Fleet fans tasted defeat on the opening day of the season for the first time in seven years as relegated Chesterfield had a penalty to thank for all three points in a sweltering afternoon at the Kuflink Stadium. The home side hit the bar in the first-half and matched the visitors for large parts of the game but couldn’t trouble Shawn Jalal in the visiting goal sufficiently once the men in blue went ahead.
There was much talk over Daryl McMahon’s potential squad selection and he opted for a back three, with Myles Weston and Lawrie Wilson used either side of a three-man midfield. There was no place for either Luke Coulson or Bagasan Graham and new signing Michael Cheek had to settle for a place on the bench.
It was a quick but cagey opening from both sides, Fleet eager to get at the visitors but Chesterfield seeing off the Fleet’s early promise and making their presence felt, none more so than former loanee Gozie Ugwu who if he didn’t have a hold of Chris Bush and Sam Magri’s shirt was happy to grapple them to the ground.
Ugwu’s physical presence was enough to unsettle Bush and Nathan Ashmore five minutes in when a routine clearance created some confusion between the two and the Chesterfield striker stuck in a leg only to see the ball bounce just wide of Ashmore’s post.
Robbie Weir pulled the Spireite strings in the middle while Jack Payne broke play up in the Fleet half and was constantly looking for the quick ball out wide to his wingers. After a slow start, Ebou Adams began to show why he’s so highly rated and on nine minutes his driven shot from outside the box was on target but Jalal was behind it and gathered without a problem.
Nine minutes after that, Myles Weston’s cross to the near post was inch-perfect for Danny Kedwell and Corey Whitely but the latter nipped in ahead of his skipper and perhaps the movement put both off as the ball went wide.
The best chance from open play in the game went Fleet’s way on 24 minutes when a sweeping move upfield saw Wilson float a cross into the box and Adams rode high to get a firm header away that smacked off the underside of the crossbar but somehow skewed away to safety and Kedwell headed the rebound over.
Fleet were largely controlling proceedings in the first half without again troubling Jalal. On 37 minutes there was another chance but it came only after fantastic defending from Sam Magri who, lying prone on the ground, got his head to a ball to nod it clear of George Smith and Fleet counterattacked at speed, Weston racing clear to deliver for Kedwell who sent his effort just over the bar.
It was anyone’s game in the second half but Chesterfield started it well and sought to stamp some authority on what was until then a fairly even affair. They were awarded a free-kick from a dangerous central position almost immediately that Charlie Carter laid off for Zavon Hines. The former Maidstone man curled a shot around a crowd that Ashmore just about pushed clear and with the Fleet keeper grounded, Bradley Barry hammered the second chance over the bar.
Moments later Kedwell sent a gentle lob over Jalal but as the ball bounced towards the goal, Michael Nelson was back to sweep clear. But Chesterfield had a little bit of a swagger about them up front by now and Will Evans wasn’t far off with a header. The visitors seemed galvanised when Marc-Antoine Fortune replaced Ugwu, who was finally handed the yellow card he should have been awarded much earlier, and the former Southend striker had a confident stride and control of the ball that added a new dimension for Chesterfield.
But it was Fleet who were next to find the target, Whitely’s shot good but unwittingly diverted by a head and deflected behind for a corner. Cheek replaced Adams on the hour mark but it was at the other end where the next action occurred, Carter’s header on Smith’s delivery arrowing towards the bottom corner as Ashmore scrambled across and watched it fly past the post.
Hines was next to trouble the Fleet, his effort flashing wide but he made no mistake with the next attack on 66 minutes. Great control and drive from Fortune started the move and a one-two between him and Hines set the later free and as he turned towards the six-yard box, he was upended by Magri for a penalty.
Hines dusted himself down and converted to Ashmore’s right for what would prove to be the winner.
Fleet huffed and puffed to claw their way back into the game and Chesterfield allowed them plenty of possession but managed the game ever so well. Full back Drew Talbot, along with Evans, kept the Fleet front line frustrated and Martin Allen – a hollering, bawling presence on the touchline where the fourth official soon ran up the white flag and admitted defeat – brought on Laurence Maguie to shore things up further.
Substitute Sean Shields tried to inject some drive and his skill opened up space for Andy Drury to fire over before Myles Weston did the same from a better position 12 yards out. Cheek struggled to see much service and twice found himself in decent positions but the ball rolled or bobbled out of his line of sight. Chesterfield were content with their goal lead and invited the Fleet to spend their efforts on a stubborn deep midfield and back line to record a victory that was met with jubilation by a healthy away following.
EUFC: Ashmore, King, Magri, Bush, Payne, Adams (Cheek 60), Drury (Powell 72), Weston, Whitely, Wilson (Shields 67), Kedwell. Subs not used: Miles, McQueen.
CFC: Jalal, Ugwu (Fortune 55), Evans, Smith (Maguire 68), Weston, Nelson, Hines, Barry, Talbot, Weir (Muggleton 84), Carter. Subs not used: Wedgbury, Shaw.