Ebbsfleet United’s young hopefuls continued to show what they’re made of as yet another sterling second-half comeback saw them through to the Second Round of the FA Youth Cup, where they will face a trip to AFC Wimbledon.
Cheered on by travelling fans, many going by coach, Fleet faced an uphill struggle after falling behind on 8 minutes when Darren Oldaker struck a quite wonderful free-kick from 25 yards past Rhys Hughes. The home side had made a strong start and Hughes was called into action early to tip a shot over.
But the Gills were unable to capitalise on their opening as Harry Stannard saw red for a late, crunching challenge on Mitchell Liddle in the 21st minute. That gave Fleet a platform on which to build and Casey Johnson twice went close, though the home side still ventured forward, looking to kill the tie off, despite their numerical disadvantage.
Fleet, however, have been revival specialists in their epic Youth Cup campaign so far this season and this game proved no exception as – once again with the help of a penalty – they hauled themselves level. The goal, on 67 minutes, came just after Bradley Rudd and Oliver Boulding were unfortunate to see their efforts denied. But the Gills defence finally got caught by Shilow Tracey when he was taken down by Mitchell Welch. Karn Miller-Neave took the penalty and, unfazed by the Gills keeper’s movement on the line, blasted home the equaliser.
Gillingham’s confidence seemed to buckle and the 11 men of the Fleet sensed victory. Tracey’s agility got him into a goalscoring position and he ran at goal, firing a shot narrowly off target. And the Gills somewhat shot themselves in the foot seven minutes from time when a short pass put the goalkeeper in trouble and Caleb Bearman-Dyce took full advantage to slot home the winner and take the comeback kings into the next round.
Fleet vice chairman Peter Varney was overjoyed with the result and performance, telling FleetOnline from Priestfield Stadium: “Tonight epitomised what we are all about as a club. Our young players were outstanding on the night against a very strong Gillingham team and their work rate and general fitness level was excellent.
“Most of the first-team squad attended the match despite some having a long distance to travel and they all went into the dressing room afterwards to congratulate the boys. The club’s entire coaching and management staff were also there and the support from our travelling fans and the parents and relatives of the boys was noisy and encouraging. The celebrations at the end of the match were brilliant and the boys have done their club proud tonight for sure.”
EUFC: Hughes, Boulding, Miller-Neave, Liddle, Denny, Stewart, Johnson, Tracey, Nguede, Rudd, Bearman-Dyce. Subs: Della Valle, Nourse, Atumonyogo, Simpson, Tagg