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Ebbsfleet United 0 Chesterfield 1 match report: Chesterfield go top of the National League

Another excellent display from Ebbsfleet keeper Mark Cousins was unable to prevent his team from defeat against title favourites Chesterfield on Saturday.

It needed a late goal from Armando Dobra to break the deadlock and put the visitors top of the National League table.

Mark Cousins. Wealdstone v Ebbsfleet United, National League, 10 September 2023. Picture: Ed Miller/EUFC
Mark Cousins. Wealdstone v Ebbsfleet United, National League, 10 September 2023. Picture: Ed Miller/EUFC

With captain Chris Solly suspended, the Fleet welcomed back Dominic Poleon from international duty but few would have predicted that boss Dennis Kutrieb would end up with seven changes from the side beaten at Wealdstone last weekend.

Kutrieb was missing from the touchline as he served a one-game ban having reached three yellow cards already this season under the new technical area misconduct rules.

Whether it was the changes or Kutrieb’s absence on the touchline, the Fleet started slowly as a fluid Chesterfield had four good openings inside the first 10 minutes to go ahead.

Poleon was booked inside three minutes for a foul when he claimed to have won the ball.

Chesterfield hit the woodwork on four minutes, a low cross by Ryan Colclough found Michael Jacobs in the box but his shot came back off the woodwork to Liam Mandeville, whose follow-up was diverted behind for a corner.

It took the Fleet 22 minutes to register an effort at goal, they beat the press from the edge of their own penalty area and a flowing move saw the ball worked to Omari Sterling-James on the left wing. He cut inside and curled his right-foot shot just wide of the upright from 20 yards.

The Fleet nearly pressed the self-destruct button moments later when they conceded possession cheaply but Jacobs was unable to pick out Will Griggs in the box.

Chesterfield’s front three showed good movement and they worked the ball around well, dominating possession and territory. But the Fleet defended well as a team, clearing most balls into their penalty area and keeping their shape well.

Jacobs was booked before the half-hour for a late challenge on Sterling-James, a challenge that would later cost him.

Chesterfield continued to have more of the play but they didn’t hurt the Fleet until Cousins had to produce an impressive save to turn behind Colclough’s low drive just before the break.

The same pattern followed in the second half, the match resembling a chess game at times as Chesterfield moved their pieces around and the Fleet kept blocking each move.

The chances were still created, though. Jacobs hit the post again with a left-foot shot before Jamie Grimes’ header against his former club was diverted behind for a corner.

Cousins produced a couple of fine saves to deny first Dobra and then Grigg, the loose ball from the second opening brilliantly blocked by a hobbling O’Neill in his final act before injury cut short his afternoon.

It was turning into another masterclass from Cousins as he turned away Jacobs’ free-kick before an even better stop denied Mandeville as he twisted his way in from the right. Then he brilliantly saved Tyrone Williams’ far-post header from the resulting corner.

Grigg headed over from a free-kick before he was replaced with 10 minutes left by former Maidstone forward Joe Quigley.

Chesterfield finally made their dominance count with seven minutes left, substitute James Berry crossed from the left and the unmarked Dobra swept the ball in from close range. Fleet defender Joe Martin was booked for his protests as he appeared to be fouled off the ball in the build-up by Dobra, the man he was marking.

Ebbsfleet, who had hardly got out of their half in the second period, pushed bodies forward in an attempt to force an equaliser, but substitute Ben Chapman’s goalbound shot was blocked.

Chesterfield were reduced to 10 men when Jacobs got a second yellow card for timewasting in the second minute of stoppage time.

The Fleet nearly produced an equaliser when Wright’s near-post header went over from Tanner’s corner in the 95th minute but Chesterfield were worthy winners on the day.

Ebbsfleet: Cousins, O’Neill (Chapman 62mins), White, Hollis, Martin, Sterling-James (McQueen 83mins), Cisse, Wright, Tanner, Amoo (Edser 73mins), Poleon. Subs not used: Clifford, Coulthirst.

Chesterfield: Tyrer, Mandeville, Williams, Grimes, Freckleton, Naylor, Jones, Jacobs, Dobra (Banks 90mins), Colclough (Berry 77mins), Grigg (Quigley 80mins). Subs not used: Palmer, Curtis.

Referee: Paul Johnson.

Attendance: 2,063 (347 away).

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