Tonbridge Angels were the team to take the Fleet’s scalp and end one of the longest unbeaten records in Europe as a second-half winner saw them triumph in a second visit to the Kuflink Stadium in three years.
It was skipper Sonny Mills who won it after Fleet had come from behind to chalk off Ben Swift’s opener and despite something of an onslaught in the final 20 minutes, the Angels’ defending was excellent as the home side just couldn’t find the back of the net.
Fleet made three changes as Kieran Monlouis, Sido Jombati and Greg Cundle came into the lineup against a Jay Saunders side for the first time since he was Maidstone boss.
Tonbridge made the first inroads after Dajon Golding raced on to Ben Chapman’s misplaced pass but Chris Solly was straight in with a precise tackle in the box to deny him.
And the visitors kept trying to press forwards, Louis Collins denied by a block, although he looked like he’d used a hand. And though there was a suspicion of offside in the buildup to the Angels’ goal on 10 minutes, there was no arguing with the finish as a delivery into the box allowed Ben Swift to move into space and thump a great shot down the middle giving Mark Cousins no chance.
Fleet’s best response arrived on 17 minutes from an Omari Sterling-James free-kick from the left. It was a precise one for Luke O’Neill who got his header on target but Jonny Henly stuck out a hand – not for the last time this afternoon – and Jombati couldn’t follow up.
Craig Tanner had the next opportunity on 28 minutes when Sterling drifted across from the right and supplied him with space to run into but the subsequent low shot ran just past the post.
Goalscorer Swift had to leave the pitch with a head injury and get patched up and while he was off, Fleet really should have equalised. A free-kick found its way to Rakish Bingham whose shot was parried by Henly but in turn teed up for Dominic Poleon at close range. Though his reaction was quick, he sent the ball over the bar.
Tonbridge – having succeeded in stifling much of the Fleet’s attacking play – ended the half playing some good passing football and Collins got away from Joe Turner’s break upfield in time added on to plant a shot just beyond the post.
Toby Edser was introduced at half-time for Chapman as Fleet looked to get about their visitors and he won a corner in the opening moments with a good run down the left. And from that set-piece, Fleet were back in it as Sterling’s delivery was met by a firm Monlouis header and Henly was beaten.
That brought the fans back to life and their side upped the pace, Sterling almost skinning Craig Braham-Barrett in the box but pushed wide for the corner. There was an even better chance on 58 minutes when Cundle ran through a crowded Tonbridge box and got some good fortune as his ball was intercepted but reached Bingham who could only clear the bar.
A battering-ram run from Poleon on the hour threatened more but he was eventually bundled off the ball. And then Tonbridge went ahead again with Fleet only having themselves to blame for it. Jombati went to shepherd a ball out for a goal kick but he was robbed near his post and as the ball was played wide to the opposite side, Miles was there to fire it home as Cousins tried to get across.
Poleon almost produced the perfect response on 65 minutes, another mazy run that was only inches from coming off and then he pounced for a ball into the box that saw him collide with Henly, the goalkeeper requiring treatment to the displeasure of the Plough End.
A second substitute almost produced the goods for the Fleet on 73 minutes when Franklin Domi crossed low for Poleon whose first-time shot seemed destine for the back of the net but Henly made a superb reaction block to keep it out.
Sterling almost threaded a pass through to Edser with 15 minutes left but Tonbridge beat that away and a Cundle shot from 18 yards was blocked too. Domi and Poleon were then combining again with 10 minutes left, the Fleet top scorer’s lunge at the far post ever so close.
And sub number three Shaq Coulthirst wasn’t far off an instant impact with a shot pushed behind by Henly at full stretch. Tonbridge had their bodies on the line, never more so than when Edser sent a piledriver on target that somehow hit a blue shirt on its way to goal and he and Poleon both saw follow-up efforts charged down.
Henly capped a fine display by tipping over Coulthirst’s attempt in six minutes of time added on while Solly had to be alert to a counterattack at the death. Cousins came up for one final corner but that was cleared and it typified the Tonbridge defending, the clock running down as it became clear that, on this occasion, Fleet weren’t going to unlock the bodies in front of them or the slice of luck they needed either.
EUFC: Cousins, O’Neill (Domi 71) Jombati, Solly, Chapman (Edser 46), Monlouis (81), Cundle, Sterling-James, Tanner, Bingham, Poleon. Subs: Paxman, Romain, Coulthirst
TAFC: Henly, Fielding, Braham-Barrett, Hinds, Miles, Swift, Gard (Aransabia 81), Wagstaff, Collins (Gavin 89), Golding (Soares-Junior 58), Turner. Subs: Wood, Parkinson
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