The Fleet completed pre-season with a draw – and were millimetres away from a last-gasp win – as Elliott Romain’s equaliser gave the home side what they at the very least deserved, a share of the spoils.
Southend boss Phil Brown named nine of the players that featured against Dartford last week in his squad for the trip to the Kuflink Stadium, with the Blues still a week more away from their start as the Fleet.
A bright start to the game in terms of both weather and entertainment on a very good pitch surface saw the home side employ a typically crisp, swift passing game.
Dominic Poleon was central to much of Fleet’s attacking in the first-half and he got in on the action as early as the sixth minute, poking a cross just over the bar under pressure from a Southend defender.
In a frantic opening spell, Southend responded when Trialist B picked up the ball in his own half on the counterattack and showed tremendous speed to sprint past Tobi Adebayo-Rowling – not exactly slow himself – but rather overhit his ball into the box.
Jack Paxman was an energetic figure in the middle for the Fleet against the club where he began his career. Always on hand with a spin to switch play, a foot in the tackle or a pass out wide, he split the Southend defence with a ball into Adebayo-Rowling on 12 minutes whose low delivery was just ahead of Poleon.
A to and fro encounter then saw Matt Rush open up ready to strike on goal before Christian N’Guessan and Sido Jombati quickly recovered to close him down.
Fleet continued to play a quick, one-touch game and carved out the best opportunity on 17 minutes. Paxman showed quick feet and good close control to skip past a challenge, exchange passes with Rakish Bingham, before sending an attempted lob just high of the crossbar.
Back came the Blues and Trialist A cut in from the left side of the box to fire a shot into the side netting that seemed to take a deflection off a Fleet player for a corner.
Poleon continued to be heavily involved – and tremendously unlucky not to score – as he kept up pressure on the Southend back line. A Joe Martin pass saw him battle past two defenders before the ball was cleared off his foot. He then met an Alfie Egan delivery into the box but again was shepherded out of the danger zone by a blue shirt before his back-heel into the path of Bingham ran just too long for his strike partner.
On 33 minutes there was another fine chance for the home side. Keeping the ball well, play switched out left to Craig Tanner. He showed fine skill in stepping over the ball to deceive the defender and planted a cross into Egan which the midfielder fired over the bar.
It seemed only a matter of time as to when Fleet might take the lead but against the run of play the goal went the other way. A minute after Egan’s chance, Southend won a free-kick that Trialist A delivered into Rush’s feet and he advanced to sweep a low shot into the far bottom corner.
Four minutes before half-time a powerful run by N’Guessan from the deep-lying Bingham’s pass took him past three players but he couldn’t steer clear of another two and was stopped in his tracks.
Fleet closed out the half well, Adebayo-Rowling releasing Egan into the box who stole into the area and saw a pass to Poleon cut out. And with one final exhibition of total possession before the break, Martin swept across the Southend box with two exchanges of pass before finding Bingham whose low shot was saved by Colinn Andeng-Ndi.
The second 45 minutes lacked the sparkle of the first with the usual surfeit of substitutions midway through and an increasing amount of tetchy moments and weighty tackles. Fleet were not without their chances though and Paxman’s 52nd minute back-flick to Egan set the midfielder up for a curling effort that rose over the upright.
The equaliser came 10 minutes from time. Skipper for the day Chris Solly kept possession well on the edge of the Southend box and when Fleet recycled the ball, substitute Lee Martin took it on, doing ever so well to ride the tackles to get into the area. He found Egan who in turn swung the ball wide where another substitute in Romain was on hand to thud home a shot for 1-1.
After a fairly quiet second-half, either side might have won it in the final 10 minutes. O’Shane Stewart hit an effort just wide from a good central position for the visitors before Joe Martin showed great presence of mind to cover by galloping across the box to stop Trialist B as he bore down on goal.
Two minutes from the end, Fleet’s on-trial goalkeeper remained alert after having little to do to that point as he stood up ever so well to Jon Benton’s effort at the far post.
There was still time for Dennis Kutrieb’s men to do everything but win the game as time ticked down. Lee Martin performed a clever turn and even better looping effort that Andeng-Ndi had to push over the bar at full stretch. And from the resulting corner, Romain seemed to have got enough on a cross to score his and Fleet’s second but the referee deemed the ball to have not crossed the line and removed all argument by blowing for time seconds later.
That brought the curtain down on pre-season for the Fleet and up next it’s the real thing – Tonbridge Angels visit on Saturday to kick-off the season and tickets are now on sale here.
EUFC: Trialist, Adebayo-Rowling (Wood 79), J. Martin, Solly, Jombati (Kahraman 62), N’Guessan (Chapman 67), Egan, Paxman (West 84), Tanner, Bingham (Romain 62), Poleon. Subs: Haigh, Cundle
SUFC: Andeng-Ndi, Howard, Sayers, Davis, Trialist A (Benton 78), Gard (Stewart), Phillips (Brown 69), Rush (Unwin 60), Walsh (Clifford 60), Egbri, Trialist B.