A goal seconds before the half-time whistle was enough for Tonbridge Angels to earn all three points in the Fleet’s second Kent derby of the week, Tommy Wood’s second goal of his week proving to be the match winner.
Fleet fashioned chances but not enough to make Tonbridge sweat in the second half and the visitors held firm to record a clean sheet.
There was only one change for the Fleet, with Ben Frempah in for Sefa Kahraman, while previously injured duo Josh Payne and Alex Eirich were named on the bench. Tonbridge drafted in last-minute signing and former Fleet midfielder Tom Phipp on dual registration terms just before the game and he joined other Ebbsfleet alumni Ben Greenhalgh and James Folkes.
The home side got off to a breezy start, with Tobi Adebayo-Rowling again carrying plenty of forward threat and Jack Paxman embarked on a strong run into the box within the first four minutes but he couldn’t get a shot away, earning a corner instead.
Alfie Egan was next up on five minutes, slipping his defender to run on to a throw-in but goalkeeper Jon Henly was out smartly to deny him.
For Tonbridge, Greenhalgh tried his luck with an off-target effort moments later before Khale Da Costa had a huge chance on seven minutes to open the scoring. He was quickest to the ball down the right, nipping in to dispossess Charlie Rowan but Jack Paxman got back to block his shot from 12 yards.
Da Costa might again have got his name on the scoresheet 10 minutes later when from a similar position he cut into the box and whipped a low effort across goal, with striker Wood sliding in to no avail as the ball whipped past him in the six-yard box.
The right-hand side was also Fleet’s next avenue of opportunity as Rakish Bingham found Iffy Allen. The winger dinked a ball inside to Lee Martin whose quick feet confused his marker, allowing him to run across and get a shot in that curled away past the upright.
Martin turned provider on the half-hour when an excellent one-two with Bobby-Joe Taylor got Fleet moving but Martin’s ball back into the path of Taylor was driven high over the bar by the former Dover man.
Taylor and Martin were involved again two minutes later, Taylor’s run taking him past two defenders. His pass to Martin was touched on along the box to Egan but Tonbridge were wise to that and defended it well.
Fleet continued to ask the questions but couldn’t find the target as two more chances came their way before half-time. On 39 minutes, Bingham’s turn and shot was blocked but the loose ball ran clear to Martin who tried his luck from close range but that too met a Tonbridge boot.
A minute before the break, Adebayo-Rowling’s weighted pass to Paxman got him behind the visiting defence and his ball into Bingham was fired over.
That seemed to be that with just one minute of added time to be played but Tonbridge fashioned one last attempt and it paid off for them. Building from the back, they passed it quickly out to the right where Joe Turner and James Folkes got some forward motion and the latter’s delivery saw Wood in plenty of space to attack the ball and beat Holmes to it to convert from eight yards.
There was no time for Fleet to get back into it and the second-half response saw Adam Mekki immediately introduced for Allen. But with their noses in front Tonbridge made it more difficult for the Fleet to enjoy the sort of possession they had in the first half and the second saw the chances dry up.
That’s not to say Fleet were without any, however. Mekki had a shot blocked on 52 minutes before excellent play by Taylor provided him with a second opportunity on the right but this time he blazed it over.
A well-worked Paxman free-kick on 66 minutes was the next chance, a clever ball into Taylor quickly edged through to Martin. He slipped behind the Tonbridge defence but goalkeeper Henly spotted it in time and made the save.
Fleet introduced Eirich and Ben Chapman with 20 minutes left and the German wide man wasn’t far off within two minutes of coming on. Adebayo-Rowling did the work on the right, an impressive run and cross that both Eirich and Bingham attacked but it was hastily whipped away from the goalline.
Adebayo-Rowling fashioned another of those runs on 78 minutes, his 35-yard dash taking him past three players but his cross ran behind Bingham and Martin before it was cleared off the toes of Chapman.
Fleet continued to toil for the equaliser and forced a number of corners. Bingham fired over from Martin’s cross before roles were reversed five minutes from the end, Martin squeezing through two defenders only to be frustrated once more by good defending.
There was some late pressure in time added on as Taylor’s run into the box was cut out and then Martin found himself forward when Turner’s errant clearance lopped back into the Tonbridge box. Martin got goal side but his arm was pulled by Sonny Miles to earn a legitimate penalty shout but the referee decided against it.
And that was Fleet’s lot as time ticked away and it was the Angels were on cloud nine at the final whistle.
EUFC: Holmes, Adebayo-Rowling, Taylor, Frempah, Rowan, Paxman, Egan (Eirich 70), Wood (Chapman 70), Allen (Mekki 46), Martin, Bingham. Subs not used: Payne, Hadler
TAFC: Henly, Folkes, Parter, Theobalds, Miles, Bray, Da Costa, Phipp (Akrofi 58), Wood (Williams 80), Greenhalgh, Turner. Subs not used: Campbell, Splatt, Shaw