It was a huge afternoon at the Kuflink Stadium and the Fleet produced an equally huge performance to dominate from start to finish. Appropriately, to kick-off the club’s 75th anniversary, the 5-1 win was the Fleet’s best opening-day win since our formation.
And the fans played their part, returning in numbers after so long locked out of the stadium to record the best attendance outside the Conference/National League on an opening day since 1963.
The small matter of the scoreline cheered Fleet fans no end on their return, with Dominic Poleon scoring a first-half hat-trick, while goals by Rakish Bingham and Adam Mekki added further sheen. What was even more remarkable was the speed of Poleon’s hat-trick, completed in 22 first-half minutes, and the fact Fleet had built up a commanding 4-0 lead before the half-hour was out.
Dennis Kutrieb named four debutants in his starting XI and with skipper Lee Martin’s suspension carrying over from last season, Chris Solly took the captain’s armband.
Former Dover winger Ricky Modeste was the visitors’ chief danger and he made the first forward movement of the game, beginning something of a duel with Joe Martin who was equal to most of his running and proved as much to snuff out that early threat.
Fleet were swift on to the offensive after that, the quick-passing, intricate play that Kutrieb has imposed on his side clear to see in the early moments of the game. And it paid off as early as the eighth minute when Jack Paxman and Craig Tanner combined – as they were to do much of the afternoon – to give Poleon sight of goal and he drilled into the bottom corner out of Jon Henly’s reach.
Paxman’s busy midfield play combined with Tanner’s almost effortless, unhurried ability to find his man, was paying huge dividends for the Fleet as Tonbridge chased shadows for the opening half-hour. Alfie Egan warmed Henley’s gloves as he tried to release Poleon for a second before Bingham did indeed make it 2-0 on 14 minutes.
For all Fleet’s passing game, they proved they could work a long ball to their advantage too and Joe Martin’s vision picked out Bingham, who held off the attentions of Arthur Lee to lob Henley from just inside the box.
Tonbridge were struggling with the balls from midfield into Fleet’s front runners and Poleon threatened to get around Henly on 17 minutes who prodded a save into Egan’s path but he could only win a corner.
With Tanner operating in field a little more than usual, it was left to Greg Cundle to provide the width and he was a useful outlet on more than one occasion, and his 24th minute effort skipped off target.
Tonbridge’s best opportunity came on 27 minutes when Sonny Miles got on the end of a corner to trouble Josh Gould in the Fleet goal. But the new man scooped that into his arms then arrowed a kick out to Poleon who was in acres of space with Jerry O’Sullivan out of position. Poleon gobbled that up, opening up his body to send a curling effort past Henly and in off the post for 3-0.
There was barely time for the cheering to die down before Poleon completed his hat-trick. Cundle’s pass in field to Bingham was deftly touched on and as Poleon managed to keep his balance ahead of Miles, he fired home the fourth.
Whatever plan Tonbridge had had for this game was well and truly torn up and while they managed to stem the Fleet flow and even enjoy a modicum of possession as the half closed out, Fleet still threatened. Poleon felt he had good cause for a penalty after coming off second-best with Henly who also managed to cling on to an Egan effort after good work by Cundle and Poleon.
Cundle found the back of the net a minute before the break but that was flagged early for offside by the referee’s assistant while Modeste held Gould’s interest at the other end with a shot tipped over on the stroke of half-time.
After that first-half, it might have been greedy to want more and while the Fleet didn’t manage quite the same goals return, the chances were certainly there to do so.
There was more attractive stuff to behold as Tanner, Paxman and Egan continued to feed off each other, while Martin following up behind them rarely gave Tonbridge a chance to draw breath.
A fifth debutant in Elliott Romain replaced hat-trick hero Poleon just past the hour mark as the home side continued to create in the final third, although Tonbridge looked a lot more comfortable at the back than they had in a torrid first period.
On 65 minutes, with his final contribution of the afternoon, Cundle did ever so well to battle down the left, lifting the ball past Henly but it travelled just wide of the far post.
Tonbridge reduced the arrears on 73 minutes, however, when substitute Ibrahim Olutade tucked away Modeste’s shot after Gould had done well to parry that initial effort.
Already assured of their win, the Fleet faithful nevertheless wanted a response and a fifth goal and they duly received one 10 minutes from time. On this occasion, it was a home sub who did the business, Adam Mekki capping an excellent 24 minutes on the pitch with a run inside his man and a precise low effort into the far corner.
Fleet upped the ante again after that and with Tobi Adebayo-Rowling still showing energy and speed down the right, he was the architect of much of it. Several of his crosses troubled the visiting defence and Tanner cued Egan up for a shot that was blocked. Mekki and Egan again saw further efforts thwarted as Fleet searched for and deserved a sixth goal but it didn’t quite come.
Not that the returning fans cared much about that, their elation clear to see as the stadium rung to the much-missed cheers of a crowd once more.
EUFC: Gould, Jombati (Kahraman 62), Solly, J. Martin, Adebayo-Rowling, Cundle (Mekki 66), Paxman, Egan, Tanner, Bingham, Poleon (Romain 62). Subs: Haigh, Chapman
TAFC: Henly, O’Sullivan, Braham-Barrett, Parkinson (Turner 74), Miles, Lee, Modeste, Beere, Wood (Olutade 66), Loft (Guerfi 58), Smith-Joseph. Subs: Hudson, Hanfrey
Report by Ed Miller and Katie Humphris