Punjab United 0-6 Fleet

Eight, six and three have been the goals totals in this season opener against Punjab over the last few summers and Fleet matched the six they scored in 2021 – but this time with the added bonus of a clean sheet.

Shiny new shirts were on show as the visiting Fleet fans added to a big 500-crowd for this first match of the pre-season programme – Punjab’s record attendance – on an initially gloomy Saturday morning.

There was no gloom from Dennis Kutrieb’s squad, however, as all the new signings got minutes under their belt in two halves of largely different Fleet sides who both managed three goals apiece.

And the first one came with Fleet’s opening attack on two minutes. With Punjab’s line back-pedalling, Shaq Coulthirst slipped a pass wide to Greg Cundle and he fired it into the roof of the net for 1-0.

Mark Cousins stretched to keep out Punjab’s first offensive move on eight minutes but a second attack found the back of the net, ruled out for offside. The home side were left to rue that one as Fleet immediately sped away on the counterattack, Trialist A squaring low despite the attentions of red shirts around him and there was Coulthirst to sidefoot home.

Punjab settled into the game after that although it was all Fleet as the passing game kept the yellow shirts moving forward. Darren McQueen and Coulthirst both went close, followed by Billy Clifford, Josh Wright and Toby Edser who kept home goalkeeper Rilwan Anibaba busy.

Punjab’s new signing Tunde Aderonmu produced a useful run through the middle but fired over and Fleet then got the third a minute before half-time. Steve Ratcliff tried to clear his lines but was chased down by Edser who returned the ball into the box. Clifford overran it and his dummy was collected by McQueen who took a touch and fired low into the corner from 18 yards.

Ten new players took to the field for the second half but within a minute a short pass out of defence handed Aderonmu a fantastic chance to score for Punjab. Chris Haigh came off his line to close the angle and the Punjab striker planted his shot on to the post.

Once again, a miss proved costly for Punjab as Fleet made it 4-0 with the next attack. The returning Craig Tanner hit an excellent shot that cannoned off the inside of the post and back into play. David Amoo reacted quickest to get the rebound on target and despite the ball being intercepted on the line, the referee was satisfied that the former Crewe man’s shot had crossed it.

Much like the first half, it became something of a keep-ball exercise for the Fleet for a quarter of an hour as they entertained the fans with some slick passing football.

Inevitably, a fifth goal came just past the hour. Luke O’Neill was the provider, his run and superbly weighted ball into the box not dealt with and sliding in was Trialist A to force the ball over from six yards.

Wycombe loanee Jack Wakely saved the best until last, finding the net on 74 minutes. He exchanged passes with Ben Chapman before cutting in-field and turning past two defenders. With plenty still to do, he timed his final run and shot for a gap to appear and then struck home the Fleet’s sixth.

EUFC squad from: Cousins, Haigh, Solly, Martin, White, Wright, Clifford, Cundle, Edser, Coulthirst, McQueen, Trialist A, O’Neill, Hollis, Wakely, Chapman, Domi, Cissé, Tanner (Shoolbred 75), Fanimo, Amoo
PUFC: Anibaba, Edwards, Probets, Barry, Ratcliff, Gilbert, Vine, Dawson, Aderonmu, Hussain, Dythe. Subs: O. Bushell, W. Bushell, Hudson, Scudder, Arnold
Attendance: 500


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