Punjab United 2-6 Fleet

There can’t be many occasions when Fleet have played in Gravesend itself of late, so it was fitting that for the first time since last year’s friendly at Hornchurch, fans returned to see their team in the flesh.

A warm welcome at the much revamped former AEI ground awaited a healthy combined gate of home and visiting supporters as Punjab laid on drummers to greet the teams on to the pitch, alongside the memorial Steve Cook Trophy, awarded to the winners at the end of the game.

And Punjab clearly fancied winning the silverware as they raced into a two-goal lead with a couple of well-taken goals before the 25-minute mark. The first arrived on 12 minutes when an untimely slip by Sefa Kahraman was punished, Punjab’s William Johnson-Cole doing ever so well to nip in and lob the ball over Harrison Firth to open the scoring.

Buoyed by that goal, Punjab settled quickly but Fleet were unfortunate not to equalise on 19 minutes when Tobi Adebayo-Rowling’s effort was well parried by goalkeeper Max Ovenden.

Punjab extended their lead on 22 minutes when an excellent precision pass from deep was swept out to the left wing and once again a well-placed high ball by Jaydn Gildea eluded Firth to make the score 2-0.

That stung Fleet into action and the arrears were reduced within two minutes. Rakish Bingham picked the ball up on the halfway line and raced forward, drawing a save from the home goalkeeper but the ball came back out to the advancing Alfie Egan who swept home the loose ball.

Alfie Egan fired home a hat-trick on his return from loan duty with Maidenhead United at the end of last season

Punjab were left cursing their finishing on 25 minutes when a free-kick dropped in the box but Ola Akiwande, despite turning a Fleet defender, somehow pulled his shot just wide of the far post.

But that was Punjab’s last real opportunity for a while as Dennis Kutrieb’s side went on the offensive. Dominic Poleon’s clever back-heel into skipper Adam Mekki’s path saw the former Bromley man skilfully twist his way into space but his shot was well held by Ovenden.

The next chance came quickly, Greg Cundle doing well at the byline to cut an effort inside to Egan but again the Punjab goalkeeper thwarted the visitors with a good save at close range. Cundle continued to raid the left wing to good effect and Egan had another chance on 31 minutes when Christian N’Guessan’s delightful dummy played him in, but that shot was blocked and Mekki headed the recycled ball wide.

Still Fleet pressed. Egan released Poleon for a run through on goal and the striker did everything right but saw his attempted lob drift just wide of the post.

Next up was Michael West whose smashing low volley was surely goalbound but again the hero of the hour, goalkeeper Ovenden, sprawled along his line to push the ball to safety.

The home side weren’t quite done as an attacking force, however, and their No.9 edged a pass beyond substitute Sido Jombati, took it wide of Firth but found Adebayo-Rowling lurking in the six-yard box to clear his lines.

Fleet’s equaliser came two minutes before half-time, Cundle crossing from the left and Bingham taking a single touch before placing an effort into the corner from the edge of the box.

After all that action, the second-half – with six substitutions made by Kutrieb – was initially a somewhat more sedate affair but Fleet still carved out chances. Joe Martin’s excellent drive through midfield released Egan and his shot billowed the side netting.

Cundle was just wide with another effort and Elliott Romain’s pressure almost forced a Punjab defender to fire into his own net.

It was Cundle who reignited Fleet’s goal tally on 66 minutes, Craig Tanner finding the wide man with a clever turn and pass across the box. Cundle cut inside, twisted past a defender and slotted his side’s third through the goalkeeper’s legs.

Cundle’s persistence nearly returned the favour for Tanner five minutes later but Punjab blocked his effort across goal.

Fleet weren’t kept waiting long for a fourth. It arrived on 75 minutes, Ben Chapman sending a delightful pass to West’s feet and the Fleet’s long-serving player sprung the offside trap to fire home.

Westy takes the congratulations as Chapman assists

Ten minutes from the end, Egan was on hand to get a shot on goal from the byline and he struck a firm effort low and hard into the bottom corner. His hat-trick was sealed on 84 minutes, Tanner’s dummy from Cundle’s delivery creating the space and Egan fired in from just outside the box.

Will Wood might have made it seven with an effort just over but the Fleet manager will have been more than satisfied with his side’s first-half response and attacking display through tonight’s opening 90 minutes.

EUFC: Firth (Haigh 46), Adebayo-Rowling (J. Martin 46), Chapman, Kahraman (Jombati 36), N’Guessan (Krasniqi 46), West, Egan, Mekki (Wood 46), Cundle, Poleon (Tanner 46), Bingham (Romain 46).


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