Fleet did the job they were asked to do and they did it early but there were no miracles from Margate as Maidenhead United secured the three points they needed to clinch the National League South title. The win over Oxford City gave the club the second highest points total in its history with 96 reached – a number that would have won all bar three previous Conferece/National South titles.
Daryl McMahon made one change, with Dean Rance back on the bench and Darren McQueen coming into the starting XI. And with Fleet keen to exert some early pressure on Maidenhead in the other game, they made the perfect start. After weathering two Oxford City corners, a long punt upfield on four minutes dropped to the feet of McQueen and he held off defender George Essuman to square the ball to Anthony Cook in the middle of the box who arrowed a shot into the roof of the net.
The early goal allowed Fleet to settle into a rhythm and City were second best for much of the remainder of the first half. On eight minutes, Dave Winfield really should have scored his second goal in two games but for some excellent goalkeeping by Craig Hill. A corner to the far post was met by the diving Winfield who saw his on-target effort parried by Hill who then made an equally good follow-up stop when Winfield scrambled to his feet and tried for the rebound.
Fleet kept City pinned in the final third with Sam Deering and Marvin McCoy combining well and bar two half-chances at the other end that didn’t trouble Nathan Ashmore, it was largely one-way traffic. McQueen twice got on the end of balls over the defence but on neither occasion could he quite get them under control, while Jack Powell had two free-kick opportunities that he directed just over the bar.
Winfield got another header into the danger area on 23 minutes and player of the year Kenny Clark was unfortunate to just miss the ball with a diving effort as he attempted to divert it past Hill.
It was Andy Drury’s turn on free-kicks nine minutes from the break and he curled his set piece onto the crossbar and hit the woodwork seven minutes later as a cross dropped for him at the foot of the post but he turned his shot against it.
Fleet were eager in the early stages of the second half and McQueen had the ball in the net seconds after the restart from a Deering delivery but it was ruled out for offside. Moments later Cook was in a similar position and tried to hook the ball over Hill who just about got a hand to it.
But with news filtering through that Maidenhead had added a second and then a third goal at Hartsdown Park, the game fell a little flat and one felt Fleet were just going through the motions. McMahon made wholesale changes with his substitutions, perhaps thinking on to Wednesday’s play-off semi-final, and it allowed Oxford a sniff at Ashmore’s goal finally.
Jefferson Louis sent a header just over the bar after Ashmore failed to collect a cross and then he forced the Fleet goalkeeper into a fine save that tipped the ball over the bar.
The final half hour was fairly pedestrian and Fleet had a couple of chances from crosses that Aaron McLean couldn’t force in, while a late scare in the Fleet box saw a goalmouth scramble eventually claimed by Ashmore.
With the final whistle, the impossible dream may have died but the reality of the play-offs is where the players and fans – who enjoyed a mutual round of applause – must now focus their efforts. It starts at Hampton & Richmond on Wednesday.
EUFC: Ashmore, Cook (Shields 55), Connors (Mambo 61), McCoy, Winfield, Clark, Powell, Drury, McLean, McQueen (Rance 61), Deering. Subs not used: Jordan, Phillips
OCFC: Hill, Poku, Grant, Demuria (Carvalho 64), Essuman, Niate, Fleet, Davies, Louis, Anderson (Furlong 73), Forde (Fondop 64). Subs not used: Peake-Pijnen, Daramola