Ebbsfleet United picked up their first point away from home but are still awaiting three points after a stalemate at a wet and windy Priory Lane this afternoon.
In such conditions, Steve Brown opted to dispense with an element of creativity, Stacy Long dropping to the bench and in came Billy Bricknell to give Fleet a two-man front line for the first time this season. Dean Rance also returned to the starting line-up with Michael Corcoran out with a dead leg.
The home side, confident after two wins to kick-start their season, looked to have plenty of guile up front with Simon Johnson showing the Fleet centre backs a clean pair of heels early on as he sprang the offside trap, but his shot from distance was high over Preston Edwards’ crossbar.
But on 14 minutes, the Sports were ahead. Fleet lost possession in their own half and Daniel Lok created space for Chris Shephard 25 yards out who drove a decent shot into the corner of the goal with Edwards beaten. Eastbourne found themselves with another shot on goal eight minutes later, though it was unconventional, Matt Aldred producing an overhead kick from eight yards that fortunately skewed off target as it bounced.
Fleet responded on 24 minutes, however, when Bricknell saw his initial shot blocked by Sam Cole but it rolled towards Michael Thalassitis and he powered it beyond goalkeeper Craig Ross. With conditions becoming increasingly wet and slippery, it didn’t make for much of a spectacle and there were a few sliding challenges. Daryl McMahon, already in the book for one such tackle, was fortunate the referee had a lenient side on 38 minutes when he felled Shephard in midfield but he escaped with a warning that one more such intervention would be his last.
The home side made the most of having the wind at their backs and they played some decent crossfield passes. One such on the stroke of half-time, Frankie Raymond’s hoisted ball into the middle, was met by the head of former Fleet defender Ian Simpemba and came back off the bar, much to Edwards’ relief.
With Steve Brown unhappy with the first-half showing, Fleet came out second half looking to gain a foothold – and they used the wind to gain the upper hand. Dominic Green sent a free-kick over the bar on 52 minutes after Rance was fouled on the edge of the box and Fleet had the best chance of the game two minutes later when Cole’s inexplicably short back pass was intercepted by Bricknell. The Fleet striker got the ball round goalkeeper Ross but fired into the side netting from an angle when he might have been better advised to supply the incoming Anthony Cook with a pass. It was to be his last contribution as Alex Osborn got his first taste of Fleet action.
Green sent a shot whistling just past the upright on the hour mark and eight minutes later supplied Rance with a through ball. The Fleet midfielder raced through the middle and went down under Adam Watts’ challenge but the referee – who had seemed happy to blow whenever anyone went to ground up to that point – turned down the penalty appeals.
Fleet shuffled their pack again on 75 minutes, Ben May getting a run out and he gave the Fleet a target for the final 15 minutes as the visitors continued to probe, May firing to the left of the target and then Lorraine just wide to the right as the men in white forced three successive corners.
But Eastbourne could have stolen the points in time added on when Johnson raced into the box and loosed off a low shot that Edwards pushed away, Aiden Palmer making the clearance before Elliott Levy could pounce on the rebound.
So it’s back to Stonebridge Road in search of three points on Monday when Maidenhead, refreshed perhaps as they had a day off thanks to the Farnborough situation, come to town.
TEAM: Edwards, Howe, Palmer, Rance, Lorraine, Huke, Green, McMahon, Thalassitis (May 75), Bricknell (Osborn 62), Cook (Long 84). Subs not used: Hall, Sankofa