The name of Ebbsfleet United will still be in the FA Cup draw on Monday as Daryl McMahon’s early goal separated his side from the worthy challenge of Folkestone Invicta.
As promised, Steve Brown rang the changes, most welcome from a Fleet fan perspective being the full debut of Ben May who started ahead of cup-tied Andy Pugh. Tom Phipp replaced the injured Stacy Long, who picked up a groin strain in training, and Osei Sankofa also earned his first start ahead of Joe Howe.
The visitors made a nervy beginning with young goalkeeper Tom Hadler punching away an early effort while Shane Huke was left in acres of space as he met Daryl McMahon’s cross but fired wide. That miss was soon forgotten as Anthony Cook won a free kick 20 yards out on six minutes. McMahon floated in the ball from an angle which evaded everyone, including goalkeeper Hadler, and nestled in the back of the net.
Both Phipp and May looked eager to make up for lost time as they were at the heart of a lot of Fleet’s play in the final third and May headed a Cook cross narrowly wide as the home side looked to build on their lead. But Folkestone’s early wobbles soon settled and they looked good on the break throughout the game, their best chance arriving on 16 minutes when Roland Edge released Steve Harper and his shot curved towards the top corner before Preston Edwards diverted it over the crossbar.
At the other end, McMahon’s good vision produced another half chance for the Fleet as he attempted a lob over Hadler that just cleared the bar, while May chested down a long ball into Billy Bricknell’s path but the resulting powerful shot lacked accuracy. Fleet kept up the pressure but Harper was almost on the end of a deep Matt Newman cross to the far post as Invicta continued to pose a threat on the break.
Paul Lorraine could have made it 2-0 when the visitors’ defence only half-cleared a corner, Bricknell sent the ball back into the danger area and the Fleet skipper’s shot was blocked in the six-yard box. His partner in defence was up next, Shane Huke’s header cleared off the line. But once again Invicta threatened on the break and Dane Luchford evaded the offside trap, racing clear of the Fleet back line, but he snatched at his shot and saw it fly wide.
Fleet’s failure to extend their lead encouraged the visitors, who fancied their chances in the second half of taking the home side back south for a replay. But it was a scrappy 45 minutes, with play broken up early on when the referee fell over and for a few moments it looked like Stonebridge Road would lose an official for the second Saturday running.
Cook had a shot that needed attention from Hadler to send it over the crossbar but it was at the other end on 55 minutes that the Fleet got lucky. Luchford again found himself goal side of his markers and his shot beat Edwards but hit the inside of the post, rolled across the line and was fired away to safety before any Folkestone player could react.
Fleet struggled to create more clear-cut chances as passes went astray and Folkestone sensed they might have a chance to get something out of the cup tie. But Luchford’s chance was their best and the home side upped the ante in the final minutes, substitutes Michael Thalassitis and Dominic Green not far away from troubling the Invicta goal, while Bricknell’s effort was blocked in the penalty area as Fleet sought to give their fans more cheer.
TEAM: Edwards, Sankofa, Palmer. McMahon, Lorraine, Huke, Cook, Rance, May (Thalassitis 66), Bricknell, Phipp (Green 59). Subs not used: Hall, Howe, Fakinos.