It’s been almost 20 years since Fleet first met Notts County and 16 since the Magpies played on this ground in the FA Cup – and this first clash as equals pits two teams eager for points against each other.
Garry Hill has added one and potentially two to his squad this week (dependent on paperwork), with one out the door in the form of Brandon Thomas-Asante and – like his opposite number Neal Ardley – made no secret at Thursday night’s Q&A evening of the fact he is in the market for another forward.
After a narrow defeat at the hands of the league leaders last Saturday, the Fleet manager remains upbeat that his squad are better than their league position suggests. And what’s more, he’s not seen signs of any low morale.
“We’re not a team that should be sitting in that position, but we’ve got to prove that,” Hill said. “I know as a manager that we need to get a result straight away and I’m confident that as soon we get one result, we’ll start moving. You don’t become bad players and bad managers or bad at your jobs in a matter of two or three weeks. It’s a case of us being punished and a high percentage of punishment that we’ve had to take has been self-inflicted.
“I don’t think suggestions that we’re low in morale are correct either,” he added. “That’s very wide of the mark. I wouldn’t question anybody in our squad on that front, nobody’s licking their wounds or feeling sorry for themselves. They’re a very good squad of players and as individuals too. They’re very strong mentally and they know in themselves that apart from the Bromley game, that all the matches have swung on an edge. The result has got away from us one way or another because of crucial moments or things we’ve got punished for.
“You look through our squad and there’s players with experience and success at National League or above. Promotions, play-offs, out of our 17 or 18 no fewer than 10 or 11 have won things at higher levels. It’s not as if we’ve got an inexperienced team that’s young or haven’t had any success.
“We have got a new squad but it’s not as if they’re not playing for me, or for each other, or not putting in the effort and working hard. They are most definitely doing all of those things but we’ve had sendings-off situations, early penalties, mistakes. We cut those out, we’re going to improve, no question.”
The week off has been the first real break the squad have had since the season began and Hill has treated it as a doubled-edged sword, with plus points and negatives.
“In one way you want to get straight back out on the park,” he said, “but I think the way the games have been one after the other and having one or two players missing in respect of Alex Lawless and those carrying knocks getting another week to rest and recover, getting to a level of fitness and getting back involved in the squad at training, that’s a big factor.”
With Sutherland and Lawless to potentially slot into midfield, Hill is also expecting to see more from some of his players as they gain more match fitness.
“There’s more to come from a couple of players,” he said. “Josh Umerah is impressing up top, he’s a strong lad and he’s getting fitter. Bondz N’Gala hasn’t been playing much football but he did very well against Solihull. He’s won the title with Barnet so he’s another who can only improve and you’ve got Alex Lawless and Frankie Sutherland to come in. Same as everybody else, I’m finding it frustrating, but we have to be level-headed and not panic and make the most of the players we’ve got and those coming in.”
Notts County have had plenty of players coming in, too. Under a transfer embargo for most of the summer, they added 11 players in the space of days to a similar amount already at the club with manager Ardley still on the lookout for one or two more.
There are some big names in there, too, with former Cardiff City defender Ben Turner joined by the likes of Connell Rawlinson (Port Vale), Nathan Tyson (Notts Forest, Wycombe Wanderers), Zoumana Bakayogo who won promotion with Tranmere Rovers last season and Damien McCrory (Burton Albion). Skipper Michael Doyle has 700 league appearances behind him for the likes of Coventry City, Leeds United and Sheffield United while Dutch winger Enzio Boldewijn is the flair player to watch out for.
County have had a mixed start, winning at Harrogate and gaining a draw with Wrexham, but also lost to Barnet and Eastleigh. Any further defeat would place them in the lower reaches of the table, a fate that Magpies fans who have studied this division in any detail over the past few years know has befallen the likes of Hartlepool, Leyton Orient and Chesterfield.
“It’s the physical teams that we need to make sure we match and Ebbsfleet are one of those,” Ardley told his club website. “They’ve been unlucky in some of their fixtures. You can’t find any matches in this league that you can just win. You have to earn the right and if we don’t play similarly to how we did on Sunday we won’t win games of football. [Ebbsfleet] will pick up results. They’re a strong and powerful team and it will click I’m sure – I just hope it doesn’t on Saturday.”
As mentioned above, this will be the third meeting of the sides, Fleet having lost 2-1 on both occasions in the FA Cup – December 2000 at Priestfield in the First Round of the FA Cup and December 2003 here at Stonebridge Road in Round Two.
The match is segregated so Notts County fans should use the away turnstiles situated 150 yards to the left of the stadium entrance. Car-parking is available at Ebbsfleet International Car Park C for £3 and we would respectfully ask supporters not to block residences or businesses around the ground. There is also a risk of cars being ticketed on Thames Way (on the approach to the ground before the roundabout) so please avoid parking along that stretch of road.