Basement battle raises questions home and away

If a week’s a long time in football, Fleet fans will be hoping four days proves to be a similarly far distance so they can put memories of Tuesday night’s reverse at Barnet far behind them.

And manager Kevin Watson wants to consign the 5-2 defeat to “one of those nights” as his side look to bounce back in what will inevitably be described as a six-pointer against Wrexham.

Not only that, but Saturday pits the team with the worst home record against the side with the worst away record. It really is anybody’s game.

“Midfield areas, we didn’t get close to the ball, we need to win headers, get tight enough,” said the Fleet boss of his side on Tuesday night as they reached the 23-game, halfway stage of the season. “And not just the defence, everybody has to look at themselves. We’ll study Wrexham, we can do all the studying in the world, but if you don’t compete or you’re second to the majority of balls, then you’re not going to get rewarded.

“It’s the manner of the goals we’re conceding, they’re poor goals, I don’t expect to see that at this level. It’s far too easy, we know that. But these boys, I’ll back them. They know I’m not happy and Tuesday warranted a kick up the backside.

“I hope to put it down to ‘one of those nights’ and I hope it will remain ‘one of those nights’.

“If you take plaudits from good decisions and previous performances, then I don’t mind holding my hands up when it goes the other way, too.”

Watson had 16 available players on Tuesday night and had to recall Mathew Achuba who is on dual-registration terms at Chatham Town to fill the bench.

That shouldn’t be so much of an issue this Saturday with the manager “hopeful” of Jamie Grimes’s return while Alex Lawless is “a possibility” after hamstring trouble ruled him out recently.

Josh Umerah sits out the last of his three-match ban while John Goddard is poised to resume training and targeting a Christmas return. Former Wrexham loanee Alex Reid (pictured), in-form Gozie Ugwu and Tomi Adeloye will fight it out for the front places in the meantime.

While Watson awaits Fleet’s second home win of the season, his opposite number Dean Keates is awaiting his own second victory in the league, with his side’s impressive 1-0 win over Bromley his only scalp since returning for a second spell in the Racecourse hotseat.

What will be of more concern to Wrexham followers is their record away from home. They haven’t won a league game on their travels this season and indeed you have to go back to just after their 4-2 defeat here at the Kuflink Stadium in April to find their last away win, that coming at Barnet.

Jack King sees Rob Lainton get to a cross ahead of him in last season’s 4-2 win for the home side here at the Kuflink Stadium

But Keates believes he has seen shoots of recovery, even if the Dragons lost an important home game against fellow strugglers AFC Fylde in midweek. Their win over then league leaders Bromley has been followed by a tight pair of games against League One Rochdale in the FA Cup and a 3-3 draw with title contenders Yeovil Town.

In contrast to the Fleet, who have scored plenty but conceded more, Wrexham have been involved in typically low-scoring games, a trait of theirs for the past two seasons or so. Other than the 3-3 draw with Yeovil, it is rare for one or the other side to score more than a goal in Wrexham games, certainly since September.

It was the odd goal that decided the corresponding fixture at the Racecourse then, Paul Rutherford’s strike all that separated the sides, and Saturday’s match could be equally tight.

Since Keates succeeded Bryan Hughes as manager, he has begun to mould the team his way. Rob Lainton has returned from injury in goal while three new loanees landed from EFL clubs last week: Kieran Kennedy, Omari Patrick and Tyler Reid, the latter limping off on his debut against Yeovil.

In addition to questions over Reid’s fitness, Wrexham will definitely be without Manny Smith and Adam Barton while the odds on former Bromley striker JJ Hooper appearing are also low.

Keates knows his side are under pressure to win at the Kuflink Stadium, with the weight of expectation much greater than that on the shoulders of his opposite number.

“We have to go to Ebbsfleet, manage our own house and make sure we get points on the board,” he said. “There is an expectation at the football club and it is hard.If players can’t deal with it, they will find themselves out of the team. The place is on eggshells; the fans are frustrated, we are all frustrated.”

Like Watson, Keates has been on the phone all week in attempts to recruit some new blood but it’s not an easy time of year for any club to bring in proven quality and Wrexham hadn’t made any headway as of Friday.

The match is segregated and Wrexham fans should use the away turnstiles 200m to the left of the home entrance. Car-parking is available at Ebbsfleet International Station Car Park C for £3. Drivers are advised to avoid parking around the premises of local business and to avoid leaving cars on the Thames Way clearway near the roundabout as that runs the risk of being ticketed.

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