A late winner saw the champions-elect return eastwards with a barely deserved victory after a fine performance from the Peacocks should have earned a share of the spoils. Six months previously Town had been totally outplayed in Kent and crashed to their heaviest League defeat of the season but there was no danger of a repeat scenario at the Cygnet Health Care Stadium where one single goal tinged with the scent of offside proved sufficient to leave the visitors one point away from the National League South title.
It had been a stressful 24 hours leading up to the match after the Cygnet Health Care Stadium pitch had been declared unfit on Friday afternoon, passable with further attention required first thing on matchday and then finally given the green light two hours before kick-off thanks to the sterling efforts of Head Groundsman Rob Hake and team, and the hard work was rewarded with a determined display from a home side showing only one change from the midweek defeat at Hampton, Jake Wannell reverting to the bench and Dylan Morgan restored to the starting line-up.
Attacking the Travis Perkins End, Morgan saw the first sight of goal for the hosts when he drilled a shot over after a Lloyd James’ free kick had been flicked on while another set piece delivery in from James was safely held by Fleet custodian Mark Cousins. A sloppy pass from Joe Guest could have had worse consequences, the visitors breaking but Guest atoned by cutting out the cross from Ben Chapman before Ebbsfleet had their first real opportunity, Josh Wright’s corner finding Billy Clifford at the back post but Town keeper Jack Bycroft safely held his volley.
An even game was developing up until the midway point of the first half but the Peacocks edged the second quarter as they carved out the better openings. A nice flick from Jarvis released Morgan whose cross reached Dave Sims-Burgess, the Town striker turning inside but only managing to find Cousins who continued to be kept busy, clutching a James free kick in from the left before smothering the ball after Jarvis was a peacock’s feather away from connecting with Morgan’s low cross. Fleet meanwhile showed their pedigree going forward, composed in possession and fluent in approach, but they were having no luck against a solid Town backline which denied them a clear chance.
The Peacocks believed they had made the breakthrough five minutes before the interval. Jarvis was pushed down on the left and Cameron Evans met Lee Lucas’ free kick at the far post to direct a great header into the opposite corner. Offside or not offside? The assistant obviously believed yes as his flag cancelled the goal out, but home fans begged to differ.
With the sun now shining over the Cygnet, the League leaders began the second half by winning two corners which proved fruitless. Christian N’Guessan finished off another attack with a shot over the top while Ebbsfleet’s current Player of the Year Chapman was proving a tricky customer out wide, seeing two more of his crosses cleared by the claret and blue rearguard before Chapman’s replacement Omari Sterling-James found the side netting from close range. For all their increased possession though, the visitors continued to be rebuffed by the Peacocks, missing two of their three recognized centre backs. In fact the clearest semblance of an opportunity went Town’s way when a loose Ebbsfleet pass led to a Lucas cross which was cleared to Chamberlain 18 yards out. However he was unable to direct his strike on target.
Knowing a victory would all but clinch the title, the Kent side maintained the momentum towards the Town goal. Toby Edser’s free kick deflected off a Town defender to skim the bar for another corner while two vehement handball appeals were ignored by referee Sandoe. A delay for treatment to Bycroft added to their frustration and when play resumed, Greg Cundle had a strike deflect wide while Bycroft had no trouble gathering Franklin Domi’s shot. The Peacocks remained well capable of springing a late surprise though, the elusive Morgan skipping past several challenges but seeing his effort hit Chris Solly before a run from midfield by Lucas saw him find Jarvis whose rasping drive was pushed away by the experienced Cousins.
There was to be no April Fools however for the team in teal. With the 90 minutes up, a Lucas challenge on Domi resulted in a straight red card and Town were reduced to ten men. Could they hold on for a merited point over six minutes of stoppage time? ‘Yes’ said Bycroft as he got down well to tip Luke O’Neill’s free kick wide at his post, but three minutes into added time came the kick in the guts that the hosts did not deserve. N’Guessan’s drive to the far post was blocked by Bycroft and Fleet’s leading scorer Dominic Poleon was in the right place to find the net for his 33rd League goal of the campaign to send the large away support into raptures. Appeals for offside fell on deaf ears and not having the benefit of video evidence when writing this makes it impossible to confirm one way or the other, or for Town’s first half cancellation for that matter.
Whilst Ebbsfleet showed plenty of class in their football, there was little in the antics of some of their team trying to rile the home side which sparked an unnecessary melee after the final whistle. All rather silly with a 21 point lead at the top of the table but despite being pointless from this game, the Peacocks can take massive heart from a committed display which they will now want to replicate over their nine remaining games starting with the crunch game against Concord in two days’ time.
Taunton: Jack Bycroft, Nick Grimes (captain), Ollie Chamberlain, Lloyd James, Nat Jarvis, Joe Guest, Zac Smith, Cameron Evans, Dave Sims-Burgess, Dylan Morgan, Lee Lucas. Unused subs: Dan Ball, Jake Wannell, Nick McCootie, Ross Stearn, Lloyd Irish
Ebbsfleet: Mark Cousins, Luke O’Neill, Joe Martin (Franklin Domi 68), Josh Wright (Darren McQueen 84), Christian N’Guessan, Dominic Poleon, Greg Cundle, Toby Edser, Billy Clifford, Chris Solly (captain), Ben Chapman (Omari Sterling-James 63). Unused subs: Elliott Romain, Haydn Hollis
Referee: Lewis Sandoe (Christchurch)
Referee’s Assistant 1: James Gould (Plymouth)
Referee’s Assistant 2: James Long (Perranporth)
“We were absolutely magnificent today against the best side in the league by a mile……” watch Rob Dray’s Match Reaction on Peacocks TV HERE
Match highlights can be seen on Peacocks TV HERE
Match photos from Club Photographers Debbie Gould can be viewed HERE
Mind In Somerset MOM
Ollie Chamberlain receives the Taunton Town Man Of The Match award from the family of Roy Gordon who sponsored the game against Concord Rangers in his memory