Almost three years to the day after winning one final, Ebbsfleet United qualified for another. Two Michael West goals in seven first-half minutes put this second-leg play-off tie well beyond the visitors as Fleet’s ruthless approach in front of goal saw them ease over the finish line in good order.
With only one change to the triumphant team of Tuesday night, Giannoulis Fakinos in for the suspended Ashley Carew, Liam Daish was determined not to see his side slip up early on and gift Chelmsford an initiative. And there was little danger of that as Chelmsford’s expected onslaught did not materialise with the Fleet in fact looking the more purposeful from the first whistle.
Calum Willock led the way into the action with an overhead kick that Carl Pentney was forced to tip over the bar and after that it was all Fleet, with West crossing twice for Ricky Shakes whose shooting boots weren’t quite as polished as on Tuesday night and he fired wide. Tom Phipp shot from distance and then Fakinos sped away on the break with no shortage of skill to pull him clear but his ball to Shakes was hacked away.
But Fleet were more successful with Shakes as provider and on 27 minutes his break down the right and low cross into the box was touched home by West to all but kill the tie as a competition. If that goal had a ring of familiarity about it after Tuesday night, then West’s second – and fourth of the play-offs – made events almost a carbon copy of the first tie.
Phipp was fouled on 34 minutes and West curled a free-kick from 20 yards around the wall and far out Pentney’s grasp to deflate Chelmsford even further. The visitors just couldn’t muster much of note up front, though Ali Chabaan tested Daren Hawkes with a free-kick that the young Fleet keeper clawed to safety. Derek Duncan limped off at half-time after a hefty challenge and later reappeared on crutches though that was said to be precautionary.
With a 6-1 lead in their pockets, Fleet cruised through the second half and a relaxed mood on the terraces gave the game the air of a pre-season friendly. Not that the home side exactly took their foot off the gas, with Fakinos and Shakes combining to swing a low cross in for Willock who couldn’t quite connect in the six-yard box. Moments later Shakes was clean through on goal but Pentney advanced well to block his shot and Shakes’ follow-up rippled the side netting.
It wasn’t all going Fleet’s way, however, and on 63 minutes, Wayne Gray latched onto Ricky Modeste’s pass and got in front of Paul Lorraine to tuck a shot under Hawkes to make it 2-1 and 6-2 on aggregate. It was the only time in the match Fleet looked remotely vulnerable as Chelmsford enjoyed the briefest of spells on top.
But more chances came the home side’s way, substitute Joe Howe skipping into the box and firing just past the post and then an exquisite move between Fakinos and Phipp left Shakes needing just a touch to make it 3-1 but he somehow didn’t connect. Scott Ginty, on for Ram Marwa, also threatened to bundle a shot over at the near post but Pentney just got to it in time.
And that was it as far as football at Stonebridge Road was concerned this season, with Fleet coasting through and Chelmsford extending their unenviable record of not having won one of their six play-off ties to date.