Cheltenham substitute Alex Addai, who helped Merstham knock the Fleet out of the FA Cup in 2016, was instrumental again as the Robins progressed by 2-0.
The winger created the opening for the breakthrough goal on 66 minutes then drew the foul that led to the dismissal of Sam Magri as Fleet ran out of steam against the League Two side. In time added on he then slid in for the home’s side second to take them through to a tie against Accrington.
Garry Hill made just the one change, an unfit Kenny Clark dropping to the bench to be replaced by Jack King. Reise Allassani didn’t have permission from his parent club to appear in the FA Cup, so that reduced the bench to just six available players with Ebou Adams and Myles Weston still on international duty.
All-action midfielder Nigel Atangana made his presence felt from the opening minute and he got a shot away that had Nathan Ashmore stretching as it flew wide. Atangana, with Ryan Broom out wide on the right, were the home side’s two key players as Cheltenham increasingly stamped their authority in midfield.
Fleet had snatches of possession in the final third, Dave Winfield heading into Scott Flinders’ arms from a weighty Chris Bush throw-in.
Both sides were guilty of surrendering possession too cheaply at times but Cheltenham began to make the better in-roads without really testing Ashmore.
On 16 minutes, Chris Clements twisted and turned on the edge of the Fleet box but the blue back line managed to hassle him sufficiently and his shot was a disappointing effort.
Broom continued to probe the right wing and though well-marshalled by Bush, he found his way through from time to time, his 20th minute cross headed wide by target man Tyrone Barnett.
Fleet’s efforts were restricted to the counter-attack and when they did advance, Bush supplying Sean Shields for a run into the box, the home side were always able to get a foot in.
King saw the ball just run clear of him eight yards out after Luke Coulson’s shot was deflected into space before a 34th minute counterattack released Shields. He spread play to Whitely cutting in from the right flank but Flinders stood up well to the Fleet man’s low drive.
That was Fleet’s best spell of the half but it was followed by the best opportunity of the game at the other end four minutes from the break. Chris Hussey’s cross dropped for Ashmore who parried it only as far as Broom. The goal opened up for him but he rasped a low shot just past the post from 10 yards.
Cheltenham began the second half at pace. Winfield’s short back pass put Ashmore in trouble but he managed to regain possession before Luke Varney met a cross from the left but headed it at pace past the post.
The game was sterile for 10 minutes after that, livened up by Shields running in from the left but both his deliveries came to nothing, Coulson losing control and Kedwell heading over the bar.
With Cheltenham just starting to look a little short of ideas, they got the crucial breakthrough on 66 minutes. It came moments after the introduction of winger Alex Addai and with his first touch he slipped the ball beyond Jack Payne and crossed it into the middle. Varney’s intervention wrong-footed the Fleet defence and Barnett took advantage to head the ball out of Ashmore’s reach and over the line.
Fleet threw on Michael Cheek and he was almost immediately into the action when Kedwell headed on a ball over the top but the substitute was crowded out and couldn’t get a clean contact.
Kedwell had two bites at the cherry inside the box but both were blocked as the ball refused to fall kindly for the visitors in a dangerous position.
But the tie got away from the Fleet 10 minutes from time when, after a spell of pressure by the visitors, Addai broke down the left and drew a foul and booking from Magri. As the Fleet defender retreated into the box, he was promptly red-carded, presumably for dissent in the aftermath.
Cheltenham survived a goalmouth scramble as Winfield tried to force the ball over the line but otherwise they took the sting out of Fleet’s attack and in time added on capitalised when Addai slid in from close range as Ashmore parried an initial shot from Varney.
EUFC: Ashmore, Magri, Bush, King, Winfield, Payne, Drury, Shields (Graham 60), Coulson (Cheek 69), Whitely (McQueen 85), Kedwell. Subs not used: Wilson, Miles
CTFC: Flinders, Hussey, Tozer, Forster, Thomas (Addai 65), Boyle, Atangana, Clements, Barnett, Varney. Subs not used: Field, Mooney, Alcock, Basford, Brennan, Lovett