Fleet mustered only their second ever draw at Sutton as a strong defensive second-half shut out the home side in what Daryl McMahon had accurately predicted would be a battle that his players had to stand up to.
And stand up they did as central defenders Yado Mambo and Kenny Clark both cleared efforts off the line in an often frantic second period after a somewhat more balanced first half. Mambo was one of several changes, with Sam Magri returning alongside Anthony Cook and Luke Coulson. Out went Marvin McCoy, Myles Weston, Jack Connors and Sean Shields. Febian Brandy was also named on the bench.
Fleet’s best chance of the entire game arrived inside the first minute when Danny Kedwell touched a ball wide to Cook whose cross meandered its way through to Coulson just outside the six-yard box and with the Sutton defence undone, they were fortunate that Jamie Butler managed to block the shot.
While the visitors didn’t get such a clear look at goal again, from the eager start it was already evident it was a better performance than that delivered on Tuesday.
But Sutton didn’t take too long to get into gear and Ross Lafayette led the line well. Josh Taylor’s 7th minute corner picked out Tommy Wright whose shot flashed across goal. Minutes later a ball from midfield ran under Clark’s feet to Lafayette in a dangerous position on the edge of the box but he was almost as surprised as Clark and reached for it too late.
Fleet were still breaking with purpose but Sutton were carving out the more meaningful chances and on 17 minutes Kieron Cadogan got the ball at his feet with sight of goal but the off-target effort should have been better.
The game got a little heated on the half-hour mark and Taylor saw yellow for a kick at the back of Cook’s legs with referee Alan Dale making several decisions that earned him the displeasure of the home fans. Wright then threatened for Sutton with a mazy run from the edge of his own box to the edge of the Fleet’s but he rather lost his way and Clark was able to clear before Lafayette could pounce.
At the other end, Jack Powell’s attempted lob as he turned on to a ball forward from a free-kick was clever but ambitious and it didn’t trouble Butler too much. Sutton were upping the pressure a little from set pieces and Nicky Bailey sent in several deliveries that Ashmore had to either punch clear or claim. Fleet still looked to unlock the home side on the counter and three minutes before half-time almost did that when Kedwell received a ball to feet but with little support could only fire across Butler’s goal.
Fleet would have been pleased enough with their first 45 minutes but had their work cut out as Paul Doswell sent his men out with a message to attack.
Sutton’s renewed intent was clear from the first moments of the second half but they wasted the first of several gilt-edged opportunities three minutes in. A ball in from the right sat up perfectly for former Fleet loanee Louis John and he seemed certain to hit the target but his shot didn’t beat Ashmore and took a touch as it flew over the bar.
Sutton kept plugging away and Fleet had no real outlet as they had to defend inside their own half but it was enough to frustrate the home side who soon rang the changes, with Lafayette and Taylor making way on the hour. Substitute Aswad Thomas made a difference out wide and top scorer Wright was able to play further forward and the yellow shirts began to pour towards the Fleet box.
Anthony Jeffrey whipped in a low delivery on 63 minutes that flashed across goal with Ashmore at a stretch and then Wright burst through the middle, grappling with Clark who eventually saw the ball to safety with some strong defending, though he had vociferous home appeals for a foul ringing in his ears.
Four minutes later, more pressure on the visitors’ goal saw Ashmore only half clear and Kenny Davis struck a shot on target, away from the Fleet goalkeeper, that Mambo had to smash off the line.
Ashmore made a fine stop from Cadogan whose pacy effort from distance was pushed around the post before Doswell threw on former Welling top scorer Adam Coombes to bulk up his rampant attack.
Fleet had little respite but Sutton still had to be wary to a counter-attack and substitute Weston sent a deceptive shot on to the roof of the net that dipped at the last moment.
There was one last charge by the home side who were desperate to turn possession into goals. Thomas landed another cross at the feet of John on 78 minutes but again he was halted by a quick hand from Ashmore and two minutes later another cross was fired towards the corner of the goalmouth but this time it was Clark well positioned on the line to do his duty and clear.
Sutton continued to press but seemed to have run out of ideas in the last six or seven minutes. Coombes wasted a free-kick close in by smashing it low into the Fleet wall before a late corner was eventually blazed over.
Fleet might even have nicked it just before stoppage time when Weston broke down the left and found Cook. With substitute Brandy in space and appealing for a pass, however, Cook’s aim was askew and the ball flew wide.
Sutton had to settle for a point and Fleet’s rearguard was certainly the toast of the travelling supporters with the shift they put in. McMahon will have been delighted with the real team effort that earned a point and a clean sheet.
EUFC: Ashmore, Magri, Bush (McCoy 83), Clark, Mambo, Cook, Rance, Drury, Coulson (Weston 65), Powell (Brandy 88), Kedwell. Subs not used: Miles, Mills
SUFC: Butler, Beckwith, John, Collins, Davis, Lafayette (Thomas 60), Cadogan, Dundas, Bailey, Wright (Coombes 76), Taylor (Jeffrey 60). Subs not used: Spence, Walton