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Ebbsfleet United 2 Chelmsford City 1 National League South play-off final match report

By Steve Tervet

Ebbsfleet are back in the National League after winning an incredible play-off final.

Fleet conceded first to Chelmsford after having Anthony Cook sent-off in the first half but they turned the game around with two goals in the space of four minutes late on.

Dave Winfield headed them level before Darren McQueen scored the goal which sent Ebbsfleet back to non-league's top flight for the first time since 2013.

Ebbsfleet celebrate promotion to the National League Picture: Andy Payton

Danny Kedwell started for the first time since since breaking his arm on April 8 as Fleet boss Daryl McMahon sprang a major surprise with his team selection. Club captain Kedwell partnered Aaron McLean in attack for the first time since September with midfielder Jack Powell the man to make way.

Kedwell was one of five survivors from last season's play-off final, alongside Nathan Ashmore, Kenny Clark, Dean Rance and Sam Deering, who was appearing in his third successive play-off final - having also played for Whitehawk against Boreham Wood in the 2015 showpiece.

Cook, picked to start on the left wing, was left out a year ago but was in the Fleet side beaten 1-0 by Dover here in the 2014 final.

A cagey opening saw Fleet snapping into tackles, pressing hard and suffocating Chelmsford moves at source.

The first opening came when Ashmore's long kick was flicked on well by Kedwell although McLean was flagged offside as he got his shot away.

Kedwell looked to have the measure of Chelmsford's defenders in the air. He beat Chris Bush to the next header and McLean knocked the ball on further for Deering, although the assistant's flag went up again.

Aaron McLean battles for the ball in the play-off final Picture: Andy Payton

City went close on 16 minutes when Shaun Jeffers' shot from 20 yards deflected just wide although Fleet dealt with the resulting corner.

But the opening exchanges were full of misplaced passes and heavy touches with the occasion weighing heavy on both teams.

When Rance was fouled 30 yards from the Chelmsford goal, Kedwell put his foot through the free-kick but failed to hit the target.

Deering chased a through-ball and crossed for McLean but when he in turn teed up Kedwell, the Fleet skipper made a poor connection with his shot and Ross Fitzsimons saved easily.

Ebbsfleet then survived a couple of scares at the other end. Louie Theophanous was denied by a brilliant Clark challenge before Ashmore pushed out a Mark Haines header at his near post. The same player had a shot blocked in the scramble which followed and Jeffers also had a crack.

Drury fired a free-kick into the wall and Jeffers was thwarted by Winfield at the other end but a tense game was drifting towards half-time until the final exploded in controversy on the stroke of half-time.

Cook lunged for a loose ball in the centre circle, caught Josh Rees late and players from both sides piled in, with Michael Spillane pushing Cook to the floor. Referee Richard Hulme took his time before showing Cook the red card, with Spillane only booked.

Anthony Cook walks off after being shown the red card Picture: Andy Payton

McMahon changed things at half-time, sending Powell on for Kedwell to bolster the midfield.

But the visitors almost broke the deadlock when Chris Dickson ran in behind and forced an excellent diving save from Ashmore.

Sensing their side were really up against it now, the home fans really cranked up the volume and Ebbsfleet responded. Deering's magical turn left two opponents for dead but his low shot, although powerful, was straight at Fitzsimons.

Powell saw a shot deflect just wide and Dave Winfield headed over from the resulting corner but Chelmsford took the lead on 55 minutes. Bagasan Graham, roaming forward from left-back, let fly from 25 yards and his low shot snaked all the way into the bottom corner.

Stunned, the home side almost conceded again. Theophanous fired into the side netting with Ashmore at full-stretch before Jeffers almost punished a poor pass from Rance in midfield.

Fleet missed a golden chance when Deering turned Marvin McCoy's low cross wide from inside the six-yard box but then came unbelievable drama.

The magnificent Deering stood up a great cross on 72 minutes and Winfield powered a header past Fitzsimons to make it 1-1.

Dave Winfield (wearing armband) heads in the equaliser Picture: Andy Payton

Four minutes later, Fleet were in front.

Deering spread play right to Drury and his sublime volleyed cross was touched in by substitute Darren McQueen to send Stonebridge Road wild.

Dickson sent a late shot over but Ebbsfleet held on and the final whistle sparked a joyous pitch invasion from three sides of the ground.

Fleet owner Dr Abdulla Al-Humaidi, over from Kuwait to watch the final, walked around the pitch and took the applause of the fans before McMahon and Kedwell lifted the trophy together to really get the party started.

Ebbsfleet: Ashmore, Cook, Connors, McCoy, Winfield, Clark, Rance (McQueen 70mins), Drury, Kedwell (Powell 46mins), McLean, Deering (Mambo 83mins). Subs not used: Miles, Shields.

Chelmsford: Fitzsimons, Haines, Graham (Buchanan 87mins), Porter, Bush, Spillane, Willmott, Rees (Church 82mins), Theophanous, Dickson, Jeffers (Daley 82mins). Subs not used: Hill, Johnson.

Attendance: 3,134.

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