The man who might not have been on the pitch but for a sending-off won this tie with a cool second-half spot-kick as 10-man Fleet booked their place in Round 3 of the Buildbase FA Trophy for the first time in five years.
Substitute Ayo Obileye, who had come on in the first-half in a tactical reshuffle following Andre Blackman’s dismissal, converted a penalty won by Josh Umerah as spirited Fleet had to keep the National League North leaders at bay for long spells.
Kevin Watson had to make a multitude of changes, with David Gregory and Jermaine McGlashan handed their debuts and they were joined by Lawrie Wilson, Alfie Egan and Josh Umerah. The manager had little left to him, naming five of seven substitutes with the two youngsters Zach Dainkeh and Mathew Achuba included.
King’s Lynn arrived with a formidable scoring record and superb form, having not lost a game in 14 matches and they certainly looked confident in the opening exchanges, even with former Fleet man Michael Gash on the bench.
But it was Fleet with the first move forward when McGlashan got a shot on target but it was easy enough for Alex Street to gather. King’s Lynn then showed their obvious quality with some neat football and Jamie Grimes had to take his second bite at a clearance to disrupt Adam Marriott’s advance.
From a third-minute corner, the visitors should really have been ahead when Ross Barrows met Sonny Carey’s cross with a firm header that Gregory did ever so well to claw clear and Marriott fired the loose ball wide.
On seven minutes, the officials set their stall out for what would be a poor performance when Ryan Hawkins – looking several yards offside – ran on to a through ball with the Fleet defence outnumbered but he failed to capitalise.
From 10 minutes, Fleet enjoyed a long spell with the ball and a move found John Goddard and Egan both lurking on the edge of the box but neither could seize the moment and Goddard’s effort was blocked.
Three minutes after that, Hawkins’ injury required treatment and resulted in a drop ball. Lynn skipper Ryan Jarvis indicated he would return it to the Fleet defence but Marriott clearly didn’t follow the instructions as he ran on to it and tried to score to huge boos from the home crowd – though visiting boss Ian Culverhouse had the good grace to apologise for the confusion.
That misunderstanding preceded growing animosity and tempers boiled over on 20 minutes. When Josh Payne, captaining the Fleet for the afternoon, went to ground his opposite number Jarvis showed scant concern as he trod on the fallen Fleet player, his boot clearly connecting with Payne’s head.
In the ensuing flare-up, Andre Blackman’s lightweight push on Barrows saw the King’s Lynn defender collapse to the ground and after conferring with his assistant, referee Mr Quelch delivered Fleet’s second red card in as many games to a bemused Blackman.
King’s Lynn got up a real head of steam against the 10 men, with Umerah isolated and McGlashan’s dangerous runs blunted by a lack of supply. Egan was the man who made way in a tactical reshuffle that saw Ekpiteta move to right back, Wilson push upfield and Obileye slot in alongside Grimes in the centre of defence.
For all their possession and good build-up play, the visitors didn’t threaten Gregory’s goal too much, though the goalkeeper had to watch Alfie Payne’s 32nd minute shot roll past him, Wilson handily placed on the line to hack that one away.
But Fleet were disciplined and took the wind out of the Linnets’ sails, Obileye heading into Street’s arms and Umerah unfortunate that Payne’s through ball bobbled off his foot before the visitors’ finished the half once more on top.
The second half was much the same, the visitors controlled but wasteful and frustrated by Fleet’s fortitude in defence. But it certainly wasn’t all one-way traffic and McGlashan’s running was excellent, still troubling the visiting defence even if he didn’t have a red shirt in support more often than not.
The busiest man on the pitch was Mr Quelch who booked seven players in total in a game that, but for the sending-off incident, wasn’t particularly fiery.
But busy too were the Fleet players and Ekpiteta had to get a foot in defence when Fox found Marriott while with their next opportunity, Chris Henderson blazed an effort over.
That was pretty much the collective failure for the visitors and they soon sent on Gash and fellow striker Harry Limb, replacing 25-goal Marriott.
Still Fleet allowed the visiting attack to be blunted against a firm red line. Sutherland, snapping at everything in front of his defence, was key to that and McGlashan was a useful outlet further upfield.
It was McGlashan whose pacy, skilful run on the hour mark got him past two Lynn defenders but Street pounced on the ball before Umerah and Goddard could poke a low delivery beyond him.
And McGlashan again, this time from the right, delivered a cross that appeared to hit Jarvis’s hand on its way across the pitch but the referee waved play on.
There was a growing sense inside the Kuflink Stadium that Fleet could perhaps force the issue if something went their way. And so it did on 67 minutes when Umerah’s awkward run disturbed Chris Smith and although the defender’s touch on the Fleet striker was hardly the strongest, the referee’s resulting penalty award seemed like justice for the home fans.
Obileye, who had shown in pre-season a knack for a penalty, feinted right before sliding a shot away from Street to break the deadlock.
The expected King’s Lynn onslaught never quite materialised. They pushed Fleet back into deeper positions and worked a few crosses from either side but their finishing and conviction wasn’t of high enough quality to break the home side’s resolve.
Nathan Fox was allowed one unchecked run on goal but he blasted a poor effort well wide and it needed a deflection from Hawkins’ effort to wrong-foot Gregory at last, but the ball just crept past the upright.
Goddard and McGlashan did their best to eat up time on the flanks and Tomi Adeloye filled in for the tireless running of Umerah before the referee called time on a well-received and richly deserved victory.
EUFC: Gregory, Wilson, Blackman, Grimes, Ekpiteta, Payne, Sutherland, Egan (Obileye 28), Goddard, McGlashan, Umerah (Adeloye 76). Subs not used: Dainkeh, Achuba, Palmer
KLTFC: Street, Jones, Fox, Jarvis, Barrows, Smith, Carey (Limb 60), Payne, Hawkins (Stewart 79), Marriott (Gash 60), Henderson. Subs not used: Kelly