The goal was to make the draw for Round Two but despite a lack of goals, the Fleet will still have their name in the hat. A robust first-half performance gave the home side the perfect platform to create an upset but Cheltenham were a different prospect in the second-half as neither side could break the deadlock.
Garry Hill and assistant Ian Hendon were content to field the same side that defeated Barrow, bar an enforced change in midfield with Ebou Adams replacing the injured Andy Drury. After the pair were introduced to fans, their side set about the League Two strugglers with purpose, straight on to the attack.
But it was the Robins who almost made an early breakthrough on three minutes when a cross from Luke Varney to Aston Villa loanee Kelsey Mooney bounced behind the Fleet defensive line but the striker trod on the ball and it ran behind him. Fleet got into their stride with a couple of corners before Luke Coulson aimed a delicate chip towards Myles Weston at the far post but that was another effort cleared behind.
There was plenty of bite about the Fleet midfield, with Jack Payne and Ebou Adams flying into challenges and winning numerous tackles and the impetus kept Fleet on the front foot for much of the first half. There were times when the EFL side showed their bite, however, and Chris Hussey played the ball through Adams legs on the quarter-hour, it needing just a touch in the six-yard box but bounced clear and ran out the far side.
Fleet were back on the attack with Corey Whitely and he manoeuvred into space courtesy of some excellent footwork before driving a low shot to Scott Flinders’ left-hand post, the goalkeeper just getting a hand on it to force it out for a corner.
The visitors were forced into a change on 21 minutes when skipper Jonny Mullins came off worse in a challenge with Danny Kedwell and he had to be replaced by the tall figure of Tyrone Barnett. Fleet’s efforts were best illustrated moments later when Weston intercepted a ball in the centre of midfield, hared out wide, accelerated down the flank, beating his man and laying a cross into Luke Coulson’s feet. Coulson met it well on the half-volley but his attempt was hooked over Flinders’ bar.
Neither side could force another chance as the clock ticked past the half-hour but Weston was soon back into the action, supplying Kedwell on 36 minutes from the right and the No.9 glanced a header just wide of the post. And it was Fleet who crafted the only remaining chance of the first-half, Whitely cutting in from a wide position and his cross-cum-shot pushed out of the six-yard box by Flinders under pressure from Kedwell.
Cheltenham manager Michael Duff ordered his men back on to the field early for the second-half and they got the message as the visitors upped their game considerably. The 50th minute introduction of former Merstham wide man Alex Addai was instrumental as he concentrated the minds of Fleet’s defence while in midfield, the Robins were much more effective than they had been at the start.
The weather showed a little more menace as the skies clouded over and rain fell, setting the stage for more of a cup-tie feel. Certainly the game became more expansive as gaps began to appear in both sides’ ranks. Addai’s low delivery on 58 minutes had the Fleet back line scrambling and Adams had to launch the ball clear from the penalty spot before he was replaced in midfield by Jack King. The Fleet defender, who has played for Hill at Woking, was deployed in the centre of midfield and he proved effective in the hole, tightening up Fleet’s midfield as Cheltenham threatened to gain the upper hand.
King might even have opened his account on 63 minutes when Whitely was hassled off the ball inside the area and it spun clear for King who connected cleanly but sent the ball over the bar. Addai continued to be a menace for Cheltenham and Dave Winfield had to get his head in the way of another looping delivery before Fleet picked up again as the game entered the final 20 minutes. Coulson intercepted an errant pass and supplied Kedwell inside the box whose attempt to turn was well suppressed by Jordon Forster.
Garry Hill made a last throw of the dice with the introduction of Darren McQueen and the Fleet striker was straight into the action, a ball dropping kindly behind the Robins’ defence but hitting McQueen on the shoulder. The No.14 then did well to hold up play with back to goal to supply Whitely who sent a dipping shot over.
Neither side looked likely to nick the win in the closing minutes though half-chances continued to come their way, Clark sending a powerful header into the Plough End while in the other box, Addai forced a low save from Ashmore who had to gather at the second attempt.
But with a clean sheet apiece, it’s all eyes on Monday night’s Round Two draw before these sides do it all again at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium in 10 days time.
EUFC: Ashmore, Magri, Bush, Winfield, Clark, Payne, Adams (King 59), Weston (Wilson 88), Coulson (McQueen 78), Whitely, Kedwell. Subs not used: Cheek, Miles, Shields, Graham
CTFC: Flinders, Tozer, Mullins (Barnett 21), Forster, Broom, Thomas (Atangana 83), Maddox, Clements, Hussey, Mooney (Addai 49), Varney. Subs not used: Lovett, McAliden, Field.