New-look Fleet knocked out higher-division opposition for the second round running as 10-man Forest Green fell to Daryl McMahon’s first-half opener.
All three midweek signings started – with news of two more just before kick-off – while Preston Edwards started in goal and Shane Huke took the place of the suspended Anthony Acheampong. Tyrone Marsh was cup-tied, while Brendan Kiernan replaced Alex Osborn. Matt Johnson, Anthony Cook and Billy Bricknell were also out of the starting XI.
A swirling wind in the first-half didn’t make for easy conditions and the visitors in particular were guilty of overhitting passes and seeing clearances go askew. The first shot arrived on 11 minutes when Fleet worked the ball well in the channels and crossed for Brendan Kiernan whose shot was blocked by Dale Bennett.
At the other end, new boy Stuart Lewis had to take charge of a momentary lapse in concentration in the Fleet defence and hoist a ball clear from eight yards. But there was little other goalmouth action of note and the first half looked likely to be nothing more than a midfield battle until the turning point on 35 minutes. Danny Kedwell was victim to a two-footed challenge by Bennett. It looked bad and the referee agreed, showing a red card to Bennett.
Fleet capitalised almost immediately when Theo Lewis found Kiernan and his shot was cleared off the line. But the home side weren’t to be denied and on 40 minutes they grabbed what proved to be the winning goal. Sean Shields’ cross from the right was intercepted by Marcus Kelly and when it was eventually half-cleared to Daryl McMahon, he let fly with an excellent shot past the goalkeeper from 20 yards.
Matt Johnson filled in at right-back from the start of the second half in place of Dean Pooley and Fleet stayed on the front foot, not unduly troubled by the visitors. Russell gathered a decent strike from Shields and Stuart Lewis powered through the middle for Shields to create an opening for Kedwell, but the ball just ran behind him as he controlled it eight yards out.
Fleet were playing some tidy stuff in midfield with the two Lewises allowing McMahon to get forward, while Shields and Kiernan impressed down either wing. But Shields succumbed to what appeared to be a mild leg injury, allowing Anthony Cook an entrance and he supplied a decent cross that Theo Lewis headed just wide. Kiernan then showed a clean pair of heels from a Kedwell pass but his shot hit Chris Stokes’ outstretched boot and bobbled just wide for a corner.
Forest Green had barely troubled the Fleet back line throughout the game but they found another dimension in the final 15 minutes and could easily have had an equaliser but for Edwards. Kurtis Guthrie managed to force the ball clear of the last Fleet defender and played it round Edwards who may have got a vital touch as Huke covered and managed to clear off the line.
Edwards again had to be alert with a superb stop from a close-range Clovis Kamdjo effort and then again with another excellent stop as Guthrie’s shot was kept out and the follow-up somehow fired wide. There were four minutes added but Fleet, with the help of a buoyant home crowd, managed to get back on the attack and substitute Osborn managed to steal the ball from Stokes and race into the box where his shot was parried by Russell.
For all the defending of the final 15 minutes, Fleet nonetheless deserved their passage into the next round on January 24 (meaning the Bromley home game is off) and depending on the Trophy draw could now face five successive away games.
TEAM: Edwards, Pooley (Johnson 46), Howe, S Lewis, Clark, Huke, Shields (Cook 50), McMahon, Kedwell, T Lewis (Osborn 77), Kiernan. Subs not used: Turner, Rance.