For the first time in 2017 and in 32 league matches, Fleet were left to taste defeat as a well-drilled and efficient Aldershot Town side ran out 2-0 winners at Stonebridge Road.
The home faithful aren’t used to seeing their side draw a blank, far less lose a game, and the response against Tranmere Rovers on Saturday will now be key to the early part of Fleet’s season.
Daryl McMahon made three changes, with Yado Mambo, Bagasan Graham and Sean Shields (injury) out and Kenny Clark, Anthony Cook and Luke Coulson in. Aldershot, reeling in recent weeks from injury to key players, named an unchanged lineup from the side that lost to Dover at the weekend.
Jack Payne’s ball into Dean Rance inside the first minute, with a flicked header going wide, had given hope that Fleet were going to take the game to Aldershot from the start. But it was the visitors who should have been ahead in the early moments when Chris Arthur’s short pass to Matt McClure was arrowed across the six-yard box and somehow Scott Rendell planted his effort from close range wide of the post.
Fleet responded when Coulson’s cross was met well by Cook, but goalkeeper Jake Cole was able to claim that and three minutes later, Darren McQueen showed plenty of energy to nip through the Shots defence and supply Rance with a pass but Cole held the resulting shot.
But from Aldershot’s next attack, on 16 minutes, they were in front. Cutting in from the left, a cross wasn’t dealt with by the Fleet defence and James Rowe arrived at the right moment to turn it past Nathan Ashmore. Slick in midfield and quick to get the ball forward, the Shots always looked capable of mounting another dangerous attack but were happy instead to surrender territory as Fleet pressed for an equaliser.
Kenny Clark headed a Chris Bush delivery into the goalkeeper’s arms and McQueen almost beat Cole as he turned a shot into the side netting, though the flag would have denied him a goal anyway. Come the half-hour mark and Fleet enjoyed a decent spell of pressure. First Bush met a Jack Powell free-kick but his header was scrambled behind and then Sam Magri twice got on the end of Bush’s long throws only to be denied. Another Powell free-kick just before half-time was pushed away at the foot of his post by the goalkeeper but Fleet had to go in at the break a goal behind.
The home side picked up where they’d left off for a short spell but the Shots were efficient in defence and tidy in midfield and were able to take what the Fleet threw at them.
On 49 minutes, Jake Gallagher arrived to meet a ball 25 yards out and cracked a superb shot on target that curled away and Ashmore made an equally excellent save as he can’t have seen it until the last moment.
Four minutes later came Fleet’s best move of the game as McQueen’s pace got him clear of two defenders and his shot was only parried by Cole but then hooked clear of the line by Callum Reynolds. The Fleet striker got away again a minute later from Ashmore’s lengthy kick upfield, in similar style to his goal at Dover, but this time pulled his shot wide.
But the Shots began to contain those attacks and force chances of their own. On 60 minutes Jim Kellermann was afforded too much space in midfield and almost upset Ashmore with an awkward shot that zipped along the slippery surface but the Fleet keeper was down well. Then McClure should have done better with a cross after the Fleet defence had twice failed to clear their lines but his shot at Ashmore was poor.
Reynolds sent another shot just wide before Aldershot extended their lead on 66 minutes. From the right, Adam McDonnell sent in a free-kick that bounced to the far post where Rendell managed to sweep it over the line with the help of either the post or a deflection in a crowded six-yard box.
Fleet continued to see plenty of the ball but they couldn’t really test the Shots back line. Magri attacked twice down the right and substitute Myles Weston tried to inject some guile from the flank but, on this occasion, a 2-0 deficit proved too big a mountain to climb.
EUFC: Ashmore, Magri, Clark, Bush, Coulson, Payne, Rance (Mills 65), Powell (Drury 72mins), Cook (Weston 82), Kedwell, McQueen. Subs not used: Connors, Miles.
ATFC: Cole, Alexander, Rendell, McClure, Gallagher, Kellermann (Robert 82), Rowe, McDonnell, Arthur, Fowler, Reynolds. Subs not used: Wrightman, Bozier, Smith, Kirwan