Fleet couldn’t quite find the firepower they needed to propel them into that Third Round berth as a single second-half goal proved the difference against League One Fleetwood Town. That was about the only difference between the three tiers that separated the sides as Dennis Kutrieb’s men looked good value for at least a replay for most of the 90 minutes.
Indeed so much were the Fleet clicking into gear by half-time, that they forced a changed on visiting boss Scott Brown after the break who readjusted his formation to cope.
The Fleet went into battle with a team that held few surprises, Chrstian N’Guessan keeping his place in the side after his return from injury alongside the bulk of Kutrieb’s preferred starters who had sat out the Eastbourne game last week.
With the fans in full voice from long before the kick-off and all four Fleet sides packed to the rafters, the game began at a predictably up-tempo pace. Fleetwood, as expected, were athletic, big and quick to move the ball upfield, something the manager would have prepared his defenders for as they coped with the unfamiliar experience of having the opposition play around them for a spell.
Fleet carved out the first opening four minutes in when Greg Cundle spotted Toby Edser’s run and he got an early shot in to test Jakub Stolarczyk. Fleetwood went closer 60 seconds later, the man who was to prove the difference Ged Garner firing an effort off the post.
The physical Garner twice had to be hustled out of further threatening positions as blue shirts set up camp for a very brief period before Fleet began to settle and play their game. Edser broke through on nine minutes, his ball helped on by Rakish Bingham into the path of Dominic Poleon who once more drew a save from the goalkeeper.
Omari Sterling-James was unfortunate to see his pass forward cut out as he edged through into the box before another Fleetwood foot directed Cundle’s low cross away from danger.
Mark Cousins looked comfortable plucking Shaun Rooney’s 24th minute delivery from the byline out of the air after the Fleetwood man got past Edser. But it was the Fleet who came the closest yet on 28 minutes, Poleon rounding Stolarczyk after Bingham’s deft touch was delivered inside but his effort was agonisingly wide with Fleet fans already celebrating.
And he was almost as close again three minutes later when Bingham’s lay-off gave the Fleet’s top scorer enough room to poke a shot goalwards but the ‘keeper was down again to thwart him. Poleon was increasingly involved and just couldn’t quite get himself the right side of his marker when Edser delayed his shot to instead play in his teammate 10 yards out on 38 minutes.
There was little let-up in pace as Garner glanced a header across and over the Fleet upright before a short holdup for treatment to stricken skipper Chris Solly. That took the edge off the game for the last five minutes of the half as the two teams went in at the break goalless, Fleet more than satisfied with their performance and even disappointed they weren’t ahead.
Fleetwood boss Brown had been perturbed enough about the Fleet’s formation working their way through the Fleetwood midfield and he reverted to a 4-4-2 by bringing on Promise Omochere for Danny Andrews at the break.
There were huge appeals from the Plough End early in the second half for a handball from Cundle’s attempt to cross towards goal before Solly’s first-half injury problems reared their heads again and he was replaced by Joe Martin on 53 minutes. It was a disruption the home side could have well done without, even though Martin was straight into the fray with a number of important clear-up operations.
The second period boasted fewer chances, a couple of Fleetwood crosses causing only mild anxiety while Poleon and Bingham both saw efforts go awry before Tanner sent a shot over the bar. But the League One outfit got the crucial breakthrough on 64 minutes on one of the few occasions they got to run at the Fleet defence, digging the ball out from under N’Guessan’s feet. Ged Garner then got away on the break, keeping the ball at his toes to advance and send a precise low shot past the reach of Cousins.
Fleet tried to respond and looked purposeful going forward, Tanner attempting to open the channels between an unforgiving defence. Sterling sent a curling effort into Stolarczyk’s arms before Darren McQueen and Kieran Monlouis were brought on for some added impetus.
But the second half continued to present far fewer clearcut opportunities than the first, Fleetwood coming closest to a second with a low effort rolled along the six-yard box by substitute Promise Omochere.
With the game heading towards its finale, Fleet went ever so close to forcing the dramatic climax. Cundle sped on to a missed Fleetwood header and advanced, delivering back out to the middle for substitute Franklin Domi whose shot was goalbound… bar the last-ditch body in the box that was Josh Earl to save the visitors.
Fleet continued to buzz around the box until the final whistle ended the cup run, a run that was a fine thread from continuing at least into the Third Round draw and a replay in Lancashire.
So it’s back to League action this Saturday when Fleet’s momentous season of adventure continues against Slough Town, back here once more at an action-packed Kuflink Stadium.
EUFC: Cousins, O’Neill (Domi 89), Solly (Martin 53), Hollis, N’Guessan (Monlouis 77), Edser (Jombati 89), Sterling-James (McQueen 77), Cundle, Tanner, Bingham, Poleon. Subs not used: Martin, Romain, Paxman, Chapman
FTFC: Stolarczyk, Andrews (Omochere 46), Wiredu (Baker 87), Vela, Morton (Hayes 79), Warrington, Holgate, G. Garner, Batty (Lane 79), Rooney (Johnston 74), Earl. Subs: J.Garner.
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