Published: 21:30, 30 April 2014 |
Updated: 00:13, 01 May 2014
Ebbsfleet have one foot in the Skrill South play-off final after beating Bromley 4-0 on Wednesday night.
Ben May gave the home side a second-minute lead at Stonebridge Road and Bromley were forced to play for 80 minutes with 10 men when Ashley Nicholls gave away a penalty - which Billy Bricknell scored - by handling on the goal line.
Joe Howe made it 3-0 on the hour mark and Daryl McMahon then scored 10 minutes from the end to surely put the semi-final beyond Bromley ahead of the second leg at Hayes Lane on Saturday.
Bromley scored more goals than any other Skrill South side during the regular season but they were unable to find a way past Preston Edwards and his Fleet defence, who were outstanding from start to finish.
Ebbsfleet's team effectively picked itself, with Steve Brown recalling the players he rested against Dorchester on Saturday. His only selection dilemna was up front, where May was chosen to partner Bricknell.
Brown would have wanted his side to make a good start, but what happened from the kick-off surely surprised even the Fleet manager.
There were only 65 seconds on the clock when McMahon's scuffed right-wing corner travelled all the way through the box and was touched in by May on the goal line.
Bromley were stunned - but things were about to get even worse for the men in white shirts.
McMahon's next corner caused mayhem in the six-yard box and after former Ebbsfleet keeper Joe Welch had touched one shot against the bar, a second effort was blocked on the goal line. Referee Nigel Lugg spotted a handball and - after deliberation with his assistant - showed Nicholls the red card, although there was some debate about whether he had dismissed the right player.
The delay failed to knock Bricknell's concentration and a huge roar went up around the ground when he sent Welch the wrong way from 12 yards to make it 2-0.
Tempers flared moments later when Bricknell caught Joe Anderson late on the touchline. The Bromley staff leapt to their feet, demanding a red card, but Mr Lugg showed Bricknell yellow.
Bromley looked in trouble whenever the Fleet counter-attacked. Bricknell's excellent volleyed pass sent Anthony Cook racing into space down the left wing and he cut in before shooting wide.
The visitors had a handball shout of their own waved away at the other end before Brendan Kiernan - who looked offside by some distance - had a shot deflected onto the roof of the net.
Bromley were seeing more and more of the ball as the first half wore on, but still they looked susceptible to the quick break. What saved them was some poor decision-making by the Fleet, who might have been further ahead at the break if they'd used the ball more wisely.
The men in red were straight on the attack at the start of the second half. May had a shot well blocked after Alex Osborn had played a smart pass into his feet. And a heavy touch from Dean Pooley allowed Cook to pick his pocket and surge into the box, although his low cross was scrambled clear.
Jay May tried his luck from 25 yards at the other end but he failed to trouble Edwards.
Bromley were getting on top but they couldn't pierce the well-drilled Fleet defence.
And they were about to concede again. Edwards started the attack when he punched a high cross out of his box and Dean Rance spread play wide to Osborn. His shot was blocked but Howe pounced on the rebound, taking a touch and sweeping the ball into the net with his left foot.
Bromley were really rocking and rolling now. Cook ran 50 yards and shot over before May went close from the edge of the box.
The visitors won a free-kick just outside the box and Bradley Goldberg hit it, but the wall did its job as the Fleet defence continued to stand strong and stubborn. Edwards had barely been tested when a Jay May header crept towards the far corner, but the goalkeeper sprung to his right to keep the ball out.
Goldberg then got in behind Aiden Palmer but lashed his shot wastefully over.
And that miss was punished moments later when McMahon waltzed past his man on the byline and then scored with a cross-shot which Welch allowed to slip through his fingers.
Pierre Joseph-Dubois had a shot beaten out by Edwards in the final minute - and that save typified the home side's determination to keep an eighth straight clean sheet in front of their own fans. This was also the Fleet's eighth home win in a row and it leaves them completely in the driving seat as far as this semi-final is concerned.
Ebbsfleet: Edwards, Howe, Acheampong, Sankofa, Palmer, Osborn (Sessegnon 89mins), McMahon, Rance, Cook, B May (Thalassitis 82mins), Bricknell (Long 70mins). Subs not used: Huke, Hall.
Bromley: Welch, Pooley, Swaine, Holland, Anderson, Joseph-Dubois, Nicholls, Waldren (Buchanan 70mins), Kiernan (Fuseini 70mins), J May (Higgins 82mins), Goldberg. Subs not used: Parmenter, Dennis.
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