The Fleet have never won an FA Cup tie in Essex and that statistic continued this afternoon at the Future Fuel Stadium – though Daryl McMahon’s side will be in the draw for the First Round after a goalless stalemate against their National South hosts.
There were three changes for the Fleet with Danny Kedwell returning from paternity leave, alongside Antony Cook and Sam Magri, with Danny Mills, Luke Coulson and Marvin McCoy the players making way. New signing Antonio German was on the bench with Fleet naming seven substitutes in the FA Cup.
East Thurrock, going well in the division below, had former Dartford full back Lee Burns on the bench but 230-goal striker Sam Higgins started.
It was the Fleet who got going the quicker of the two sides and Sean Shields was in behind the defence inside the first two minutes sending an inswinging cross into the six-yard box that was shinned behind for a corner by the full-back. From the set piece, the ball bounced inside the penalty area for Kedwell who met it with a firm low shot that goalkeeper Lucas Lidakevicius had to dive to his left to push away.
The home side stemmed that early tide and they ventured forward on several occasions but Kenny Clark was doing a decent job of snuffing out any attacks on the 18-yard line. Cook, starting just his second game of the season, looked eager to impress and he collected a pass out left and broke quickly on 10 minutes but his cross towards Kedwell was ruled offside in the first of many such decisions by the assistant referee.
Skipper Dean Rance intercepted a ball in midfield on 14 minutes to feed Myles Weston and his cross for Kedwell was well met but again too close to Lidakevicius who held it.
After that early flurry, the game descended into a rather tepid affair with neither side finding any sort of cutting edge. Fleet enjoyed more possession but they failed to trouble the Rocks’ defence and had to wait until the 25th minute to get another shot on goal, this time Weston firing from distance to no avail after some good approach play.
Much of the first half was spent with play being pulled back, Kedwell earning a sixth flag for offside from the official before 40 minutes was out. Shields ended the half as he began it, with some nifty footwork opening up the defence but he could only win a corner. The first period ended with a little more excitment when Shields’ deep cross to the far post was firmly headed past Lidakevicius by a leaping Kedwell but it merely gave the assistant referee another opportunity to lift his flag in the air, to the disgust of Fleet fans close to the incident.
There was more controversy straight away as the home side broke quickly and Lewis Smith fired into the side netting but was convinced he was fouled inside the box in the build-up. Either way, the referee ended any arguments by blowing his whistle for half-time.
Fleet began the second half like the first, on the front foot, but the adventure petered out of their play soon after that. Cook lifted a shot over on 50 minutes and Powell cut a ball inside to Sam Magri who sent a looping effort just past the upright as Fleet tried to lift their game. German was sent on just before the hour mark and showed some willingness in his first few minutes but still the visitors couldn’t open up the Thurrock defence.
The longer the half went on, the more belief the home side had and they almost edged ahead on 71 minutes when James White climbed well from a corner played back into the box and planted a header against the crossbar that spun away to safety.
Mills was sent on for the last 15 minutes as both sides upped the tempo in the closing stages. Powell directed a free-kick on target but it was a fair way out and there was little sting in it for the goalkeeper. Referee Gary Parsons, who had hardly endeared himself to the travelling contingent, booked Higgins for a dive following vociferous penalty appeals from the home side and did the same to Mills when he was put through by German, though both decisions seemed harsh.
In between those incidents, Nathan Ashmore kept Fleet in the competition with a fine save, spreading himself wide as Higgins broke through from Ryan Sammons’ raking pass and the East Thurrock hotshot was denied.
East Thurrock’s late flurry aside, Fleet hadn’t had too many heart-stopping moments but neither did they force Lidakevicius into a save of note – and both sides maintaining an interest in Monday night’s draw seemed the fairest result.
EUFC: Ashmore, Magri, Connors, Clark, Bush, Rance, Cook (German 58), Powell, Shields, Weston (Coulson 69), Kedwell (Mills 75). Subs not used: McLean, Miles, Graham, Mambo
ETUFC: Lidakevicius, Sammons, Harris, Allen, Ekpiteta, White, Agyemang, Cornhill, Higgins, Smith, Honesty (Burns 86). Subs not used: Peddie, Belho, Boswell, Marlow