Dulwich Hamlet 1-3 Fleet

It was four wins from four games as Fleet steamrollered their hosts in a clinical first-half performance and then snuffed out the challenge Dulwich presented briefly in the second-half with a killer third goal.

That came from former Hamlet favourite Darren McQueen but before him Shaq Coulthirst scored one, created another and might have added two more when he hit the woodwork twice, and could count himself unfortunate not to take the match ball home.

Fleet’s start to the game wasn’t ideal after a late arrival in southeast London that caused the kick-off to be delayed by 20 minutes and Dulwich tried to catch their visitors cold with a swift opening few minutes. Indeed it was a high-tempo beginning from both sides, keen to warm up on a night when Dulwich did ever so well to get their Champion Hill pitch playable.

Fleet, with two changes to the side as McQueen and Coulthirst came in to replace Franklin Domi and Omari Sterling-James, showed a turn of speed and desire early on from Dominic Poleon who flew down the right, crossing quickly with a delivery that caused Charlie Grainger some pain – quite literally as he needed treatment after getting down low to it.

McQueen, too, fancied his chances from wide on the right and got in behind the back line to get the ball on target. And it didn’t take long for another effort on target to register as the visitors took the lead on nine minutes. Coulthirst’s initial shot was blocked and Josh Wright’s calm and measured touch opened a gap in the Dulwich defence. He delivered a pass back into Coulthirst whose smart movement and shot bounced over the line before coming back out but the referee awarded it.

Dulwich looked smart when they got forward and had a couple of opportunities from wide, with one effort going ever so close as Dan Smith galloped forward to pull a shot just wide of Mark Cousins’ post on 18 minutes. But from that, Fleet broke quickly and Coulthirst dug a ball out from under Sanchez Ming and as it sprang clear in the box, Greg Cundle homed in on it and let fly with a scorcher that gave Grainger no chance.

A first-half goal, assist and two chunks of the post made it a good evening for Shaq Coulthirst

Confident and two goals to the good, the Fleet upped their game further. A quite wonderful, weighted through ball from Rakish Bingham was perfect for Coulthirst who gathered it and smacked a shot low off the base of the post, helped there by the merest of touches from Grainger.

The lively Smith and Joe Felix kept the Fleet defence on their toes on occasion but when they got into good positions found the final ball wanting. And a feature of Fleet’s play in the moments they didn’t have the ball and were pushed back saw the likes of Christian N’Guessan and Cundle covering every defensive space before providing impetus for another attack.

Luke O’Neill performed two lively interventions at the back before his shot from a tight angle went wide and then both he and Coulthirst overstepped a wicked delivery from McQueen.

Coulthirst closed out the half with a cheeky drag-back that McQueen fired into the side netting but well worth their lead, the Fleet went in at half-time with heads high and two goals in their back pocket.

Tempers boil over as Sanchez Ming sees red on 63 minutes

Dulwich needed a quick breakthrough to stand any chance of repelling the Fleet and they got in a competent start to the second period. Building on some adventurous moves forward, it took only three minutes for Smith to find Johl Powell to steal a yard on the red shirts around him with a deft touch and he exploited the sudden space with a cool, smart finish beyond Cousins.

The home side briefly had their tails up but Fleet took the wind out of their sails with a third on 53 minutes. Cundle might have picked an easy pass to Coulthirst after his initial attack was held up but he spotted McQueen through a crowd on the edge of the box and McQueen in turn spotted a gap in the far corner and he delivered a shot past several bodies that arrowed out of Grainger’s reach for 3-1.

This time Dulwich struggled to find any meaningful response, although Smith ballooned an effort from Felix’s run that dropped just high of the upright. Their cause wasn’t helped just past the hour mark when Sanchez Ming, already on a yellow card and walking a thin line at times, kicked out at Poleon off the ball to spark a frank exchange of views between the two camps. Spotted by the assistant referee, Ming was issued a straight red and Poleon a yellow for his reaction.

After that, Fleet were content to stroke the ball around though still pushed for a fourth goal. Coulthirst found the woodwork again when he ran on to and opened up from Poleon’s excellent reverse pass, his shot bouncing back into play with the goal yawning but no Fleet player could get there in time to pick it off.

And Bingham swung a shot wide from a good position late on but by then, the game as a contest was long over and Fleet departed the pitch to much-deserved applause.

EUFC: Cousins, O’Neill, Finney (Jombati), Solly, Wright (Edser), N’Guessan, Cundle (Romain), McQueen, Bingham, Poleon, Coulthirst. Subs: Domi, Hollis
DHFC: Grainger, Ming, Wood, Holland, Raymond, Krasniqi (Vint 77), Taylor, Porter, Smith, Felix (Comley 90), Powell (Thompson 82). Subs: Mills, Jones
Attendance: 1,229

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