Luke Coulson left Guiseley bemused that someone had already put his name on the back of their shirt. He may have to get used to a few more of those around Stonebridge Road in the weeks to come as the new signing produced a piece of magic on his home debut to give Fleet the crucial breakthrough against Maidstone United.
But his weren’t the only heroics. Danny Kedwell popped up to smash home the decisive second past Lee Worgan, the goalkeeper who denied him in the 2016 promotion final shootout to exact a measure of revenge for that moment.
And Nathan Ashmore preserved the then goalless scoreline at the other end with a string of fine saves to shut out the Stones who had chances of their own to nudge ahead in an initially cagey match. Add in Stuart Lewis’s late red card for a foul on his replacement at the Fleet, Andy Drury, and all the ingredients were there for a very memorable Kent derby.
Daryl McMahon kept faith in his starting eleven from the weekend, which meant Fleet deployed their back three against a Maidstone front two of Joe Pigott and Delano Sam-Yorke, who spent much of the evening camped out wide. Stuart Lewis lined up in midfield on his former home ground, with Jai Reason making his full debut for the Stones.
Maidstone made the early running and when Jack Payne pushed Pigott in the opening minute, hearts were in mouths as the Stones striker lined up his free-kick 20 yards out, having scored one on Saturday. Fleet saw that one out, however, and clicked into gear, playing a neat passing game at times with Jack Powell’s movement causing the visiting defence some concerns.
It was nip and tuck and end to end, without any firm chances on goal, and winger Tom Wraight saw an early yellow with a crunching tackle on Drury. On 13 minutes, Lewis caught Fleet’s back line napping and broke into the box, but an excellent sliding tackle by Weston in the box put that one behind for a corner.
The home side came back into it from the 20-minute mark when Coulson was able to see more of the ball and he had two decent crosses, the first Powell saw out for a corner, and then Stones defender Alex Finney had to awkwardly scoop the next one over his own bar. There were loud shouts for a penalty when Weston was sent tumbling and especially when the referee seemed to have pointed at the spot, until Fleet fans realised they’d got excited about a goal kick.
Pigott’s physical presence caused some discomfort for the home defence and he looked a threat as the Stones finished the half well. They should have done better with a counterattack that saw Fleet overrun but the chance was wasted and it then took Ashmore to keep the scores level seven minutes from half-time. Neat play 25 yards out saw an excellent through ball by Reece Prestedge into the path of Lewis and he hit a first-time shot goalwards that Ashmore somehow managed to claw away and out for a corner.
Fleet were quicker into action at the beginning of the second half and Darren McQueen outpaced Seth Twumasi, who had marshalled him well in the first half, but the Stones defender recovered well to see the effort out for another corner. But back came the Stones and Ashmore made another wonderful stop as Wraight’s header from close range was again thwarted, one-handed.
The Fleet goalkeeper repeated the trick yet again six minutes later from Jai Reason’s well-aimed shot and the Stones threat seemed to rise a notch. It concerned the Fleet manager sufficiently to change things round and he went to a flat back four, bringing Marvin McCoy on for Weston and switching Coulson to a more advanced left position, with Sam Magri in behind him.
That signalled the end of Maidstone’s pressure and Fleet finally set their sights on the Stones goal. On 62 minutes, Coulson wriggled his way free to square the ball into Powell, whose shot was off-target but it roused the vocal home support. Three minutes later, Coulson went for goal himself and what an introduction it was to the Stonebridge Road crowd. The No.25 pounced on a loose ball and cut in from his left flank, before sending a shot from 25 yards soaring past the helpless Worgan.
In a tight game, the roar of relief from the home end was massive and Fleet’s performance levels grew. McQueen raced through moments later but an excellent tackle from Finney killed that opportunity.
The Stones made two substitutions and then had a third forced on them as Finney limped off and they lacked any real fluency in the latter stages as a result. Indeed moments after Finney left the field, Fleet scored their second on 77 minutes. A ball forward clipped off the heel of substitute Wynter and Powell raced on to it. He could have gone for goal himself but rolled the ball into space in the middle of the box where an onrushing Kedwell burst through and fired a great shot beyond Worgan.
There was little to worry the Fleet in the closing stages but there was more drama. Dave Winfield limped off with a nasty injury on 90 minutes and then Lewis was issued a red card on his return to Stonebridge Road for a silly challenge on Drury that wasn’t his first of the night on his former midfield teammate. Substitute Aaron McLean might even have managed a third as he battled with Wynter in the box and only a save from Worgan kept the goal tally at two.
The win puts Fleet in third place in the table but home fans will more savour the result which went a long way to exacting some revenge for 2016.
EUFC: Ashmore, Magri, Winfield (Shields 90), Clark, Coulson, Powell, Payne, Drury, Weston (McCoy 61), Kedwell, McQueen (McLean 80). Subs not used: Miles, Mills
MUFC: Worgan, Hare, Twumasi, Finney (Wynter 76), Prestedge, Lewis, Wraight (Willard 74), Anderson, Reason (Paxman 71), Sam-Yorke, Pigott. Subs not used: Phipps, Richards.