Oxford City became the first side to defeat a travelling Fleet this season as they fought back from a goal down to knock their visitors out of the FA Trophy, while skipper Tom Bonner seeing red in the second half.
With much of the pre-match talk involving the returning Anthony Cook, he certainly made an entrance. Named as a substitute on the teamsheet, an injury to Danny Haynes in the warm-up meant Cook was promoted to a starting place, with Michael West being drafted in on the substitutes’ bench. John-Paul Kissock, meanwhile, came in for Jordan Parkes in the only other line-up alteration from last week.
Fleet made a decent start into the wind and found themselves in front inside 15 minutes. Danny Kedwell battled into space down the right and his cross carried enough weight for Matt Godden to despatch his 12th goal in 11 games. Laurie Walker pulled off a great save from another Godden effort following a Cook free-kick into the box as Fleet hemmed Oxford back into their own half for a spell.
But the home side gained a foothold from the 20-minute mark and a swift break upfield saw Bradley Bubb’s strike flash back off the inside of the post, where Brandon Hall was able to gather.
Hall was in action again minutes later to turn Luke Coulson’s effort behind but the midfielder was clearly just warming up. Straight from the corner, he looped a cross into a headwind, the ball held up and then swirled over Hall’s head and into the goal.
City enjoyed that goal and they began to wrestle control in midfield, with Coulson impressive. He sent Bubb through for another decent effort on goal, while Declan Benjamin delivered a shot wide. Kedwell had Fleet’s only real opportunity of note after that, a low shot bending wide of the post.
City came out all guns blazing in the second period and Marlon Jackson headed inches past the post early on. But Fleet’s goal wasn’t to lead a charmed life for much longer and on 50 minutes a throw-in wasn’t cleared, Benjamin cut inside and unleashed a fine, dipping drive from 25 yards that flew past Hall to give Oxford the lead.
With Coulson and Bubb always dangerous for the home side, they made the most of space down the flanks and it was the Fleet left where they fashioned their third goal. A ball into Benjamin again gave the City player a chance and he fired home his second and his side’s third to put the game effectively beyond reach.
That was underlined on 63 minutes when an altercation on the far side of the pitch saw players pile in, with the referee struggling to keep a lid on events. Hall and Bubb seemed to exchange harsh words but it was Bonner who was on the receiving end of a straight red card, though his exact transgression was unclear.
Godden was sacrificed for Anthony Acheampong, who will no doubt step into the breach created by Bonner’s impending ban and Fleet could find no way back. Godden’s earlier shot over the bar was supplemented by Cook’s high effort, while substitute Michael West could have reduced the arrears with a late attempt but Oxford shut up shop effectively and sent Fleet out of the competition.
Barring Tuesday’s Kent Reliance Senior Cup game and any resulting semi-final, there is nothing now standing in the way of the second half of Fleet’s league season.
EUFC: Hall, Fish, Howe, Lewis, Clark, Bonner, Rance, Kissock (Sheringham 58), Kedwell, Godden (Acheampong 65), Cook (West 78). Subs not used: Miles, Parkes
OCFC: Walker, King, Isaac, Lafuente, Santiago, Arzamendi, Coulson, Pond, Jackson, Bubb, Benjamin. Subs not used: McDonagh, Sterling-James, Pifarre, Fleet.