The Fleet wrapped up a final win of 2018 and did so early with three first half goals as Eastleigh were brushed aside at the Kuflink Stadium. Michael Cheek pounced after only three minutes and Danny Kedwell wasn’t far behind to make it two with a sliding effort. Corey Whitely struck for three from a great Jack Payne delivery and Fleet shut up shop in the second half, while still carving out the better chances.
Garry Hill was as good as his word about squad rotation, bravely easing goalscorers Cody McDonald and Bagasan Graham on to the bench to bring in Michael Cheek and Myles Weston. Corey Whitely and Dean Rance also returned in place of Ebou Adams and Dave Winfield.
And the gamble paid odd with Cheek finding the net for the sixth time with barely three minutes on the clock. From Nathan Ashmore’s punt upfield Kedwell, proving he can partner just about anyone alongside him up front, slipped a ball low into Cheek’s path and with the Eastleigh defence slow to react, Cheek was able to slide the ball beneath new loanee goalkeeper Luke Southwood.
Fleet weren’t of a mind to repeat the mistake of the previous game against Braintree and let their visitors straight back into it and Jack Payne was quick to deny Cav Miley whose ball into Ben Williamson could have troubled the back three.
And with that escape, the home side extended the lead after only 11 minutes. Despite Payne miskicking a ball high into the air, he brought it back down again, spread play to Weston who in turn fed Whitely and his pass along the ground was sublimely converted by Kedwell on the stretch for his 12th goal of the season.
Buoyed by the start, Fleet exuded confidence and looked dangerous on every foray in the final third. A couple of corners troubled the Eastleigh back line but the visitors really should have been back in the game on 19 minutes when Joey Jones picked up a half clearance and played Williamson in on goal, his shot grazing the post with a little help from Ashmore’s gloves on the way past.
It should have been 3-0 on 24 minutes when Kedwell beat the Spitfires defence all ends up with a pass to Whitely’s feet but the No.18 delayed just a fraction and Southwood was able to block as he shaped for a shot on goal. Eastleigh lacked any real penetration and the most Ashmore had to do after the earlier chance was pluck Mark Yeates’ cross from the air before the home side extended the lead still further.
That came on 38 minutes, as Payne jinked into space and produced a top-drawer cross that dropped for Whitely cutting in from the right and in his natural territory, he made no mistake, slotting past Southwood for 3-0.
It could have been four before half-time as Kedwell got behind the defence to reach the byline and cut a ball back across thew six-yard box that Andrew Boyce almost diverted past his goalkeeper before Southwood recovered to hold at the second attempt.
Understandably, Fleet eased out of top gear in the second half yet had the chances to extend their 3-0 advantage. Cheek was central to most of the home side’s forward moves in the second period and within two minutes he toe-poked a chance into Whitely’s path from the left edge of the box but Eastleigh survived. Whitely had another chance four minutes later when Sam Magri’s useful ball from defence landed for him and his shot was just wide.
Still Fleet pressed and shortly before the hour mark, Cheek showed no little skill in dropping his shoulder to ease beyond Jones and playing a pass on to Kedwell’s feet but the stand-in skipper’s stretch asked too much of him.
Garry Hill changed the shape about with Lawrie Wilson replacing Rance and again when Adams came on for Kedwell, keeping his side fresh but no less effective. Cheek again played himself in as a ball off his heel wrong-footed the Eastleigh defence and the former Dagenham striker was at the far post to meet Weston’s searching cross but the Fleet just couldn’t get number four.
Eastleigh brought on more firepower and they enjoyed a little more territory, Chris Zebroski bringing a save out of Ashmore and Paul McCallum finding the Fleet keeper an immovable object with another chance inside the six-yard box. But there was little danger of the home side surrendering their clean sheet and they stepped it up again in the last five minutes. Substitute Adams blazed wide from Whitely’s pass and the midfielder had an even better chance when some excellent approach play resulted in Cheek’s pass falling for him in the middle of the box, but Southwood made a good save.
The crowd were begging for a fourth goal to see out the calendar year but were more than happy to settle for the three points before a return clash with Braintree on New Year’s Day.
EUFC: Ashmore, Magri, King, Bush, Drury, Payne, Rance (Wilson 53), Weston, Whitely (Moncur 86), Kedwell (Adams 60), Cheek. Subs not used: McDonald, Graham
EFC: Southwood, Hare, Wynter, Boyce (Zebroski 50), Johnson, Jones, Gobern, Yeates, Miley, McKnight (McCallum 67), Williamson (Dennett 67). Subs not used: Harvey, Bearwish.