to the official.
Town started the second half as positively as they had the first, Parker seeing a shot blocked, after a good run by Vieira down the right. They then sealed the points with a devastating spell of three goals in six minutes.
It started when Vieira beat the offside trap from Parker’s ball through the middle and fired his second of the game in off Banks’ right-hand post on 53 minutes.
Town’s fourth arrived four minutes later, McGuire ramming home his sixth of the season and his second in as many games.
As if Borough didn’t have enough problems, a routine back-pass from Dan Kelly was completely misread by Banks and the ball rolled past him into the goal.
The league’s worst defensive record now read 93 conceded and Borough’s fans were fearing the worst with half an hour still remaining.
But as Town made changes they added only one more, netted by George Donnelly within three minutes of his introduction for Seddon.
Donnelly latched on to another Parker pass, then held off the defenders to score his third Town goal on 73 minutes.
Eastbourne never gave up, but Town stood firm, with goal-scorer McGuire partnering Sean Gregan at centre-half following McNulty’s departure.
With four games to play, Town are now only two points behind fourth-placed Wrexham, but it is the visit to Kidderminster on Saturday week which perhaps holds the key to their play-off hopes.
Before then, third-bottom Altrincham visit Highbury on Saturday and the new Parkside Suite opens for the first time – another milestone in a season of heady days for Town.
Eastbourne: Banks, Baker, Jenkins (Demetriou 64), Austin, Smart, Crabb, Purcell (Brinkhurst 65), Hutchinson (Weatherstone 80), Taylor, Pacquette, Kelly; not used: Johnson, Strevett
Fleetwood: Hurst, Beeley, McNulty (Cavanagh 69), Brown, Barry, Clancy (Harvey 81), McGuire, Gregan, Vieira, Seddon (Donnelly 69), Parker; not used: Davies, Mullan
Referee: R Whitton (Essex)