It was fitting that Paul McCarthy’s memorial game bore witness to one of the best friendlies seen at Stonebridge Road for quite some time. Some 2,130 fans packed the stadium as Fleet thoroughly deserved the result against a Spurs side containing numerous U23s that Daryl McMahon said we would “undoubtedly be seeing in the Premier League” before long.
It might be difficult to second-guess the starting XI the Fleet boss has in mind for the opening league fixture, but it certainly won’t be dissimilar to the one that started this game and the way the home side went about their task will have supporters chomping at the bit for August 5th’s arrival.
Setting up 4-4-2 with Sam Magri occupying the right-back berth, there were three other new boys in the starting lineup with Jack Payne and Myles Weston in midfield while Danny Mills partnered Darren McQueen up front.
A big, slick Tottenham side showed some quick movement in the early stages but Fleet were equally adept at knocking the ball around and Jack Powell and Jack Payne linked up well as the home side edged the opening stages.
McQueen got first sight of goal on seven minutes after he latched on to a ball from midfield but he found Spurs’ Eyoma a little more physical than the average National South defender and was muscled off the ball. It didn’t take the young Fleet striker long to adjust though and the next time a defender pushed him off the ball, McQueen was able to dink the ball from under him and run clear.
And it was typical that McQueen, the last man to score at Stonebridge Road in 2016/17, was the first to do so this season. It came on 15 minutes when Jack Connors advanced from the left flank and sent a great low cross into the six-yard box that evaded Mills and might well have crossed the goalline even before McQueen arrived to slide it over for sure off the inside of the post.
The goal served only to push the Fleet to greater heights and Mills used his physicality to beat a defender in the corner before whipping in another fine cross that skipped just in front of McQueen. Mills couldn’t quite get on the end of a sublime one-two between Powell and McQueen moments later and then, from a free-kick awarded after Weston was upended on the edge of the box, Powell showed he’s lost none of his accuracy, smacking the set piece off the post.
Spurs could have equalised on 38 minutes when Joe Pritchard’s fine effort from distance curled around the Fleet defence and looked to be heading for the top corner but veered off target. The visitors closed out the half well and the impressive Keanan Bennetts, who inspired most of Spurs’ good play from wide on the left, struck a shot across goal that Nathan Ashmore had to tip away.
There was one more good chance for the Fleet as Weston lofted a cross to the far post and Mills climbed highest to send a header inches over the bar.
Luke Coulson replaced his old Eastleigh teammate Andy Drury for the second half and within seconds McQueen had raced on to a good upfield pass from Magri but found goalkeeper De Bie’s leg well placed to divert the shot. But just seven minutes in, Coulson announced his arrival in fine style. Ashmore had just made a decent stop from Bennetts when Fleet got forward quickly and a square ball from the right landed at Coulson’s feet; he showed fine technique to despatch a shot from 20 yards into the bottom corner of the net out of De Bie’s reach.
But Spurs weren’t done and after a good spell of pressure they were soon back in the game. Fleet cleared a cross from Bennetts but the ball was played back in to Shayon Harrison and his accurate shot through the penalty area was well placed and left Ashmore with too much to do.
Results might not matter in pre-season games, but it would have been tough on the Fleet to have surrendered their lead. But there was no chance of that. Even a flurry of substitutions failed to disrupt the home side and Sean Shields could have scored seconds after being introduced when Aaron McLean played him into space but the effort was saved. Spurs fashioned a number of chances and Gravesend-born striker Ryan Loft slid an effort just wide of the post but the home defenders were well disciplined and let little past them.
Danny Kedwell and Coulson combined well to release McLean but he shot over on 76 minutes before Maghoma planted a header past his own goalkeeper but it lacked the power to cross the line before Freeman got back to clear.
On 85 minutes, former Fleet academy star Shilow Tracey thought he’d helped haul Spurs level when his shot was parried by Ashmore at point-blank range and fell loose to Jack Roles who stabbed it over the line – but the offside flag was up.
That just left Fleet to add some shine to the scoreline and when Japhet Tanganga was penalised for a handball in the box, Kedwell stepped up to drive a low spot kick into the bottom right of the goal.
Coulson almost capped a fine second-half performance with a raking drive from 35 yards that had Freeman back-pedalling furiously to send the ball away from the goal.
It was a rewarding afternoon for the 2,130 in attendance and a fine tribute to former skipper McCarthy whose family and friends were at Stonebridge Road to witness it.
EUFC: Ashmore, Connors (Shields 72), Winfield, Clark (Mambo 72), Powell (Rance 64), Drury (Coulson 46), Weston (Cook 50), McQueen (McLean 72), Payne, Mills (Kedwell 64), Magri (Graham 72). Subs not used: McCoy, Miles
THFC: De Bie (Freeman 72), Eyoma (Lock 72), Bennetts, Amos, Maghoma, Tangana, Harrison, Pritchard (Roles 60), Loft (Hinds 68), Shashoua (Duncan 46), Tracey.