Ten-man Fleet suffered another defeat on the road as a powerful Chelmsford performance and late strike from Bagasan Graham made it a weekend to forget for Daryl McMahon’s side.
There were two changes from the side that lost at Gosport, with Sam Deering and Sean Shields coming in for Reiss Greenidge and John Paul Kissock. Danny Kedwell’s ongoing injury meant he didn’t even make the bench and Mark Phillips was again absent due to the car crash he suffered last week.
With Anthony Cook taking up a right-back berth and Shields and Deering wide on either side, Fleet’s line-up had attacking options but Chelmsford refused to allow their visitors any sort of rhythm and defending was Fleet’s primary passtime in the initial spell.
The opening five minutes saw Chelmsford state their intentions as Fleet had to deal with an aerial assault from several set pieces. And the defence always looked wary when the home side whipped in long-range deliveries at pace and City thought they’d converted one of those on eight minutes when a huge kick upfield from Chris Bush was touched on by Billy Bricknell past Nathan Ashmore; however, the flag was up.
The home side were relentless in their aerial battering of the Fleet defence and on 22 minutes another high delivery saw Adam Bailey-Dennis force a the ball over the line. Chelmsford fans were celebrating and the assistant referee seemed to indicate a goal but once more the referee saw it differently and ruled the goal out to the anger of the Essex contingent.
Fleet were living off scraps and the best they managed was a Dean Rance header from a Jack Powell free-kick that Kenny Clark swooped towards but Chelmsford scrambled it away. Dave Winfield was booked for tripping Graham as he broke through the centre circle at pace and it was the first of a flurry of cards from the increasingly unpopular man in the middle.
Aaron McLean also caught sight of goal on 29 minutes when he gathered a pass from Charlie Sheringham on the right flank but his looping effort cleared the crossbar when he had men in the middle in support.
Chelmsford’s opening goal had been threatened for a while and it was no surprise when it arrived on the half-hour. Robbie Willmott’s free-kick from the right was whipped in at speed and at just the right height for Bricknell to direct it past Ashmore.
If the opening 40 minutes belonged to Chelmsford, Fleet found their spark in the final five of the first half. Four minutes before the break, Deering finally found some space to cut inside before he was hauled down by Chris Bush. Jack Powell stepped up to send another one of his trademark free-kicks zipping past Ross Fitzsimons in the Clarets goal and suddenly the visitors were back in it.
With their tails up, Fleet seemed to have found a surge of energy and Deering broke again, playing an excellent ball through to McLean who got in rather a tangle with Shields ahead of him and the latter went over to half-hearted penalty shouts.
Fleet were better in the second half and, seeming to have nullified Chelmsford’s aerial threat, they were able to play more of their own game. Shields saw much more of the ball and on several occasions tormented Willmott with his runs down the left.
Both sides continued to press in a finely balanced game. Willmott’s shot crept through a gap in the Fleet defence but went wide before Shields pinged a wicked ball across the six-yard box that Chelmsford flung a leg at to clear behind. Bricknell then powered a shot wide from a good position on 58 minutes.
Fearing his side had lost their tempo, Rod Stringer sent on Shaun Jeffers but it was Fleet who looked more likely at that moment to make the breakthrough, especially when Shields and then Jack Connors had efforts from the left scrambled out of the box. Shields then outpaced Willmott, beating him to the byline, before driving a shot that clanged back off the outside of the post.
But on 71 minutes, Fleet’s impetus was lost when Winfield bundled into the back of Bricknell 30 yards out and with several players on yellows, there looked to be only one outcome for the defender and sure enough he was off – though to a straight red, which McMahon later suggested might have been harsh.
Suddenly the script changed and Fleet sacrificed McLean for Greenidge as Chelmsford went in search of a winner. For 10 minutes, Fleet marshalled their back line well and held off the busy Clarets attackers. Ashmore got down well to push a Willmott free-kick behind and Connors was well-placed to head another chance that flew past Ashmore off the line.
But the pressure began to tell and four minutes from time, Graham drove at the Fleet defence down the left, powered into the box and slammed a firm, low shot into the bottom corner past Ashmore for the winner. Jeffers and Graham almost combined for a third before substitute Darren McQueen, sent on alongside Bradley Bubb, sent a final delivery into the box but it just wasn’t going to be Fleet’s night.
EUFC: Ashmore, Cook, Connors, Rance, Winfield, Clark, Deering (Bubb 86), Powell, Sheringham, McLean (Greenidge 73), Shields (McQueen 86). Subs not used: Lewis, Miles
CCFC: Fitzsimons, Moore (Jeffers 59), Bush, Rees, Bailey-Dennis, Walsh, Willmott, Church, Mullings, Bricknell (Merrifield 89), Graham. Subs not used: Haines, Miller, Blanchett