It was Folkestone Invicta who advanced into the last four of the Kent Senior Cup as two first-half strikes and a late third wrapped up the tie in the clubs’ first meeting for eight years – and 33 since Fleet last played a competitive game at Cheriton Road.
The visitors made four changes from the side that faced Hungerford on Saturday, with Chris Haigh starting on his birthday and Franklin Domi making his full debut. However, there was a delay to kick-off with the Fleet squad arriving late due to the heavy traffic on the M20 and M2 while even home players were drifting in late in dribs and drabs, their own journeys hampered by the roads situation.
With only a 10-minute change and warm-up after arrival for the Fleet squad, it was straight into the action at Cheriton Road. Folkestone showed some early strong running and Haigh warmed his gloves in the 9th minute as Ade Yusuff got his free-kick on target.
Fleet went closer than that on the quarter-hour when Will Wood’s run from the right towards the box allowed him sight of goal and he cracked a shot beyond Tim Roberts that smacked back off the top of the crossbar.
A quick pace to the early stages continued when Ian Draycott somehow scooped the ball over the bar from close range before Fleet countered quickly, Craig Tanner attacking with a low delivery that was stopped on the line by Roberts who managed to clutch the ball to his chest as Elliott Romain lurked for any loose ball.
Romain had another half-chance on 23 minutes when Rakish Bingham attacked down the middle and slipped a pass into his strike partner but the resulting shot went wide.
Folkestone took the lead three minutes later when Alfie Paxman’s pacy cross to the far post was pinged back across goal at speed by Yusuff for Draycott to race in and fire home from a few yards out.
Three minutes later it was 2-0 but Fleet had good cause to feel hard done by when a free-kick down the right was awarded Fleet’s way initially by the referee after Simo Mbonkwi bowled into Paxman. The official then changed his mind at the behest of his assistant. In the confusion, the set piece was played quickly across the edge of the box to Smith who gathered it at the far side and struck his shot past Haigh.
The visitors almost clawed back a goal just before half-time when Jack Paxman and Lee Martin combined with a couple of intricate passes, releasing Bingham who did well to bring the ball under control but saw two shots saved by Roberts once more. Wood played in Romain from the loose ball but his shot was frustrated by the goalkeeper once more.
Shaq Coulthirst replaced Tanner at half-time as Fleet worked to wrestle more territory and possession from Folkestone. A Lee Martin free-kick to the far post had Bingham reaching but he just couldn’t connect with that one, but had more luck with his next effort.
That came on 67 minutes after Coulthirst had hit a fine low drive that was pushed aside for a corner. From the set-piece taken short, Bingham climbed to Wood’s cross to plant a header beyond Roberts to reduce the arrears.
The goal stung Folkestone into a response and Dolan’s inswinging free-kick arched towards the top corner before going wide, though Haigh appeared to have that covered. A second free-kick was whipped low through a crowd of players and stopped by Haigh who then parried Smith’s shot as he burst from midfield on 76 minutes.
Wood’s run across goal produced a low drive that Roberts once more had to spring into action to deny, while at the other end Haigh was well behind Simo Mbonkwi’s powerful run and shot. Domi got in behind the Invicta defence but saw a good cross intercepted while the referee waved away appeals when Joe Martin went down in the box.
But Mbonkwi wrapped things up for the home side three minutes from the end. The strong-running Smith eluded Joe Martin wide on the right and although Haigh did well to palm away his stinging shot, the ball fell kindly for Mbonkwi who powered it home.
There was a minute left for the introduction of Academy youngster Tommy Buchanan for the Fleet but time was called on the late night at gone 10.30pm with the home side taking the semi-final berth.
EUFC: Haigh, Domi, J.Martin, Chapman, Paxman, Mekki, Wood, L.Martin (Finney 62), Tanner (Coulthirst 46), Bingham (Buchanan 90), Romain. Subs: Gordon, Etherington, Firth
FIFC: Roberts, Vincent, Draycott (Johnson 80), Newman, Davies, Mbonkwi, Gbode (McCann 80), Dolan, Smith, Yusuff, Paxman. Subs: Heard, Atherton, Collins