Ebbs And Flows, Before Ash Sinks The Fleet Late On
Acting skipper Ash Palmer’s 86th-minute header secured all three points for County’s first-ever win at struggling Ebbsfleet, following an even contest played in difficult conditions.
Stonebridge Road survived the heavy overnight rain brought to North Kent by Storm Jorge, and a mid-morning pitch inspection enabled the Hatters later to take to the field, under blue skies but in the face of a stiff breeze, for the first time on a February ‘leap day’ since 1992 – when they had been edged out by the odd goal in three at eventual Third Division champions Brentford.
County’s line-up showed just one change from that which had started at Woking a week previously – with Ben Jackson replacing the injured Adam Thomas. Sam Walker was selected for his 100th game as a Hatter – while fellow central midfielder, and captain, Paul Turnbull featured among the substitutes after completing a three-match suspension.
Each side earned an early corner, before Jackson cut in from the left to fashion the afternoon’s first attempt on target – but his shot lacked pace, and was gathered at head height by home goalkeeper Jordan Holmes at the second attempt.
John Goddard then fired into the right side-netting for the hosts, and Palmer deflected behind an effort from leading scorer Gozie Ugwu, ahead of County’s next shots, in the form of a low drive by Sam Minihan and a Walker punt – both from the edge of the box – that Holmes respectively dived to smother and parried beyond the right post.
Walker went closer with eight minutes of the half left when he struck the crossbar – after his initial shot, and McAlinden’s follow-up back heel, had been blocked. And, for the hosts, Adam Mekki drove shy of the right post, before Ugwu headed over following a corner, as half-time approached.
But, in the minute of added time allowed, Walker once again looked to offer the best prospect of breaking the deadlock, as his angled shot from the left was tipped behind by Holmes.
HALF-TIME: Ebbsfleet 0, County 0.
The sky had darkened, and the gusts increased, by the time the teams returned to the fray – although Elliot Osborne almost lit up proceedings in the now-showery conditions just seconds after the resumption, courtesy of a venomous shot that stung Holmes’ hands.
Josh Payne fired a free-kick beyond the left post, Josh Umerah saw his shot from the left pass the opposite upright, and Michael Timlin’s low effort was smothered by Ben Hinchliffe, as Ebbsfleet responded and the sun made a reappearance. Umerah then forced Hinchliffe into another stop, before beating County’s offside trap and drilling wide to the right of goal.
With just over 10 minute remaining, substitute Tomi Adeloye, who had scored for The Fleet in the reverse-fixture draw at Edgeley Park over three months earlier, headed Timlin’s cross towards goal – only for Hinchliffe brilliantly to tip the attempt around the left post.
The Hatters had weathered the storm, both meteorologically speaking and in their own half, when Palmer rose to head home Turnbull’s corner from the left with four minutes of normal time to go and propel his side back into the final play-off position.
FULL-TIME: Ebbsfleet 0, County 1 (Palmer, 86).
Team (5-2-1-2): Hinchliffe; Minihan, Hogan, Palmer (Capt.), Cowan, Jackson; Keane, Walker (Dimaio, 81); Osborne (Turnbull, 63); McAlinden (Bell, 68), Lloyd.
Unused Subs: Ormson, Arthur.
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.