Fleet 0-1 Salford City

There have been a few narrow 1-0 defeats at the Kuflink Stadium this season and this was another one – though Ebbsfleet rarely threatened the visitors who shut up shop after getting their noses in front and looked largely comfortable throughout.

Barebones Fleet posed few surprises in team selection, the returning Bagasan Graham replacing the suspended Chris Bush while Danny Kedwell got the nod ahead of Corey Whitely.

Salford were without leading scorer Adam Rooney and their other goal threat Rory Gaffney was on the bench, meaning Mani Dieseruvwe led the line alongside the experienced Matt Green in five changes for the visitors.

They felt their way into the game, probably shorn of confidence after a terrible run of results and there was little to choose between the sides early on. But Fleet were their own worst enemy at times, errant passes gifting the visitors possession and it encouraged Salford to come forward and attack.

Nathan Pond had an effort from distance that had some zip behind it but it cleared the bar and the Fleet defence charged down Gus Mafuta’s effort a minute later. Fleet enjoyed a spell of good passing football with Lawrie Wilson an outlet overlapping down the right but crosses were gathered by goalkeeper Chris Neal.

Salford started to get their eye in with set pieces. Devante Redmond’s floated free-kick was a good one that Carl Piergianni headed down and just wide of Nathan Ashmore’s near post.

Another Salford free-kick from a dangerous position was fired into the wall but again Fleet were helping the visitors out with some poor possession. On the half-hour Myles Weston won the ball back on the edge of his box but then a pass let in Green for a shot that looked goalbound but for Ashmore’s fingertip save.

But from the resulting corner, Salford took the lead. A cross was delivered once again and hooked back to Piergianni and he had a quick glance at Ashmore’s position before directing a well-placed header out of the goalkeeper’s reach.

Pond sent a header into the side netting on the stroke of half-time but after the goal, Fleet struggled to make any impression on a strong City back line where Piergianni’s physical presence kept Kedwell and Michael Cheek under wraps.

Cheek had a couple of opportunities where he almost broke through but Fleet weren’t having the rub of the green and the City defence were able to mop up on each occasion.

The home side’s first corner didn’t arrive until early in the second half and it flashed along the six-yard box without anyone to touch it home.

There was little entertainment value to be had, with Fleet fans becoming increasingly exasperated by referee Andrew Miller’s selective approach to head injuries and fouls.

Ashmore was booked for dissent after firing the ball against Green from a goal kick to concede a corner, to add to one for Sam Magri in the first half, and Fleet looked shorn of confidence at times as they toiled against a composed Salford.

When the referee had a word with Ebou Adams for what appeared to be a legitimate tackle, Garry Hill immediately substituted the midfielder to protect his participation in the next match.

Green should have made it 2-0 on 66 minutes though there was a hint of offside about his sprint into the box. His shot beat Ashmore but Magri was tracking back and he cleared out of the six-yard box.

Fleet’s most consistent spell of pressure came in the last 15 minutes as they searched desperately for an equaliser. Wilson’s exchange with Whitely down the right was a good move that ended with the substitute winning a corner.

Graham lashed a shot on target that was headed behind for a corner and Cheek was upended on 18 yards by Piergianni as the home side tried to fashion a clear shot on goal. Weston tried a deft effort towards the top corner from a free-kick and Salford had to throw a few bodies in front of the Fleet strikers in time added on but they held on for the win.

There was more of a talking point at the final whistle. Drury shook the hands of the two assistants but not the referee and the official took umbridge with this, claiming the Fleet midfielder used foul and abusive language to him as he showed him a red card – a fact that Garry Hill who was on the pitch with Drury at the time flatly denied.

Whatever the reasoning, the fact remains that Fleet now lose another player to suspension with only 11 regular first-teamers available for Saturday’s trip to FC Halifax.

EUFC: Ashmore, Wilson, Magri, King, Weston, Adams (Whitely 62), Drury, Payne, Graham, Kedwell, Cheek. Subs not used: Miles, Moncur, Omar
SCFC: Neal, Wiseman, Touray, Mafuta, Hogan, Piergianni, Green, Maynard, Redmond, Pond, Dieseruvwe (Gaffney 81). Subs not used: Lloyd, Walker, Crocombe, Jones
Attendance: 1,708.

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