Luke Coulson came off the bench to blast home a winner and hand Ebbsfleet the first win at the Kuflink Stadium in 2018. More importantly, it ended a run of five games without a win, four without a goal and earned a clean sheet into the bargain.
It was Coulson’s fifth league goal and sixth in all competitions and saw Fleet move up two places to 10th.
Daryl McMahon sprung an unexpected name into the starting lineup as Kenny Clark’s swift recovery saw him back in defence while Jack Connors and Jack Powell also earned recalls, meaning Coulson and Chris Bush dropped to the bench and Marvin McCoy sat this one out.
In damp, windy conditions, it was little surprise that neither team flew out of the traps. Solihull were content to feel their way into the game after a run of great form in 2018 while Fleet set up determined not to concede in the early stages as had been the case against Boreham Wood and Tranmere.
Connors looked eager to take his chance and he was probably one of the Fleet’s most attacking outlets for the first half an hour, linking well with Myles Weston ahead of him. Four minutes in, quick feet from Danny Kedwell saw Connors peel off out wide to return the pass into the box where the ball just ran clear as Kedwell tried to direct a header.
Neither set of forward players really got behind their men in the opening stages and it took until the quarter-hour mark for Fleet to mount another meaningful attack when a quick-thinking one-two between Weston and Lawrie Wilson saw the latter surge into the box but he couldn’t control the pass and the chance was gone.
Solihull didn’t threaten Nathan Ashmore’s goal though Jermaine Hylton was a handful for the Fleet defence and Sam Magri and Connors had to get in the way of two shots as the visitors looked capable of getting behind the line of red. At the other end, Kedwell led a counterattack from midfield and spread play out left to Powell who in turn found Connors. The full-back got his cross in again as Kedwell carried on his run but his lunge didn’t connect with the ball.
The visitors’ first effort of intent came when skipper Darren Carter whipped in an excellent free-kick from the left that skidded along the six-yard line but Kwame Thomas scooped it wide at the far post.
Fleet began to increase the pace from the half-hour mark and it livened a drab game up a little. Powell’s free-kick was more anticipation than execution as he hit the Solihull wall before Connors had the best chance to open the scoring on 35 minutes, as a low cross from the right saw him well positioned 10 yards out but his first shot was blocked and his second gathered by goalkeeper Max O’Leary.
Dean Rance then dug out a pass on the edge of the box for Weston to hit at goal and Solihull only survived that as Fiacre Kelleher cleared the ball against his own goalkeeper and saw a lucky connection find its way out of the penalty area.
Solihull were brighter immediately after the restart and Fleet had to regroup after a series of miskicks and miscommunication in defence. Clark, Winfield and Ashmore seemed to be confused as to who was picking up one long ball forward and as Clark awaited some help, Yussuf almost nipped in on goal. But the home side gradually began to assert themselves. Weston and Rance broke upfield and a pass wide to Connors had the Solihull defence back-pedalling but Connors lingered too long and Weston then sent a shot off target as the ball came back across to him.
Weston laid a header on for Kedwell who turned to shoot but saw Liam Daly divert the ball behind for a corner. Fleet were in the ascendancy possession-wise but they couldn’t get past a solid Solihull back line and it was difficult to see where a goal was coming from. Andy Drury and Coulson were sent on at the hour point and the latter made the crucial breakthrough 12 minutes later.
A pass from midfield landed nicely for Rance who advanced inside the box but found his path to goal blocked. He turned about, found Coulson in support behind him and the substitute opened up his body and let fly from 25 yards, seeing the ball rise and whistle beyond O’Leary to send the goal-starved home supporters into raptures.
Kedwell could have extended the lead with the next attack, charging down a ponderous Daly before sprinting clear on goal from 40 yards but with the Solihull defence gaining on him, Kedwell was unable to steer the ball past full back Kieran Green.
The visitors didn’t mount much of a response on Ashmore’s goal, a couple of corners creating a few tense moments and Ashmore did well to beat substitute Alex Reid to a pass through the middle. Coulson continued to torment at the other end, cutting in twice from the byline to attempt crosses, and he sent another shot from similar distance to his goal skidding just wide of the foot of the far post as Fleet held on to their precious 1-0 lead.
EUFC: Ashmore, Magri, Connors (Coulson 59), Clark, Winfield, Rance, Payne, Wilson, Powell (Drury 59), Weston, Kedwell. Subs not used: Jordan, Bubb, Bush.
SMFC: O’Leary, Green, Reckord, Daly, Kelleher, Carter (Edwards 77), Storer (Carline 90), Osborne, Yussuf (Reid 62), Hylton, Thomas. Subs not used: Williams, Green, Carline.