The third part of this season’s Ebbsfleet-Chippenham odyssey was simply a rehash of the second in reverse – but this time with the visitors equalising late and going on to lose the resulting penalty shootout.
And once more the old cliché about waiting for buses and three coming along at once rang true as far as penalty shootouts were concerned, with this third of Fleet’s cup ties this season all going down to the spot-kick wire.
Perhaps Dennis Kutrieb had an inkling it might go all the way, naming Hastings shootout hero Tom Hadler as one of his five changes. Also incoming were Charlie Rowan, Greg Cundle, Michael West and Ben Chapman, with Jordan Holmes, Jake Goodman, Rakish Bingham, Adam Mekki and Josh Payne making way.
Chippenham enjoyed the first incursions into the penalty area, a first minute delivery skipping across the Fleet box and Rowan then got in the way of Marlon Jackson’s shot from 10 yards.
The home side began to ramp up the pressure thereafter and the front three of West, Cundle and Lee Martin linked up well, the first evidence of that coming in the 13th minute when Cundle and West played a part in the low delivery that Bobby-Joe Taylor swept at but saw his effort blocked on the line due to a brave – and painful – tackle by Callum Gunner who hit his head on the post.
Five minutes later Tobi Adebayo-Rowling got going down the right to swing in a shot that Chippenham managed to clear after a few jitters inside their own six-yard box.
The Fleet continued to fine-tune their sights, West’s clever 19th minute run deserving more but his pass had a little too much on it and it ran to safety.
Adebayo-Rowling was next to take on the visitors’ defence, combining well with Taylor whose promising ball in was dummied by Chapman but rather too well as it avoided Jack Paxman on the way through.
Cundle’s shot on 23 minutes skidded just wide after some attractive build-up play and it was energetic stuff, Fleet quick to attack and both sides fairly hefty with their tackles.
For all their forward play, Fleet were vulnerable to Chippenham on the break on occasion and 26 minutes in the visitors should have taken full advantage of that. Fleet were robbed of possession in midfield and a through ball released Ross Stearn for a run on goal but as he sized up his options with only Hadler to beat, he pulled his shot wide.
That was Chippenham’s best spell of the first-half but Fleet kept their own forward motion rolling. On 32 minutes, West eased down the left flank, finding Martin. The skipper dropped his shoulder, cut inside and his rising shot needed Will Puddy’s strong palm away to clear the danger.
At the other end, Hadler’s clearance only reached Jackson and with the Fleet goalkeeper out of position, the Chippenham striker tried an audacious lob but it floated thankfully off target.
Jackson was involved again three minutes before the break and this time Chippenham really should have taken the lead. Paxman couldn’t bring a pass under control in midfield and as Chippenham broke quickly, a mix-up in defence saw Jackson supply Brad Ash. The striker was clean through with an even easier chance than Stearn’s earlier effort and he chipped Hadler but somehow sent it wide of the post.
Kutrieb let his feelings be known to the referee moments later when Cundle was brought down as he ran on to a long ball, Ryan Law the culprit. As last man there were protests from the Fleet bench that the resulting yellow card should have been red.
The second half lacked the verve of the first but Fleet continued to enjoy the lion’s share of the game. Chippenham’s introduction of Joe Hanks and then Chris Zebroski gave them a little more presence and the home side found it more difficult to get in behind.
Hadler was forced into a save from Ash three minutes after the break while a Taylor cross and Chapman shot were promising efforts for the Fleet.
Taylor pulled a shot wide on 67 minutes after quick-thinking and even quicker reactions to win a ball ahead of Kieran Parselle. Then Chapman found Martin wide on the left and the captain did well to thread a pass through to Cundle but his shot in the box was charged down.
From the resulting corner, Fleet finally got the breakthrough their play deserved. Substitute James Dobson delivered it and fellow sub Bingham rose highest to plant a header beyond Puddy.
That gave the red shirts renewed confidence and Taylor and Martin combined well to direct a ball into Cundle who was a whisker away from a connection. Fleet still had to be alert in their own half, however, and Hadler spread himself well in coming out to meet Joe Hanks after he’d slipped the home back line, the goalkeeper doing enough to thwart the Chippenham substitute.
Three minutes from the end, Martin’s excellent play to steer clear of three defenders saw his pass into the box killed and laid back superbly by Bingham. That set it up for Chapman but his shot was into Puddy’s arms.
Chippenham had threatened only sporadically in the second half and when Ash held Rowan off to deliver a useful shot that had Hadler scrambling across his line, it seemed Fleet had done enough to hold on to the single-goal advantage.
But they’d reckoned without one piece of exquisite play from Bristol City loanee Tom Harrison. As the clock ticked over the 90, a long throw fell for Harrison and he showed great technique to dig out a rasping shot from 18 yards that arrowed beyond Hadler and in.
Rather than deflate the Fleet, however, the volunteers for the shootout stuck to their task and four perfect penalties were enough to see the home side through. Dobson, Paxman, Taylor and Bingham all converted, with Hanks hitting the crossbar and then Luke Russe’s kick was stopped by an incredible dive and strong hand from Hadler.
It means Dagenham will host the Fleet in the next round on Saturday with reunions aplenty on the cards on both sides.
EUFC: Hadler, Adebayo-Rowling, Wood (Dobson 69), Kahraman, Rowan, Paxman, Chapman, Taylor, West (Bingham 61), Martin, Cundle (Eirich 80). Subs not used: Allen, Mekki, Payne, Holmes
CTFC: Puddy, Jones, Law, Harrison, Parselle, Russe, Lolos, Gunner (Hanks 46), Jackson (Zebroski 69), Ash, Stearn (Bray 71). Subs not used: Byrne, Smedley