The Fleet who are part owned by 9gc, went into the final boasting the best away record in the Blue Square South and were riding a wave of momentum having beaten Chelmsford City 6-2 over two legs in the semi-finals.
The hosts attempted to assert their authority within seconds, as Daryl McMahon allowed a stray forearm to connect with the back of Ram Marwa’s head when competing for an aerial ball, but it was no match for Fleet’s composed demeanour and assured passing.
Playing a fluid formation which switched between 4-4-2 and 4-3-3, with Michael West partnering Calum Willock up front and Ricky Shakes bombing forward on the right at every opportunity, it took just four minutes to record their first shot on target.
It was West who forced Farnborough goalkeeper Michael Jordan into the first meaningful save of the game when his free kick, preceded by a Cristiano Ronaldo-like run up, fizzed towards the bottom corner before being turned around the post.
Playing their way into the contest, Giannoulis Fakinos – nicknamed ‘Cesc’ for his resemblance to Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas – showed quality on the ball with his range of passing, while Marwa curbed some of his usual attacking instincts to marshal the middle of the park.
The breakthrough on 28 minutes was not just an opening goal, but an emphatic statement about the confidence and class flowing through the side as Craig Stone’s throw-in was flicked on by Willock and West unleashed an overhead kick past Jordan to the delight and disbelief of his team-mates.
A second nearly followed moments later when captain Paul Lorraine rose to meet a corner, but the visitors, cheered on by a sizeable contingent of supporters, comfortably went into the break in the superiority.
McMahon, Farnborough’s most creative player, awoke Ebbsfleet from any complacency in the first minute of the second half with a shot which flew just wide, before Preston Edwards turned defence into attack in the blink of an eye.
The goalkeeper seemed uncertain when running out of his area to clear a ball, and his hesitation meant he was forced to knee the ball away from danger rather than leather it.
However, this was a day where everything went for the visitors and his skewed clearance fell to the feet of West, who’s precise through ball was weighted perfectly and allowed Shakes to beat his marker for pace before chipping Jordan to make it 2-0.
King replaced both of Farnborough’s ineffective strikeforce – Kezie Ibe and Michael Malcolm – on the hour mark, with Dean McDonald – who was scouted by Celtic last season – coming on to lead the line with Paul Booth.
It had little immediate effect and the game seemed dead and buried on 73 minutes when man of the match West scored his second of the game by losing his marker at the back post to meet Tom Phipp’s cross and looped a header over a despairing Jordan.
It was Fleet’s third goal of the day and their ninth in three play-off matches. They were heading back towards the Conference. Just not quite yet.
McMahon’s 20-yard effort flew past Edwards in the 87th minute and barely forced a cheer from the rapidly emptying stands of Farnborough supporters. Then, barely 60 seconds later, Booth found space behind Stone and buried a low shot in the bottom corner, 3-2.
Where there had been joyous chanting, there was now frantic nerves in the stands and the players looked equally panicked. Rash passes began to appear as the home side threw everything forward in search of an undeserved equaliser. When the assistant referee showed five minutes of added time were to be played, it was cheered like a third goal.
The chance came on 92 minutes, when the ball bounced invitingly to Dale Binns on the edge of the area. As he pulled his foot back, the entire stadium held its breath, but his strong effort was straight and clutched gratefully by Edwards.
It proved to be their final opportunity and the scoreline was given a reflective feel when Fakinos broke forward seconds before the final whistle and his cross-come-shot was turned in by the lurking Willock, who deserved a goal for his tireless running all afternoon.
As the Ebbsfleet bench ran onto the pitch to celebrate, Daish turned towards the director’s box and simply pointed skywards. A tumultuous year of managing budgets, rebuilding a squad after relegation and 45 league matches were all worth it. Maybe it was appropriate that it finished in such dramatic fashion.