Jack Powell’s two-goal salvo earned Fleet a memorable double over Maidstone United as Daryl McMahon’s side made a mockery of recent troubles with a bright display at the Gallagher Stadium to cheer the 422 travelling fans. It was Fleet’s third win in succession at the Gallagher after 2015/16’s two victories in the league and Kent Senior Cup.
McMahon handed a debut to new signing Lawrie Wilson and he slotted in at right-back while Jack Payne also started, meaning Myles Weston and Chris Bush dropped to the bench. Maidstone’s new signing from Oldham Athletic, Darius Osei, was named on their bench.
Fleet were certainly brighter than on Saturday against Chester and the high level up the pitch from which Wilson combined with Sean Shields was a positive note as the debutant bedded straight in. The first half was short on clear-cut opportunities for both sides but they strove to entertain and each enjoyed periods in the ascendancy.
Fleet began well and Jack Powell got up to Shields’ far post cross to head behind via a deflection and the visitors forced a couple of early corners, with Dave Winfield volleying another decent effort from a cross that Maidstone again needed to clear behind.
The visitors were enjoying the early exchanges and Sam Magri rifled a low shot into the box from distance before then receiving a caution minutes later for hauling down Pigott as he looked to advance.
Maidstone picked up from the 10-minute mark and Joe Anderson was left too much room at the far post from a corner but that was scrambled away and then Jamar Loza proved a nuisance, twisting inside Wilson to win a corner that Joe Pigott headed into the side netting.
On 19 minutes, Danny Kedwell sprinted on to Powell’s free-kick inside the six-yard box but defenders and goalkeeper Lee Worgan managed to shut him down. Fleet enjoyed a good spell before the half-hour mark, keeping Maidstone penned into their own half with Andy Drury picking up plenty of second ball just in front of the midfield.
But Maidstone will perhaps feel they should have opened the scoring on 35 minutes as Fleet almost gifted them a goal. Wilson’s ill-judged free-kick across his own box went astray and Loza was on to it in a flash, breaking in between Fleet’s back line and as he shaped to let fly, Winfield’s timely block was crucial.
That unsettled the Fleet for a period and Maidstone closed out the first-half strongly, finding Winfield in particular a tough nut to crack as he got in several more blocks on the edge of his box. But it remained goalless, a fair state of play as both sides went into the break with plenty of positives.
Jay Saunders’ message would no doubt have been to keep it tight but within a minute of the restart, his side conceded, much of it through their own poor distribution. Shields scampered down the wing and his cross wasn’t dealt with, Seth Twumasi diverting the ball straight into Powell’s path on the edge of the box. The Fleet midfielder steadied himself as he can’t have expected to take possession there and rather than crash a shot goalwards as might have been the temptation, he picked a spot in the bottom corner and almost apologetically rolled it past Worgan for 1-0.
The lead lasted eight minutes and in that time, Fleet looked confident, stroking the ball around midfield, Drury picking out short passes that kept the Stones busy in their own half. But in a sudden burst of energy at the other end, the home side were level. On 54 minutes, Pigott was found buzzing around the Fleet box and as he spread play wide to Twumasi, a deep cross was delivered back along the penalty area and Joe Anderson got up well to deliver a powerful header decisively beyond Nathan Ashmore.
The noise level went up as the home fans sensed a second goal and Fleet did well to shackle a Stones side with renewed vigour, Pigott in particular proving a threat whereas Loza had been the main source of irritation for the defence in the first half.
But Fleet took the pressure off themselves on the hour mark and again had Maidstone’s poor distribution to thank. Reece Prestedge played a sloppy ball out of defence and it was gobbled up by Drury who slipped a fine through ball into Powell. The No.7 still had plenty to do but he eased through the gap and again rather than blast it, he chose the same corner to roll a shot past Worgan that may have taken a touch to help it on its way.
The home side struggled to rouse themselves the way they had after the first goal though Drury had to scamper back quickly to deny Prestdege while at the other end, Kedwell’s turn and shot warmed the hands of Worgan. It went end to end for a spell and Josh Hare pulled a header wide while Fleet were momentarily down to 10 men, before Pigott lashed a 30-yard free-kick just over the bar. A flurry of substitutions failed to have any impact on the game and though Fleet invited a little pressure, the Stones were unable to mount a grandstand finish, Luke Coulson in particular taking the pressure off with a number of well-timed clearances and breaks upfield, while Jack Payne broke up the route to goal in the middle of the park.
McMahon had hinted this might be the ideal game to lift the spirits after a slow start to 2018 and the reaction of the 422 fans behind the goal certainly seemed to suggest he’d got that one right.
EUFC: Ashmore, Wilson, Winfield, Clark, Magri, Drury, Payne, Coulson, Powell (Rance 85), Shields (Weston 80), Kedwell. Subs not used: McLean, Jordan, Bush
MUFC: Worgan, Twumasi, Okuonghae (Sam-Yorke 78), Wynter, Anderson, Prestedge (Paxman 81), Hare, Lewis, Reason, Loza (Osei 78), Pigott. Subs not used: Wraight, ter Horst.
Attendance: 2,396 (422 away)