Fleet had Shaq Coulthirst’s early goal to thank for another three points as his sixth minute strike proved the difference on an afternoon where the visitors could, with better luck and some sharper finishing, have made it more comfortable.
But with a clean sheet maintained despite a nervous last five minutes, Fleet deserved the win having controlled large parts of the game against a tough and driven Tonbridge outfit.
There was just one change to Dennis Kutrieb’s starting lineup as Coulthirst returned and Elliott Romain dropped to the bench. For Tonbridge, who were managed by assistant Barry Moore in Steve McKimm’s absence, former Fleet squad player Craig Braham-Barrett filled the left-back berth though the Angels were without leading scorer Tommy Wood.
Fleet fans packed into Longmead on a bright and sunny afternoon and were rewarded within six minutes of the start. Jack Paxman, who had already seen plenty of the ball in that short time, received a kick upfield from Louie Moulden and he found Coulthirst on the edge of the box, the striker opening up to fire across goal and past Jonathan Henly into the far corner.
Tonbridge had vociferous claims minutes later when James Taylor’s high ball into the box was contested by Ricky Modeste and Joe Martin, with home fans claiming a handball off Martin but the referee waved that one away.
Fleet had a shout of their own on 17 minutes when Paxman went down under Modeste’s challenge, moments after Coulthirst had teed up Rakish Bingham for an effort on target that was blocked.
Tonbridge were sending the bulk of their attacks towards Joe Turner down the Fleet right but it was Modeste in that position who almost grabbed an equaliser on 22 minutes. Released for a run, he chipped the ball over Chris Solly to fire on goal, Moulden managing to get a hand to it and Solly backing up as the two showed real grit in keeping the home side out.
Tonbridge kept up the set-piece count and a corner on 32 minutes forced Moulden into a tip away from his six-yard box while Jombati had to hack away Turner’s delivery into the danger zone.
Fleet took the sting out of the game in the closing moments of the first half, however, though couldn’t trouble Henly despite the energetic efforts of the hard-working Coulthirst in holding the ball up for his partners to run off.
Fleet went in search of another quickfire goal at the start of the second half, with Paxman feeding Poleon for a run and shot on goal on 48 minutes that deflected just the wrong side of the post.
Tonbridge had a better opportunity four minutes later when Moulden swung at a back pass that bobbled as he sliced it across goal. Turner couldn’t quite force the ball home but found Smith-Joseph whose targeted effort needed a smart stop by the Fleet goalkeeper to keep it out.
Chances continued to be exchanged and Fleet were next to warm the hands of a goalkeeper when Bingham set Coulthirst off in pursuit of a ball forward and the goalscorer’s effort was well pushed behind by Henly.
Tanner drove forward on the hour mark and had options either side of him but struck a shot well over the bar as Fleet looked for a different way through a solid and well-organised Tonbridge defence. And a minute later Tanner did opt for another red shirt when he slipped a pass through to Bingham in the box who shimmied past his marker but dragged his shot just wide of the foot of the post.
Fleet kept the pressure on. Next up was Chapman who was on the end of a Bingham-Coulthirst combination but Henly just stuck an arm out on the floor to stop the ball from rolling around him.
Substitute Romain introduced himself with a low drive that Henly was comfortably behind. Romain then set Poleon up for a run that was blocked before an even better chance 15 minutes from the end, Bingham back-heeling on the edge of the box and Chapman running through to try his luck but the ball rolled agonisingly away from the face of the goal.
Most of Tonbridge’s effort to that point were over the bar or wide as they threw on two fresh front men but how Fleet weren’t ahead with yet another attack on 77 minutes, only they will know. Poleon broke upfield and spread play wide to Paxman who got past Henly and tried to curl his shot home but supporters’ heads were in their hands as the ball went wide.
Having used all their substitutes, Tonbridge lost Teddy Perkins to injury with 10 minutes left but while Fleet bossed the possession, they were unable to add that second goal. And it was Tonbridge who almost made them pay when Moulden punched away a corner, the ball was played back in and fired past him but the offside flag was raised.
Five minutes of added time prompted the introduction of Franklin Domi into the Fleet defence and with Henly coming up from the back, there were a few anxious moments but the clean sheet – and the three points – were preserved.
EUFC: Moulden, Solly, J.Martin, Jombati, N’Guessan, Chapman, Paxman (Domi 90), Tanner (L.Martin 86), Bingham, Coulthirst (Romain 66), Poleon. Subs: Finney, Haigh
TAFC: Henly, Fielding (Coombes 70), Braham-Barrett, Beere (Olutade 61), Miles, Parkinson, Modeste (Perkins 70), Loft, Taylor, Smith-Joseph, Turner. Subs: Embery, O’Sullivan