An extra-time goal decided this Promotion Final in Dorking Wanderers’ favour in an intense finale that neither side deserved to lose. But it was what happened moments before extra-time that will live long in the memory of Fleet fans with their side just seconds from the National League.
With the scores at 1-1 as six minutes of added time was indicated, Fleet thought they’d won it when Tanner fired home deep into the additional time. But as the clock ticked well past the added-on time, former Fleet midfielder Luke Moore popped up at the far post to bundle home an equaliser and then Dorking added their winner in extra-time.
Referee Jason Richardson, peculiarly appointed to the final despite officiating the original game in which he sent off Sefa Kahraman, was the man whose timekeeping was called into question by disappointed Fleet fans but regardless it was Dorking who progressed into the National League.
Fleet numbered two changes to the starting lineup as Joe Martin and Alfie Egan took up slots ahead of Dominic Poleon and Shaq Coulthirst. Martin took up a position to the left of the usual back three, with Ben Chapman occupying the balancing role on the right side.
Dorking began with Moore in midfield, enjoying a new lease of life in the side, while Bobby-Joe Taylor had to settle for a place on the bench.
A quick opening saw Dorking with the first half-chance when a cross from the right needed a hasty clearance out of the box for the green shirts.
Fleet’s chance on five minutes was even better when Jack Paxman slipped a pass into the box for Rakish Bingham but the Fleet striker couldn’t quite get the shot connected under pressure from Jordan Cheadle. Chris Solly then floated a corner across goal that wasn’t far from sneaking in at the far post.
Fleet kept carving out the better of the chances with Dennis Kutrieb’s gameplan paying off and Ben Chapman’s inswinging free-kick was a decent height for a powerful Sido Jombati header that sped just off target as Dan Lincoln flung himself across goal.
Dorking as expected broke and attacked quickly when given the opportunity and Jombati had to head away one of those as a cross came in towards Jason Prior before the visitors returned to the attack on 17 minutes, Egan, Bingham and Chapman breaking down the right but Paxman was unable to bring down the pass. Egan followed up with a shot on goal but that one was always heading off target.
And the breakthrough came on 22 minutes, deservedly going the way of the Fleet. Paxman gathered the ball out of defence and into midfield where superb movement by Bingham laid open the opportunity for a pass. Paxman duly obliged with a finely measured ball into Bingham’s path behind the last defender and the No.9 kept his cool to fire past Lincoln to make it 1-0.
Dorking almost responded six minutes later when Jimmy Muitt received an excellent through ball from James McShane and crossed first time towards Prior who for once got the better of Jombati in the air but headed over.
You couldn’t take your eye off the game for a second as Fleet were back on the attack, patient build-up play quickened by Egan’s jinking run that fed Joe Martin for a shot on target that Lincoln had to pluck out of the air.
And still the action continued as Dorking got a rather fortunate run of the ball from the right that stayed in play as it headed towards the byline and was cut back to Alfie Rutherford who caught the Fleet defence flat-footed but reckoned without an excellent block from Louie Moulden to maintain the lead.
But just as Fleet looked like they’d see things out to half-time, Dorking equalised on 42 minutes. It came with a move down the middle and an awkward bounce wasn’t dealt with, a knock on falling at McShane’s feet and enabling him to slot it beyond Moulden.
Fleet had to soak up a little Dorking pressure early on in the second half before Paxman beat Luke Moore to a ball that sent him scampering down the right. He pulled it back for Bingham who was just ahead of the delivery into the six-yard box.
Both sides exchanged good headers from free-kicks, punctuated in between by a flare-up after a foul on Romain and Moore’s lengthy and constant protestations to the referee.
In contrast to the first-half, the second was a more stately affair at times beneath warm sun. Paxman’s ball into Chapman in the box on 70 minutes required a little more power to trouble Lincoln but neither goalkeeper was overly taxed.
Fleet hearts were in their mouths on 79 minutes when a ball across the box to the far post reached Prior in space to hammer into the roof of the net but that was disallowed for an infringement in the buildup.
And another ball into a similar position two minutes later arrowed towards the far corner of Moulden’s goal but a combination of him and Finney somehow got a limb to it on the line to push it to safety.
With six minutes of added time, there were some timely interventions from Jombati and Finney at the back as Dorking pressed. None was more timely than when Jombati’s headed clearance fell to Lee Martin and the ball worked its way to Poleon in space. He hared upfield in his usual manner attacking the last defender and goalkeeper. He couldn’t quite squeeze it in thanks to a great save by Lincoln but he got the ball back out to substitute Tanner who moved his man aside and drilled it low to send the Fleet end into absolute ecstasy.
With the six minutes of time exhausted and heading well past eight minutes – even accounting for the time added on for the stupidity of flares being thrown on to the pitch – referee Richardson allowed Dorking to muster one last attack from Fuller that Rutherford headed towards the far post and it was Moore who attacked it first, bundling it over the line through a crowd to break Fleet hearts and send the game into extra-time.
And it was Dorking who got the next goal in the eighth minute of extra time. Having probed around the Fleet box with a couple of attacks, a low delivery missed McShane and Solly and slipped through to Rutherford who was in enough space to shoot past Moulden and put the home side ahead for the first time in the game.
Chances were at a premium after that, Egan ending a neat move in the 104th minute from close range the best of Fleet’s efforts to respond but that one was cleared. Christian N’Guessan took an arm to the face that the referee was oblivious to before Chapman followed that with a low delivery forcing Lincoln to grab away from Coulthirst.
Fleet were on the front foot in the second period but Dorking had men behind the ball and squeezed the attacking green shirts. N’Guessan’s looping header went just over the bar and Chapman fired a shot in the same direction but try as they might, the visitors just couldn’t get the clearcut chance they needed.
EUFC: Moulden, J.Martin (Tanner 78), Solly, Finney, Jombati, Chapman, N’Guessan, Egan, Paxman, Romain (L.Martin 60, Coulthirst 98)), Bingham (Poleon 87). Subs: Coulthirst, Haigh.
DWFC: Lincoln, Fuller, Gallagher, Cheadle (Wills 90+), Muitt (B.Taylor 73), Wheeler (Harris 88), Moore, J.Taylor, McShane, Rutherford, Prior (Oldaker 88). Subs: El-Abd