Mill Farm is the bookies’ favourite destination for where the Vanarama trophy will end up in April but Fleet go there buoyed by two new signings, having spent the past two games trying to scrape together enough bodies to fill the bench.
And with the return from suspension of skipper Jack King, Garry Hill is hoping his side can put their recent defeats to one side and play to their strengths with a full squad at his disposal.
King’s return and the impending announcement of another defender means Hill could adopt the three-man central line he hinted at in his post-match interview after the Bromley defeat. Another tactical point of interest will be whether Brandon Thomas-Asante’s recruitment will mean a partner for Gozie Ugwu, who also has Josh Umerah to call on for help in that department.
Fleet’s away trips to Fylde, in sharp contrast to our home performances against the Coasters, have usually been solid affairs. We were minutes from victory in 2017 before a late equaliser and last season were undone by a defensive lapse, losing that one 2-0.
It is, of course, a tough place to go and Hill acknowledged as much in his post-match chat on Tuesday. “They’re a quality team,” he said, “and will be there or thereabouts at the end. We’ll need some luck for sure. But we’ve got other options [with King back]. I had a situation at 70 minutes [against Bromley] where Alex Lawless had been booked and that was the reason why I took him off. I could not have a situation where we lost Alex Lawless for Saturday so 3-1 down, he had to come off.”
AFC Fylde, after two seasons of play-offs – the last in the final at Wembley – have added EFL quality to their side in the summer without being unduly weakened by exits the other way. Five of last season’s squad moved into the EFL but manager Dave Challinor brought in 10 new players.
Two are well-known to the Fleet, with Mark Yeates (Eastleigh) and Matty Kosylo (FC Halifax Town) standout performers for their sides in previous years. Goalkeeper James Montgomery (Forest Green) is one addition from the EFL, along with Kyle Jameson (WBA), Dan Lavercombe (Wigan Athletic), Jordan Williams (Rochdale) and Alex Whitmore (Grimsby Town). In addition, Challinor added Scott Duxbury from Stockport County, striker Kurt Willoughby from FC United of Manchester and James Craigen from Dunfermline.
Six of those played on Tuesday night against Chorley in what was a frustrating goalless draw for the favourites against the promoted side – and Fleet will be hoping those frustrations don’t turn into goals this Saturday.
The FA Trophy holders got a win under their belts on the opening day at Aldershot, with hotshot Danny Rowe getting off the mark from the penalty spot. Rowe usually manages to find a goal against the Fleet (in truth, he usually manages to find one against everybody!) so the danger he poses is obvious.
Challinor called on his side to improve in the final third after missing several chances against Chorley, saying they were “still a work in progress” up front, new boy Willoughby currently partnering Rowe. They lost defender Niall Byrne to a rolled ankle in Tuesday’s game so he may be a casualty for Saturday but Fylde’s squad has enough depth to cover that easily enough.