Eleven games unbeaten, Fleet finally roared into the top seven as recent performances have deserved with another hard-fought and slender win. With spirit in the camp sky-high after Kenny Clark’s headed goal – “long overdue” said the man himself afterwards – the sky really is the limit for this Fleet side.
Fleet were unchanged once more save for Marvin McCoy replacing Jack Connors on the bench. Eastleigh were looking to end a poor run of form that had seen only two wins in 12 games and they attacked down the Fleet left with Chris Zebroski troubling Chris Bush early on.
Fleet looked the more dangerous, however, and Luke Coulson exploited a gap left by Ryan Broom to home in on goal. His effort was blocked by Ross Flitney and fell nicely for Sean Shields whose follow-up was low and on target but cannoned off Gavin Hoyte on the line.
The visitors forced a number of corners and on nine minutes one made its way to Corey Whitely and he took a touch before firing high of Flitney’s goal.
Fleet continued to improve and Kedwell’s delicate flick-on set Coulson free and he only had Flitney to beat but the ball stuck under his feet and he was closed down by Broom before he could get another effort away.
Another set piece yielded another chance on 15 minutes, Dave Winfield climbing to direct a header just off target. Still the visitors continued in the ascendancy and Kedwell’s dipping shot was pushed over by Flitney. The Eastleigh keeper then made a great save as Kenny Clark connected to the resulting corner from close range.
Gradually the game descended into more of a midfield stalemate and the home side began to assert themselves a little more. Bush had to stand up to the threat of Sam Matthews and Zebroski which he did increasingly well, while Mark Yeates’ strong running began to push the Fleet back.
But it was Fleet who continued to have the better sight of goal and Whitely drew another good save from Flitney, again sent behind for a corner.
Eastleigh upped the tempo again and finished the half well, Winfield having to get a crucial block in on the penalty spot to deny the lurking McCallum.
There was much promise in the first half but a lot of the second was scrappy, with possession surrendered far too easily by both sides.
Eastleigh had the better of it though it was in patches while Fleet struggled to find any midfield fluency. McMahon had seen enough as soon as the 54th minute, taking Shields and Coulson off to introduce Myles Weston and Jack Powell.
It didn’t change the flow of the game unduly and Winfield had to mop again, getting his head to a deep cross angled to the far post with McCallum and Zebroski lurking.
Fleet hit back on the hour mark when Kedwell got his head to a Powell corner and it had to be hacked clear of the line. Weston then got the edge on Hoyte down the flank and flung in a dangerous cross that Powell might have reached but left for Rance who was in front of the flight of the ball.
Eastleigh found new life after that and zipped the ball around from the middle to the right flank. Some quickfire exchanges opened up the Fleet defence and twice Ashmore made decent saves, one in particular low with his wrist as a cross came in from wide.
Unsettled, the visitors allowed another Eastleigh attack to penetrate the box and Fleet bodies got in the way but with the ball loose on the edge of the area, Sam Matthews ran into the challenge of Lawrie Wilson who didn’t see him arriving and over he went. It seemed a rather soft penalty award and McCallum stepped up but didn’t connect particularly well – though that was to take nothing away from Ashmore who got firmly behind it.
The game began to peter out as both sides surrendered possession cheaply. Eastleigh brought Ben Williamson on to supplement their attack and Fleet had Norman Wabo readied as the game entered the final 10 minutes.
That was a change that didn’t need to be made. Whitely won a corner and Powell delivered an excellently weighted cross which arrowed on to Clark’s head and he powered the ball home to the delight of Fleet’s 138 supporters.
Eastleigh failed to trouble the Fleet in the final minutes but won one last free-kick in time added on. Most of the minutes were used up as the referee sorted out a bout of bad feeling and the set piece came to nothing. Three fantastic points was the result and Fleet finally crept into the top seven. It all sets up a massive match against fellow play-off contenders Sutton this Saturday.
EUFC: Ashmore, Wilson, Bush, Clark, Winfield, Rance, Drury, Coulson (Powell 54), Shields (Weston 54), Whitely, Kedwell. Subs: McCoy, Wabo, Miles
EFC: Flitney, Hoyte, Johnson, Wood (Green 85), McCallum (Williamson 73), Yeates, Zebroski, Broom, Hollands, Miley (Obileye 85), Matthews. Subs: Togwell, Boyce