Ebbsfleet United earned a hard-fought point on their first visit to Mill Farm with a very solid performance against AFC Fylde, but with Danny Rowe leaving it until the 88th minute to equalise for the home side, Daryl McMahon was disappointed his side didn’t hold out for all three.
Fleet had opportunities in the first half to take the lead before Danny Kedwell struck after the break heading home Luke Coulson’s cross but Rowe’s equaliser cancelled that out before Fylde were reduced to 10 men in time added on when skipper Sam Finley earned a second yellow card.
There were two changes for the Fleet, with Jack Connors returning at the expense of Chris Bush while Dean Rance slotted in for Sean Shields. Given Fylde’s tendency for neat, attacking football and a pitch that was soft underfoot and rather churned up in places, Rance’s solidity in the middle was designed to break up the supply to Rowe and Jack Muldoon up front and in that it was a tactic that worked well.
A fairly low-key opening was the way of things for much of the first 20 to 25 minutes, with Fylde attempting to boss possession but finding the Fleet difficult to break down. Muldoon was looking the more threatening of the home lineup but he was well tracked by Jack Connors whenever he tried to make space down the right and supply Rowe. And Fleet could have been ahead as early as the 8th minute when Oldham loanee George Edmundson’s header back to his goalkeeper was found wanting and it dropped for Coulson but the former Eastleigh man just couldn’t get a clean connection on his shot and Jay Lynch made the save.
It was a largely even contest but the visitors had the better opportunities to score. Jack Powell’s through ball to Kedwell on the break on 25 minutes was well weighted but the Fleet striker made a soft connection and it was too easy for Lynch to save.
Both sides forced a number of corners before Rowe fired just wide for Fylde on the half-hour mark as the game began to quicken as it approaced half-time. Sam Magri had to get in the way of another effort from Serhut Tasdemir and from a goalmouth scramble after the resulting corner, Fleet were relieved the referee’s whistle went in their favour.
Kedwell could have broken the deadlock straight after that when the impressive Coulson delivered from out wide and the Fleet No.9 connected with it first-time but saw the ball thud into the hoardings, just wide of the post.
Fleet went even closer a minute after half-time when a foul on the edge of the Fylde box gave Powell the chance to find his range from a free-kick. In typical fashion, the Fleet midfielder got the ball on target and Lynch scooped it off the line, though many of the travelling fans were left to wonder if it was any less of a goal than that awarded to Wrexham in similar circumstances last month.
With Bush on for Clark for the second half, Fleet defended resolutely when called upon but didn’t just sat back and invite the home side on. A similar incident at the other end saw Zaine Francis-Angol advance down the flank and Lewis Montrose’s resulting ball into the six-yard box was cleared, before Muldoon’s shot moments later seemed from the side view to be heading in past Nathan Ashmore before Connors belted it clear.
As Fleet fans breathed a sigh of relief, there was barely time to collect themselves before their side opened the scoring in front of them on 53 minutes. It was Coulson again who provided the assist with a pinpoint cross that Kedwell directed with his head low beyond Lynch to make it 1-0.
The Coasters worked hard to claw their way back into the game and they began to push the Fleet a little deeper but the visitors always looked assured in defence. Both sides forced a number of corners and when Fylde did get sight of goal, they found their way blocked. Rowe’s shot from distance looped over the bar via Dave Winfield’s knee and Andy Drury had to launch a clearance from inside his own box when Ashmore couldn’t claim a high ball.
And Drury could have made it 2-0 on 74 minutes when he was picked out by Magri but fired his shot high and well off target. Powell’s corner as the game approached the last five minutes whipped across goal and Bush was nearest to that one but it just flew wide of the far post with the goalkeeper a mere spectator.
Fylde had changed their shape just before that, bringing centre back Simon Grand on and pushing their full-backs higher up the pitch but it seemed Fleet had done enough to stem their flow until two minutes from time. Drury got in the way of Montrose’s shot to put the ball behind for a corner. The set piece was cleared out of the box but fell for Rowe and the league’s top scorer met it with his left foot to send a well-executed drive beyond Ashmore.
Substitute Shields saw a shot saved as Fleet sought to reply instantly before the home side saw Finley pick up the second of a quickfire pair of bookings moments before the final whistle.
EUFC: Ashmore, Magri, Connors, Clark (Bush 64), Winfield, Rance, Drury, Powell, Weston (Shields 76) , Coulson, Kedwell. Subs not used: Miles, McLean, McCoy
AFCF: Lynch, Richards, Tunnicliffe, Edmundson, Francis-Angol, Montrose, Bond (Blinkhorn 59), Finley, Muldoon (Mangan 66), Tasdemir (Grand 80), Rowe. Subs not used: Taylor, Ezewele