Fleet recovered from the shock of conceding a goal within seconds of the kick-off to record their first regular league win over Chelmsford City at Stonebridge Road since 1996. A stirring second-half performance and three goals in seven minutes steamrollered a City side that had previously looked assured with their lead and it kept Fleet in the title race.
Daryl McMahon named an unchanged side as 2,267 people attended the club’s Community Day but the bubble was burst inside nine seconds. Straight from the kick-off, the ball was launched forward, Matt Fish got a head to it but it fell nicely for former Fleet hero Billy Bricknell 20 yards out and he lashed an excellent volley over Nathan Ashmore to stun the home fans behind the goal.
The setback seemed to get to the Fleet for a little while and though they passed it nice and short in midfield, City’s line of five across the park was enough to thwart the home side’s attacking ambitions at every turn. Nonetheless, Fleet managed to test Christian Dibble and Jordan Parkes’ got a shot away from Sean Shields’ ball in but the goalkeeper managed to turn it over the bar.
Nathan Ashmore’s long clearance upfield almost released Matt Godden on 13 minutes but again Dibble read it well and was out of his goal quickly before Fleet’s top scorer could bring it under control. As Fleet struggled to break out of midfield, a few tackles were flying in and Parkes’ frustrated late challenge on Reece Prestedge looked worse than it was and the referee deemed it worthy of just a talking-to.
Led by skipper Mark Hughes, Chelmsford were keeping the ball well when they got it down and trying to utilise Jack Bridge in midfield, while the awkward Jason Williams up front was making Kenny Clark and Tom Bonner work hard. But Fleet really should have equalised on 23 minutes when Shields battled into the penalty area and drew a save from Dibble. The ball fell invitingly to Parkes in the six-yard box but with the goal gaping an awkward bounce saw him strike the ball over the bar.
The miss was deflating for the fans but it did at least signal an upturn in the home side’s performance, coinciding with Chelmsford midfielder Sandro Semedo going off injured, with his runs having stretched the Fleet defence to that point. Danny Kedwell’s driven shot cannoned off a Chelmsford body in the six-yard box and Dibble had to be alert once more to Godden lurking near a back pass but still Fleet couldn’t unlock the City rearguard.
That all changed in the second half as McMahon went with three at the back, Clark making way for Anthony Cook to chalk up his 100th appearance, against his former club. John Paul Kissock tried his luck early on from a similar position to Bricknell’s goal, but his aim was slightly off, the shot gliding just past the post.
On 53 minutes, however, Stonebridge Road was brought to its feet with an equaliser. Cook had gentle appeals for a penalty turned down before the ball found its way to Shields wide on the right. He twisted his way into the box and found a gap to send a shot out of Dibble’s reach that nestled in the far corner for 1-1.
Three minutes later it was 2-1. With Chelmsford pressing, Stuart Lewis brilliantly won a tackle and sent Godden on his way with a ranging pass. The Fleet No.10 bore down on goal and his shot was stopped by Dibble but not cleanly and Kedwell almost stumbled into the loose ball as he turned it over the line.
And it was only four more minutes before the Fleet fans were rocking the joint again as their side made it 3-1. Defender Rory McAuley got in something of a tangle with an attempted back pass and Godden was straight on to it to round Dibble who could have got the ball away but dwelt too long and Godden made it goal number 27 for him.
Godden was in a good position for a fourth moments later as Parkes played him through but he lifted his shot high and Kedwell sent a header wide from a Shields cross. The previously assured Dibble spilled another that fell to Godden but the goalkeeper recovered before Kedwell robbed him of the ball once more to send a shot over the line but the referee deemed that one a foul.
Chelmsford picked up a little towards the end as the Fleet’s fire died down and McAuley had a good sight at goal but blasted over. Fleet were otherwise untroubled and Lewis could have made it 4-1 after a nice lay-off by Godden but he was marked closely and could only send his effort over the bar.
EUFC: Ashmore, Fish, Van den Bogaert, Lewis, Clark (Cook 46), Bonner, Kissock, Parkes, Kedwell, Godden (Sheringham 89), Shields (Rance 81). Subs not used: Miles, Deering
CCFC: Dibble, Girdlestone, Marvel Ekpiteta, Hughes, Haines, McAuley, Bridge, Prestedge, Williams (Monsheju 76), Bricknell, Semedo (Graham 24). Subs not used: Daley, Marvin Ekpiteta, Morgan