Fleet’s unbeaten record against Eastbourne Borough continues – and with 10 men, the spirt shone through to proudly keep that record intact. Celebrations amongst the players, staff and supporters after the visitors survived Will Wood’s sending-off early in the second half said everything about the fight within Dennis Kutrieb’s dressing room.
Greg Cundle’s second-minute strike was enough in the end to extend Fleet’s winning run to six games but, boy, did the green shirts of the visitors have to work ever so hard to achieve it.
With three games in seven days for the Fleet, there were a couple of changes for Kutrieb’s side which saw Sefa Kahraman, Alfie Egan, Will Wood (making his first start of the season) and Dominic Poleon come in and out went new father Tobi Adebayo-Rowling, together with Lee Martin, Alex Finney and Craig Tanner.
Fleet got off to the perfect start on two minutes with a ball forward from Ben Chapman to Poleon, ending up at the feet of Jack Paxman. He played in Greg Cundle who caught a quick glimpse of the bottom corner and curled a shot through a crowd ahead of him and round Lee Worgan it went.
An immediate Eastbourne attack through midfield could have seen them back into contention but Kahraman was on hand to hack that behind for a corner. Joel Rollinson then earned another corner as a bright Eastbourne attacked with purpose, Kahraman clearing for a third corner as Chris Haigh was under pressure from a cross.
But for the goal, Eastbourne might have been pleased with their start as they saw plenty of the ball, Fleet perhaps content to keep them at arm’s length. Certainly the opportunity for a quick counter was on and Wood’s 12th minute ball across the box for Poleon was headed just wide.
Egan had a couple of half-chances, Poleon holding the ball up for him for an effort that went off target but Bingham had arguably the better opportunities. He took one ball down with a great touch in the box but the second touch left Poleon with too much to do. On 21 minutes a surging run and return pass for Chapman took him into the area and he delivered for Bingham who just couldn’t force the ball home in the six-yard box.
Ten minutes after that, the chance to equalise was there for Eastbourne as the lively Rollinson attacked down the right and hit the perfect cross for the onrushing Chris Whelpdale but Wood did just enough diving in to put him off his range. Moments later, Greg Luer worked some space in the box to thud a fine effort just wide of Haigh’s left-hand post.
Skipper Chris Solly departed on 34 minutes with an injury from an earlier challenge to be replaced by Kieran Monlouis, meaning both sides had lost their captains (Eastbourne’s Charlie Walker having withdrawn after injury in the warm-up). Monlouis took over the mantle of keeping Whelpdale quiet in the middle, the former Stevenage man pulling most of the home side’s strings going forward.
Eastbourne forced another couple of corners and free-kicks as the half drew to a close but frustrated their supporters with either wasted efforts on goal or being forced to move play back to their own centre-circle as Fleet succeeded in frustrating their attacks.
Like the first period, the second-half exploded quickly into life when with four minutes on the clock, Wood slid heavily into a challenge on Kasim Aidoo on the right byline and as Eastbourne reacted furiously, the referee was left with little choice but to issue the red card, Aidoo requiring treatment from both sides’ medical teams before he resumed.
Kutrieb was forced into a reshuffle, immediately bringing Lee Martin on for Poleon. Eastbourne were straight on to the offensive, keeping the ball away from Fleet but their only real opportunity of the next few minutes came as Charlie Towning scooped Luer’s delivery towards goal but without real power.
Indeed Fleet could have extended the lead on 64 minutes when Egan’s speculative low drive cannoned into the box and then pinged off an Eastbourne leg to zip just wide for a corner. And Cundle wasn’t far off either as Fleet broke and the goalscorer forced Worgan to tip the effort over his crossbar. From the resulting corner, Bingham stretched and almost got a good contact but the ball ran into Worgan’s hands.
Eastbourne won one too many corners for comfort and sent on big man Josh Oyinsan in a bid to make that advantage pay. But still it was Fleet who fashioned the chances, Paxman’s presence of mind and skill getting him away down the right. He waited for the tireless Egan to gain ground and the midfielder met the cross but sent it over the bar.
With 10 minutes left, some great build-up play around the home box fed Bingham who was patient in getting his shot off but that was pushed aside to the far post before Egan powered another effort goalwards that was just wide.
Oyinsan hooked a shot wide on 90 minutes as Eastbourne threw men forward with five additional minutes announced. And from a late low cross from the right, the ball was out of Haigh’s reach and an important touch from Joe Martin turned it behind. Chapman conceded another corner with a vital block and Eastbourne kept the set-piece pressure on right to the end but Fleet weren’t going to let their sterling defensive work go to waste and held on for a superb victory full of gusto, morale and spirit.
EUFC: Haigh, Chapman, Kahraman, J.Martin, Solly (Monlouis 34), Egan, Cundle, Wood, Paxman, Bingham(Romain 83), Poleon (L.Martin 50). Subs: Jombati, Gould
EBFC: Worgan, Elliott, Ferry, Dickinson, Aidoo (Hutchinson (87), Rollinson, Luer, Kendall, Whelpdale, Beresford, Towning (Oyinsan 71). Subs: Bennett, Holter
Booked: Cundle, L.Martin, Paxman. Sent-off: Wood