The men in green were left to rue a late penalty miss after Dominic Poleon’s 86th minute spot-kick was saved by Jacob Marsden after almost total second-half pressure by the Fleet. It was enough to give Chelmsford a share of the points but the Fleet following in the crowd will wonder how they did so.
The visitors had five changes as Michael West started against his former club – and the side he almost single-handedly destroyed in the 2011 play-offs – while coming into the lineup were Sido Jombati, Sefa Kahraman, Alfie Egan and Elliott Romain. Most of those making way from Saturday were named on the bench.
There was no Charlie Sheringham in the home side but former Fleet skipper Dave Winfield was named. Fleet’s lineup faced a late change as Lee Martin replaced Adam Mekki who had originally been named to start.
The visitors forced a number of set pieces in the early stages, two corners and a free-kick that came West’s way but he fired over. Lee Martin’s break down the right on six minutes stretched Chelmsford and he found Egan who drifted a low shot wide.
An even better chance arrived on nine minutes when Romain chased down a slow-running Chelmsford back pass and he was only just outpaced by Tom Dickens, who’d had a head-start, on the line.
Fleet’s fast-paced start was interrupted by the loss of Christian N’Guessan who was stretchered off on 16 minutes to be replaced by Jack Paxman. He’d needed several minutes of treatment aided by both Fleet and Chelmsford medical teams before he departed.
Lee Martin and Egan continued to link up well down the right and another exchange of quick passing football saw Egan plant a cross into Marsden’s hands. Greg Cundle was next up with a strong run and cross to Romain that was put behind by a Chelmsford boot.
A couple of careless defensive slips by the Fleet gave Chelmsford a couple of successive chances to get at Josh Gould’s goal that the visitors managed to clear up but it gave City the encouragement to press forward.
Cundle and Martin swapped sides throughout the half to give Chelmsford more to think about but Fleet grew a little frustrated as the referee’s whistle called them back on a couple of occasions, Romain booked and then Poleon aggrieved to be penalised as he wrestled with Dickens as he sought to clear a path to goal.
Simeon Jackson went close for the home side on the half-hour after the industrious Dara Dada had intercepted a ball in midfield but though he threatened to break through his shot was easy enough for Gould.
Play became increasingly scruffy with Fleet guilty of surrendering possession too easily at times and just before half-time, Jones was only inches from connecting with a free-kick into the box but the ball sailed on through past Gould’s goal.
Fleet introduced Chris Solly for the second half but it was City who had the opening effort on 51 minutes when a cross from the right by Adam Morgan was well weighted and bounced invitingly for Jackson to slide in but he missed the opportunity.
The referee’s whistle-happy approach made it somewhat difficult to get much flow going, though in fairness he was forced into much of that by some niggly challenges. Fleet’s frustrations were most apparent in midfield early on in the half where Dada was a big presence for City and the visitors preferred to utilise balls in from Joe Martin rather than go through the middle.
When Fleet did go through the middle, however, it almost paid dividends. Paxman’s excellent run through a ruck of white shirts on 54 minutes ended with a pass to Cundle. He cut inside and crossed for Romain on the edge of the box but he scuffed his shot too high.
An even better opportunity followed moments later when Martin ran through and met the return from his own exchange-pass with Poleon but that one went over the bar as well.
It was a period of solid Fleet pressure and the opener seemed odds-on as the hour mark passed when Cundle fed Paxman for a shot that Marsden could only parry. The ball sat up with the goal gaping as players chased it down but Lee Martin just couldn’t keep his feet to convert. And moments later Fleet fans were in full voice as Craig Tanner’s cross was whipped into a crowded six-yard box and somehow scrambled off the goalline.
The chances kept coming and Poleon got the ball caught under his feet eight yards out as he got goal side of his marker, Martin on to it in a flash but denied by a tackle that went behind for a corner. Such set pieces were ten a penny for the Fleet in the second half and Tanner hit the post with a shot from one on 72 minutes. Cundle then went down under a challenge in the area but despite vehement penalty appeals, nothing was awarded.
City were restricted to the odd forward run but it was mainly all Fleet and in a dramatic finale, the chance was there to win the game. Following Dennis Kutrieb being sent to the stands by the referee, Egan’s shot was somehow cleared off the line and in the resulting melee, the referee awarded a penalty with four minutes left. Poleon stepped up to take it but Marsden got behind the spot-kick and the score remained blank.
For all the total Fleet onslaught of the second period, a late free-kick that was met by a Chelmsford head at the other end might have inflicted an utterly unfair defeat but Gould was relieved to see it fly wide of his near post.
EUFC: Gould, J.Martin, Kahraman (Solly 46), Jombati, N’Guessan (Paxman 13), Egan, West (Tanner 59), Cundle, L. Martin, Romain, Poleon. Subs: Haigh
CCFC: Marsden, James, Dickens, Winfield, Harrison, Dada (Oluwu 75), Dunne, Morgan (Isaac 62), Wraight, Jones, Jackson. Subs: Norton, Hockey, Blackwell