A goalless draw on the South Coast delivered Fleet’s fourth draw in as many games with Nathan Ashmore’s pair of incredible second-half saves proving to be the vital moments as far as the visitors were concerned.
Fleet made four changes, with Aaron McLean starting his first game of the season in place of Danny Kedwell, whose ankle wasn’t trusted on the 3G surface after a flare-up in midweek. Stuart Lewis was also missing with a recurrence of his groin injury so Mark Phillips made his debut in a five-man back line (with Marvin McCoy and Jack Connors looking to get forward on either side). John Paul Kissock started in place of Sean Shields, with the Fleet boss having hinted in midweek that he might adopt different approaches to the Eastbourne and Margate games, while Bradley Bubb was also on the bench, with Charlie Sheringham up front alongside McLean.
And McLean looked eager from the start and he was almost in on goal from a Sheringham lay-off in the opening seconds. Fleet enjoyed the better early running but the home side soon started to gain a foothold in midfield and utilise their flanks where Miguel Baptista on the right was making use of the space.
On 11 minutes, Kenny Clark had to be alert to a cross that dropped dangerously inside the box and he managed to dig out a clearance under pressure. Eastbourne enjoyed plenty of set-piece activity and won several corners in a 10-minute spell but Ashmore punched one away confidently and the rest weren’t too much trouble for his defenders to deal with.
Fleet were finding the going difficult in midfield and both sides were guilty of giving away possession cheaply from the middle of the park. With chances few and far between, Fleet’s best effort – a Phillips header against the post from a Sam Deering chip – was offside anyway.
Sheringham managed to carve out a chance from the right wing as his determination to win the ball allowed him to aim a low cross into the box but he had no support despite the delivery crying out for the slightest of touches.
Gavin McCallum should have done better with an effort on 23 minutes when he met Baptista’s accurate ball into the box at pace but it was a disappointing contact and his shot bobbled wide with Ashmore caught in no man’s land. The home side were allowed another batch of corners as Fleet came under considerable pressure from the half-hour point and a combination of Phillips and Dave Winfield were required to hack clear a Nathaniel Pinney header into the danger area.
Fleet left their best until just before the break when Deering, hovering on the edge of the box, spotted Sheringham’s run and played a delightful through ball into the striker’s path but the goalkeeper was out well and he managed to steer Sheringham’s effort over the bar. Moments later, Deering was again in action, his low driven shot once more drawing a save from Lewis Carey.
The second half was better entertainment for both sets of supporters as Fleet managed to get to grips with the Sports midfield a little better. On 52 minutes, former Fleet favourite Craig Stone almost put his side in trouble when his back header was intercepted by Deering and he flung across a low ball that whistled along the six-yard box but again no-one in a blue shirt was on it.
Six minutes later, Fleet broke downfield at real pace, Jack Connors and Deering the architects of that, but the final ball to Sheringham saw Carey again do enough and deflect the effort behind. McLean watched a free-kick from a dangerous position sail over the ground and minutes later almost shoved the jeers of the home fans back down their throats with an acrobatic drive that was just too high.
That was McLean’s last contribution and he gave way to Bubb for the last 20 minutes, with Shields and Anthony Cook following from the subs bench minutes later. The changes gave Fleet some impetus heading into the final quarter but Eastbourne had their fair share of chances to win it.
Winfield’s flying header cleared the danger from a McCallum cross before Bubb finished off a similar move by Fleet at the other end, sidestepping the challenge of Ian Simpemba but not getting a clean shot away.
The game swung from end to end and nine minutes from time McCallum fired a shot on target through a sea of bodies and Ashmore was at full stretch to push it away, even having to produce greater reach as the shot swerved towards the inside of the post.
Fleet looked more likely to score as Shields persistence in and around the box kept the home side penned in the final third, but it was Eastbourne who appeared odds-on to have won it on 90 minutes when a goalmouth scramble saw Elliott Romain’s shot heading in at the far post but again, somehow, Ashmore was across and on to it to tip it off course.
There was one final chance in three minutes of time added on and it came Fleet’s way, Bubb running on to a pass and firing an effort to the left of the goalkeeper but Carey just managed to get enough on it and both sides had to settle for the point.
EUFC: Ashmore, McCoy, Connors, Phillips (Cook 71), Winfield, Clark, Rance, Kissock, Sheringham, McLean (Bubb 69), Deering (Shields 71). Subs not used: Miles, McQueen
EBFC: Carey, Hare, Stone, Hughes, Simpemba, Dutton, Baptista (Khinda-John 87), Worrall (Uade 76), Pinney, Romain, McCallum. Subs not used: Tate, Taylor, Aziya