The wait will go on for a First Round place as Fleet found themselves on the end of a classic cup upset, Merstham coming from behind to book their appointment with Emirates FA Cup destiny.
The home side even had the luxury of seeing a first half penalty saved and dug in during a second half where Fleet could find no way through.
Daryl McMahon named an unchanged side once again, with Fleet’s attacking verve in this year’s cup expected to push Merstham to the limit, though – as their manager made plain before the game – they were prepared and well-organised.
Indeed the Moatsiders made much the better start, and Antone Douglas saw a header clip the crossbar from a corner. The home side played some neat football on the break and Charlie Penny was a quick-thinking outlet for the them, spraying the ball wide and at speed. He created another chance that saw Reece Hall with open sight of goal but the player blazed it wide from a good position.
Fleet stepped it up though and a decent build up saw Cook end the move with a smart shot from a central position that goalkeeper Phil Wilson pushed away. Moments later, on 10 minutes, Stuart Lewis and Danny Kedwell wrestled the ball free in midfield and a ball up to Darren McQueen saw Fleet’s top scorer race clear, round the goalkeeper and fire home.
For the 10 minutes after that, Fleet were well on top and looking to pull away with another goal and when Deering tricked his way into the box, he seemed certain to score but delayed and when McQueen followed up, a defender cleared it behind.
But that opportunity pretty much ended Fleet’s spell on top. On 26 minutes, Merstham skipper Tom Kavanagh picked up the ball 25 yards out and sent a fine shot beyond Nathan Ashmore and into the bottom corner.
Almost immediately Merstham were on the attack again and Penny ran free towards goal to be upended by Ashmore, though despite giving a penalty the referee deemed it not worthy of any card. However, Ashmore redeemed himself with a dive to his left to scoop Xavier Vidal’s spot kick into the air and away from the target.
Fleet failed to put Merstham under any more pressure and McQueen barely got a sniff for the remainder of the half as the home side’s centre-back pairing were more than equal to aerial balls forward.
Kedwell did get round the back shortly before half time when he got to the byline and crossed for Deering but his effort from eight yards was blocked.
Half-time could have come sooner for the visitors because they went into it behind. Lewis was booked for a foul on Vidal in the corner and the same player took the set piece, delivered to Penny who headed home despite protests from Fleet defenders that he may have used an arm.
Merstham then lost Penny to injury just before the whistle and he was stretchered off, Fleet relieved to see the resulting free kick on the edge of the box loop away from danger.
Merstham might have expected an onslaught in the second half but it didn’t quite occur. While Fleet saw more possession and territorial advantage than during the first period, Douglas and Mark Okaye in particular at the back for the home side were calm and measured (the odd wild challenge aside) as they kept Fleet at bay.
Dean Rance replaced Jack Powell and he was able to give the visitors more of a foothold in midfield but the home side still threatened on the break. Hall flashed a shot wide for them though they missed the industry and creativity of Penny from the first half.
The referee was the busiest man on the pitch for much of the half, booking several players and having to keep the peace when Okaye lunged into Cook and then with Addai threatening to get involved with the away fans after being booked, and he was soon replaced by his manager.
Still though Fleet pressed, they rarely threatened. Rance and Dave Winfield both saw headers go off target while Marvin McCoy had to be alert when Omar Folkes broke through, looking to make it an unassailable 3-1 lead.
Bradley Bubb and Charlie Sheringham were sent into the fray and it was the latter who finally made the keeper work late on. After a Lewis shot and Kedwell free kick came to nothing, a searching cross found Winfield lurking. His header into the mix saw Sheringham get a touch on it from close range and somehow Wilson reacted quickly to get a hand to the goalbound effort.
Four minutes of time added on yielded little more and few could deny Merstham credit for a deserved win. Fleet must pick themselves up for next week and keep their league campaign on track while the Moatsiders enjoy the excitement of the First Round draw.
EUFC: Ashmore, Cook (Bubb 75), Connors, Phillips, Winfield, McCoy, Lewis, Deering (Sheringham 84), Kedwell, McQueen, Powell (Rance 46). Subs not used: Miles, Greenidge, Boulding, Miller-Neave.
MFC: Wilson, Abnett, Campbell, Samuels, Okoye, Douglas, Vidal, Kavanagh, Addai (Bennett), Penny (Folkes), Hall (Henriques). Subs: Bailey-Allen, Hopkinson, Hector, Hogan.