Fleet had to thank Shaq Coulthirst’s opener for three more points as his sixth-minute strike proved the difference on an afternoon when the visitors could have, with better luck and a cleaner finish, made it more comfortable.
But with a clean sheet maintained despite a nerve-wracking final five minutes, Fleet deserved victory after controlling much of the game against a tactile and driven Tonbridge side.
There was only one change in Dennis Kutrieb’s starting line-up when Coulthirst returned and Elliott Romain fell to the bench. For Tonbridge, who was managed by assistant Barry Moore in Steve McKimm’s absence, former Fleet Team player Craig Braham-Barrett filled the left-back spot despite the Angels being without him. top scorer Tommy Wood.
Fleet fans gathered at Longmead on a bright, sunny afternoon and were rewarded within six minutes of the start. Jack Paxman, who had already seen a lot of the ball in such a short time, was kicked in by Louie Moulden and he found Coulthirst on the edge of the box, the striker opening up to shoot across goal and over Jonathan Henly in the far corner. .
Tonbridge had loud claims minutes later when James Taylor’s high ball into the box was challenged by Ricky Modeste and Joe Martin, with the home fans calling for a handball from Martin but the referee waved it off.
Fleet had his own cry in the 17th minute when Paxman fell to Modeste’s challenge, moments after Coulthirst attacked Rakish Bingham for an effort on target which was blocked.
Tonbridge sent most of his attacks towards Joe Turner on the right of the fleet, but it was Modeste in this position who almost equalized in the 22nd minute. Released for a run, he tossed the ball over Chris Solly to fire on goal, with Moulden managing to get his hands on it and Solly backing off as the two showed real courage to keep the home side away.
Tonbridge kept the set piece count up and a 32nd-minute corner kick forced Moulden away from his penalty area while Jombati had to hack Turner’s delivery into the danger zone.
However, Fleet pulled the sting out of the game in the dying moments of the first half but couldn’t disturb Henly despite hardworking Coulthirst’s drastic efforts to hold the ball in the air for his partners to flee.
Fleet went in search of another quick goal early in the second half, with Paxman feeding Poleon for a run and a shot on goal 48 minutes into the game that deflected off the wrong side of the post.
Tonbridge had a better chance four minutes later when Moulden kicked a back pass which wobbled as he clipped it through goal. Turner couldn’t force the ball in but found Smith-Joseph whose targeted effort needed a smart save from the fleet keeper to keep it clear.
Chances continued to be traded and Fleet was the next to warm a goalkeeper’s hands when Bingham launched Coulthirst in pursuit of a forward ball and the goalscorer’s effort was driven on well by Henly.
Tanner advanced on the hour mark and had options on either side of him, but hit a shot well over the bar as Fleet looked for a different path through a strong and well-organised Tonbridge defense. And a minute later, Tanner opted for another red shirt when he slipped a pass to Bingham in the box that went past his marker but trailed his shot just wide of the foot of the post.
Fleet kept the pressure on. Next up was Chapman who was at the end of a Bingham-Coulthirst combination but Henly just stuck an arm on the floor to stop the ball from rolling around him.
Substitute Romain showed up with a low drive that Henly was comfortably behind. Romain then set Poleon up for a run which was blocked before an even better chance 15 minutes from time, with Bingham heeling around the edge of the box and Chapman running for a chance but the ball rolled agonizingly away from the face of the goal.
Most of Tonbridge’s efforts at this time were over the bar or wide as they launched two new frontmen, but how Fleet was not ahead with another attack in the 77th minute, only they will know. Poleon broke up the pitch and extended play to Paxman who passed Henly and tried to drive their shot home but the fans’ heads were in their hands as the ball swung wide.
After using all their substitutes, Tonbridge lost Teddy Perkins to injury with 10 minutes remaining, but with Fleet leading possession they were unable to add that second goal. And it was Tonbridge who almost made them pay when Moulden took a corner kick, the ball was replayed and fired past him but the offside flag was raised.
Five minutes of added time prompted the introduction of Franklin Domi into the fleet defense and with Henly coming from behind there were some anxious moments but the clean sheet – and the three points – were preserved .
CFEU: Moulden, Solly, J.Martin, Jombati, N’Guessan, Chapman, Paxman (Domi 90), Tanner (L.Martin 86), Bingham, Coulthirst (Romain 66), Poleon. Subs: Finney, Haigh
TAFC: Henly, Fielding (Coombes 70), Braham-Barrett, Beere (Olutade 61), Miles, Parkinson, Modeste (Perkins 70), Loft, Taylor, Smith-Joseph, Turner. Subs: Embery, O’Sullivan