It’s another big weekend of football for the Fleet, who have barely had time to take stock of their new surroundings, with two clashes against teams in the top six across the Bank Holiday.
First up, before the small matter of a Kent derby at Crabble, is the visit of Gateshead, who have yet to win on the road but convincing home form has seen them ease into sixth place at this early stage of the season.
Daryl McMahon has continued to run the rule over former Oxford City trialist Jean-Yves Niate this week, who was registered with the club to play in the Kent Senior Cup last Tuesday but the boss is still pursuing his number-one defensive target, a deal that has proved problematic to get over the line while the transfer window remains open.
“A short-term fix is all very well but not what we’re after,” McMahon told FleetOnline. “Mags is off with Malta but that was always on the radar. What you don’t expect and what’s hurt us is what’s happened with injuries in recent weeks with Dave Winfield, then Clarkey inside a week, then Jack Connors as well. It’s not ideal but it is what it is and we’ll get through it.”
Both Connors and Clark sat out training in midweek but were expected to be put through their paces on Friday, while Dean Rance came through another week of workouts and is now targeting match fitness. Yado Mambo and Sam Magri, in his final game before international duty, will once again man the central defensive berth unless McMahon can pin down his number-one target before kick-off. The boss has options to change things elsewhere, too, with Bagasan Graham, Sean Shields, Anthony Cook and Danny Mills all playing 90 minutes in midweek.
McMahon has plenty of faith in his squad to overcome any hurdles in the short term and he’s looking on the positives ahead of Gateshead’s visit. “We’re unbeaten in a new division so let’s build on that,” he said. “We have talented players, we’ve got four points from two home games, so I’m happy how that’s panned out.”
Gateshead arrive with three wins out of three at home, but two narrow defeats on their travels, so will be determined to change that at Stonebridge Road. Former Halifax manager Neil Aspin has had a few injuries of his own and has drafted in Newcastle United youngster Callum Williams on loan to add to two other six-month loan deals from Middlesbrough and Huddersfield Town.
The Tynesiders have finished 10th, 9th and 8th in the three seasons since they contested a Wembley promotion final against Cambridge United and they have the financial backing to make another tilt at promotion. That’s in sharp contrast to the side that Fleet fans might recall, who just about scraped survival ahead of ourselves in 2009/10.
And despite their decent start to this season, Aspin and others have bemoaned the lack of paying punters through the gates which is something the Gateshead hardcore believe should be much higher.
Up front, they have several options with Jordan Burrow likely to start alongside any of Danny Johnson (last season’s top scorer), Jordan Preston (a new signing from Guiseley) and Richard Peniket who won promotion last season with FC Halifax Town.
“They are a very decent side in a good position who have started well,” McMahon said. “They’ll have plenty of talented players and although they’re a big and physical side, I expect them to play a bit too. The midfielder, Penn, is very experienced and he’s not the only one in that squad, there’s McLaughlin in there too and they attack from the flanks. Neil Aspin knows his job and will set them up properly.”