Fleet’s hopes of putting the world to rights in front of their new owners were dashed as Chelmsford City failed to read the script and grabbed two second-half goals to leave Steve Brown’s side still searching for a home win.
The manager made one change to the side that drew at Basingstoke, Dominic Green replacing Michael Corcoran who had taken a knock at Camrose and was still suffering from a groin strain – though the men in red were upstaged by the introduction of Dr Abdulla Al-Humaidi to applause and cheers from the Stonebridge Road crowd.
Unfortunately, that was as vocal as the home fans got as the game settled into a cagey affair on a wet surface, with chances few and far between in the opening period. Fleet were restricted to potshots from outside the box and only opened up their opponents on occasion, most notably when Anthony Cook went haring through midfield, played the ball out wide left to Daryl McMahon whose cross into the penalty area was turned wide by Michael Thalassitis.
It was Fleet’s best period, and Dean Rance fired two shots low and hard past the post before McMahon sent a vicious volley fizzing just over Carl Pentney’s crossbar. But the possession football didn’t stop Chelmsford having chances of their own and the visitors really could have been two up courtesy of their next two forays into the Fleet box.
First, Tom Derry played in Rob Edmans who missed a gaping target before Mark Hughes headed at Preston Edwards and then Charlie Henry’s follow-up was superbly tipped away by the Fleet goalkeeper, all in the space of 10 seconds. And Derry had another opportunity moments later when he raced onto Tom Davis’ through ball that somehow found a path between Paul Lorraine and Shane Huke, but the Chelmsford man dragged his shot just wide of the post.
Rance then tested Pentney with a wicked driven shot that the goalkeeper parried before Cook bent a free-kick around the defensive wall, but Pentney got across well to gather.
The opening period of the second half saw even fewer chances, the visitors having vociferous handball appeals turned down after Edmans’ shot hit Huke’s arm inside the box. For the Fleet, Green’s free-kick forced Pentney to save with his legs as he saw it late but that was the best Fleet offered before Chelmsford took the lead on 72 minutes with a neat move.
Basagan Graham lofted a superb diagonal ball upfield to Derry who cut inside and along the Fleet box before supplying Edmans whose header was delivered low past Edwards. Fleet responded almost immediately when McMahon bent an excellent free-kick past the wall and the goalkeeper but it smashed off the inside of the post and away to safety.
And worse followed 10 minutes later as Fleet pressed for an equaliser. McMahon’s shot ricocheted off a Chelmsford defender and fell to Derry who raced upfield with two men breaking in support. He played a neat one-two with Graham that split the Fleet defence and exposed Edwards who was powerless to prevent Derry netting the visitors’ second goal.
Fleet had 10 minutes to produce a fightback but Chelmsford were in no mood to let their lead slip and, as they had done most of the night, they restricted the home side to hopeful shots from outside the danger area.
TEAM: Edwards, Howe, Palmer, Rance, Lorraine, Huke, Green (Osborn), McMahon, Thalassitis, Bricknell, Cook. Subs not used: Hall, Sankofa, Long, Phipp.