Although there have been two midweek trips through the Dartford Tunnel in recent weeks, Saturday’s visit to Weston-super-Mare will be Fleet’s first Saturday away day for more than a month.
Since then, Fleet fans have seen their side go wild with 22 goals at Stonebridge Road (24 if you count Tuesday’s Kent Senior Cup game) and the travelling contingent will be hoping home form can be converted into away points in the first of three road trips for Daryl McMahon’s side.
With injured trio Kenny Clark, Dean Rance and Sean Shields likely to be back in contention for a place, Fleet go to Weston – not the happiest of hunting grounds – full of confidence. Last season’s 2-1 defeat at the Woodspring Stadium sent the title bid off the rails and three of McMahon’s predecessors (Jamie Day, Steve Brown and Liam Daish) also experienced defeat at the hands of the Seagulls.
Yet McMahon will be hoping for a re-run of one of Brown’s better moments against Weston – 2013’s 6-0 win which kick-started Fleet’s drive for the play-offs that season. It was a game McMahon played in and where Anthony Cook scored twice.
Weston’s strong start to the season when they topped the table early on has gone pear-shaped and coach Ryan Northmore has since departed, to be replaced this week by former Forest Green Rovers caretaker manager Scott Bartlett. He needs to address the Seagulls’ downturn in form that sees them only two points above the drop zone. Since winning their opening three matches, Weston have lost their last nine matches including a reverse at the hands of lower-league North Leigh in the FA Cup.
New boss Bartlett told the Weston Mercury this week, ahead of his first game in charge: “I know where I want to be and where I want to get to. I want to play a certain style and I want to be harder to beat. With the players we have here it would be daft to play the ball long. We want to get the ball down and work on two or three formations. I think it is fair to say with the group they have in the dressing room, they are underachieving right now.”
Fleet will need to be wary of the ‘new manager’ effect plus the firepower that the Seagulls can boast in on-loan Bristol City youngster Shawn McCoulsky, who was garnering rave reviews in his first few games and proving a match winner with his goals. Weston have also welcomed back their former player Bradley Ash on loan from Barnsley, who scored 14 goals in as many games for the Seagulls before his move to Yorkshire.
The Weston side isn’t vastly different from that which beat Fleet back in March – with captain and two-goal hero from that game Dayle Grubb still part of the make-up – and finished last season four points clear of relegation. Weston continue to defy the bookies’ predictions of relegation and given the Seagulls are now the only club to have been resident in this division since its inception, it’s fair to say they can still spring a surprise or two – as Fleet have discovered on more than one occasion in the past.