The Fleet moved into the last eight of the Kent Senior Cup to end holders Dartford’s pursuit of a three-in-a-row run of success in the competition.
A goal in each half from Shaq Coulthirst and Darren McQueen warmed up a cold evening, attended by 462 – the largest crowd to watch the Fleet in a Kent Senior Cup tie for seven years. Alongside the pros, there was great representation from the club’s academy more than proving their worth on the night.
Both sides fielded plenty of experience, making for a competitive-looking affair ahead of kick-off. Fleet named two Academy players – Hayden Bullas and Max Shoolbred – with four more on the bench in a strong lineup, while the visitors had names such as Alex Wall, Jamar Loza and Keiran Murtagh playing.
Shaq Coulthirst was first into the fray, seeing his effort deflected behind after Darren McQueen’s precision pass into the box. Fellow former Dart Elliott Romain saw a pass from Bullas just elude him and then had the ball in the net after goalkeeper Tom Wray could only parry the ball into his path, but the Fleet striker was flagged offside.
The home side continued to enjoy the balance of play and chances, with Wray again kept busy by a pair of Coulthirst shots on target in the first 25 minutes.
Dartford’s only chance of note came when Loza managed to find a yard or two of space down the left and his low delivery was well dealt with by Hollis who diverted it for a corner.
Coulthirst got the goal his persistent play had deserved seven minutes from the break. Bullas got a foot in just inside the Darts half and McQueen took on the attacking duties, crossing into the six-yard box for Coulthirst to fire beyond Wray.
Academy youngster Shoolbred, playing wide on the right, might well have opened his account just before half-time, connecting a great shot that Wray tipped just over after an excellent break upfield by Billy Clifford, whose one-two with Romain opened a gap through the Darts midfield. McQueen, meanwhile, shot just wide on the stroke of half-time.
Into the second period and Loza thought he’d earned a penalty after he claimed a push in the box but the referee viewed that with scant interest. Coulthirst deserved a second goal for a lovely spin to get him past George Whitefield on 56 minutes, but he had to settle for a corner after his shot was blocked and ran behind.
Maxx Manktelow and Luke Reid saw action from the bench as well, the former booked later on after a great battle down the right side from his position at full-back – but perhaps he was only dishing out what he’d been given as Dartford’s Kristian Campbell earned a yellow card himself for a tackle on Manktelow within seconds of the Academy player coming on.
It was 2-0 on 69 minutes when Fleet spread play from the middle to the left and McQueen homed in on the target, his low shot drifting through a crowd and perhaps taking a touch as it hit the back of the net.
But the Darts were back in it four minutes later as Jack Smith weaved his way into the penalty area, after a good move involving Fonkeu and substitute Malachi Napa, and Smith got goalside of Sido Jombati to slot home.
Substitute Reid fired narrowly over late on and McQueen was sent through by Jombati as they looked to extend Fleet’s lead. It was the Darts, however, who went closest as they hit the crossbar with the last kick of the game from a free-kick, after a last-ditch saving tackle from Manktelow – but they had to relinquish their hold on the trophy as full-time sounded.
EUFC: Haigh, Chapman, Jombati, Hollis, Domi, Clifford, Shoolbred (Manktelow 61), McQueen, Bullas (Reid 75), Romain, Coulthirst. Subs: Longland, Gordon, Firth
DFC: Wray, Russell (Napa 65), Campbell, Allen, Wall, Loza (Boulton 85), Murtagh, Smith, Fonkeu, Oyeagwara (Meade 65), Whitefield. Subs: Archibald, Wilks
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