Fleet won the battle for third place which takes them into an extended semi-final campaign as the curtain closed on the 2021/22 regular season at the Kuflink Stadium this afternoon.
Goals from Sido Jombati – his first for the club – and Rakish Bingham were enough to see Fleet overtake Chelmsford and their response from the late Charlie Sheringham, which meant that the seven goals Dartford managed at Eastbourne ultimately made little luck as Dennis Kutrieb’s side. secured third place with two points to spare.
The last Fleet team to finish third at this level was the promotion squad from 2010/11 – four of whose squad members were present at an ex-player parade – and that Fleet team will now look to emulate that, starting on Sunday against eliminator winner Dartford-Chippenham.
Kutrieb made five changes as Chris Solly, Sido Jombati, Jack Paxman, Elliott Romain and Rakish Bingham returned to the starting lineup against a Chelmsford side that included former Fleet striker Sheringham.
And the visitors, who have nothing to play for, clearly didn’t feel that with an attacking formation that started out positively, Fleet understandably a little hesitant in the early spells. It was the Fleet, however, who got the first chance when Player of the Year Ben Chapman came forward from the right and crossed for Romain who saw his effort blocked in the box.
Chelmsford went even closer at 12 minutes when Deon Moore fired a shot from 30 yards which sped just wide and followed with Simeon Jackson on the counter attack providing Tom Blackwell for a big effort which was crushed to Moulden with some strength.
There was little pace in the first half and when Fleet found a pass behind the Chelmsford line, such as Paxman’s shot on Chapman’s delivery in the 23rd minute, a lack of power made it easier for Kai McKenzie -Lyle in goal. The same applied when Paxman’s pass inside Craig Tanner allowed him to see the target, but he was dismissed by Ade Oluwo with half-hearted cries for a penalty.
Paxman was the provider on the half hour mark again, this time for Shaq Coulthirst who launched an underpowered effort towards goal which McKenzie-Lyle almost misjudged before stretching to touch it for a corner.
Fleet’s best effort of the half came with Romain’s 32nd-minute shot in front of goal before Tanner played Bingham, but the Fleet No.9 had it off on the wrong foot and could only return the ball outside. Coulthirst ended the half with two small chances, but it was no surprise things were scoreless at the break.
They shouldn’t have stayed that way in the first minute after the restart as Tanner unleashed a shot that looked goal-bound before he was somehow blocked by Louis Dunne as he raced towards the goal.
And with news that Dartford were racking up the goals on the south coast, Fleet struck at the right time to ease any angst on the terraces. The first goal came in the 49th minute, Tanner’s delivery into the mix met by Jombati’s header from a shot as Fleet found success from a free-kick.
And one became two four minutes later. It was Bingham who took all the credit, racing into space as Wood’s ball bounced off a Chelmsford header outside the box. Bingham’s quick shimmy as Coulthirst fired the defense with him opened the gap to dispatch a clinical effort into the bottom corner for 2-0.
It looked like the home team could head to full time with that two-goal cushion. A flurry of substitutions brought the game to a halt, although Moulden had to be vigilant to tip substitute Freddie Hockey’s cross.
With most of Chelmsford’s half chances clearing the bar, there didn’t seem to be too much danger in the air until, 20 minutes later, City sub Dara Dada pounced on possession by Alfie Egan and have room to cross to present Sheringham with a simple tap-in.
It was a long final period as the Fleet supporters waited full time, although in truth their team had few real scare moments except that Hockey was kicked out of the Fleet defense to find Moulden in good form.
And that was the end of Fleet’s 75th anniversary season… apart, of course, from the small matter of next Sunday’s play-off semi-final which will either be a tantalizing North Kent derby or a quick repeat visit of Chippenham Town.
CFEU: Moulden, Solly, Jombati, Wood, N’Guessan, Chapman, Paxman, Tanner (L.Martin 67), Romain (Egan 64), Bingham, Coulthirst (Poleon 56). Subs: Domi, Haigh
CCFC: McKenzie-Lyle, James, Oluwo, Blackwell (Norton 88) Dunne, Isaac, Vaz, Moore, Sheringham, Rush (Dada 67), Jackson (Hockey 55). Unused subtitles: Frimpong, Simpson