Bradley Bubb’s second-minute strike took Fleet to 90 points for the first time since the Ryman League title-winning season of 2001/02 and maintained the unbeaten run of 2017 – but Maidenhead’s win at Truro means Daryl McMahon’s side must gain three points there next week to push the title race into the final week.
On a sunny afternoon by the coast, Fleet were able to name an unchanged lineup against their already relegated opponents who fielded former Ebbsfleet players Chris Sessegnon and Michael Thalassitis, with Aiden Palmer on the bench.
And the game was barely 120 seconds old when Fleet struck with their first attack of the match. Sean Shields made good ground down the left flank and turned inside before laying a ball off for Jack Connors whose low delivery was nudged goalwards by Bubb for his third strike of the Easter weekend.
Any thoughts that might lead to an avalanche of goals were soon dispelled as the match at times took on the air of a training session with neither side particularly creative. Fleet looked buoyant for the minutes after the goal and Sam Deering forced Valery Pajetat into a low save as he squeezed in between the central defenders to catch sight of the target.
But Margate settled and on 13 minutes could have equalised when Sessegnon delivered a cross from the left that whipped along the danger zone and almost crept in at Nathan Ashmore’s far post, the Fleet goalkeeper having to adjust his stance to keep track of the ball.
Deering released Bubb on 19 minutes and though the Fleet striker trapped the ball with great technique and had only the goalkeeper to beat, the flag was up. Bubb got up well minutes later to a high Shields delivery but Pajetat managed to punch clear and Fleet forced a couple of corners but that really was the limit of chances throughout the 45 minutes. At the other end, Thalassisits got a good connection on a shot on the edge of the box but Andy Drury was well placed to get in his way and Fleet went in at the break with the crucial breakthrough.
The large travelling contingent expected their side to step up a gear as they attacked down the hill in the second half but the best of the Bank Holiday derby had already been witnessed.
Again Fleet forced a number of corners but only Dave Winfield’s header looked in any way dangerous. Bubb lasted only seven minutes of the second half before limping off with a minor knock, to be replaced by Aaron McLean.
The home side looked more eager from the hour mark and they toiled resolutely for an equaliser. Jack Powell had to be on hand when Dave Martin’s cross was headed towards the bottom corner by Stephane Ngamvoulou on 62 minutes and Powell just about got his body in the way to prevent it crossing the line.
Dean Rance and Anthony Cook soon followed McLean into the fray and Cook’s willingness to run at the Margate back line gave Fleet a little more purpose but still Margate had the slight edge and only for some woeful finishing, that more often than not ended up flying high over Ashmore’s bar, they could have reduced the arrears.
McLean almost diverted a ball into Cook’s path on 78 minutes but Ben Swift was well-placed to clear the ball off Cook’s toes from eight yards. Swift’s later argument with McLean provided a diversion from the football in time added on but there was little else of note to entertain the crowd beyond the result.
The win, which as Daryl McMahon had stated earlier this week was all that Fleet could do in the circumstances, at least takes the title to York Road next week. Anything less than three points for the Fleet hands the league to Maidenhead. A win for the visitors would push the decider to the last day, with Maidenhead due to visit Hartsdown Park then.
EUFC: Ashmore, Shields, Connors, McCoy, Winfield, Clark, Powell (Rance 63), Drury, McQueen (Cook 63), Bubb (McLean 52), Deering. Subs not used: Phillips, Jordan.
MFC: Pajetat, Hamilton, Sessegnon, Rogers, Moore-Azille, Swift, Ngamvoulou (McFarlane 90), Evans, Thalassitis, Morgan (Akindayini 17), Martin. Subs not used: Palmer, Kallmeier, Cumbers