Kevin Watson will be hoping to overturn history by guiding the Fleet past Notts County in a cup tie – and making the Second Round for the first time as ‘Ebbsfleet United’.
It was County who Fleet faced as Gravesend & Northfleet in our previous Second Round tie in 2003, the then Second Division (League One) side progressing courtesy of a last-minute goal on live TV.
That 2-1 victory repeated the scoreline of a First Round tie between the clubs three years previously and Watson will hope it’s third time lucky against the Magpies.
Fleet have also failed to win a ‘proper’ round of the Emirates FA Cup on home soil for almost a quarter of a century, when a 2-0 win in 1995 overcame Watson’s former club Colchester United.
The manager has experienced a few big FA Cup games in his time as a player, having faced Liverpool at Anfield and Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, and both those clubs would be just one game away if the Fleet could overcome Notts County.
Watson goes into his first game as permanent manager almost a year to the day after Garry Hill made his bow as boss at the same stage of the Emirates FA Cup. His side are five games undefeated, a run that began with the Fourth Qualifying Round draw against Woking, and there were plenty more encouraging signs in last week’s 2-2 draw with Chesterfield, who themselves beat Notts County seven days before that.
Albie Morgan is unavailable so that leaves a gap in midfield into which Alfie Egan or Alex Lawless could stake a claim. Goalkeeper Jordan Holmes is also back in contention, having made his debut against Notts County in the league meeting earlier in the season, while skipper Jack King returns from suspension.
John Goddard has had an operation on his ankle but remains sidelined, with Aswad Thomas suffering from a similar ankle complaint, while Lawrie Wilson has been out for a spell with a hamstring issue.
Notts County added to their squad ahead of their trip south with former Gillingham defender and ex-Yeovil player of the year Alex Lacey signing. Another new face is former Bromley defender Richard Brindley who scored against the Fleet in our 5-1 collapse at Hayes Lane last season and has already found the net twice this season.
But there are a few likely missing persons elsewhere in the side with defender Pierce Bird (hamstring) and midfielder Jim O’Brien (broken arm) doubtful. Striker Nathan Tyson could, however, return after a spell on the sidelines.
Veteran Tyson may not be required, however, with County having plenty of forward options. Wes Thomas, Kristian Dennis and Scunthorpe loanee Kyle Wootton have been fighting it out for a starting place and all are in good form with 17 goals between them.
Dutch wide attacker Enzio Boldewijn can add another seven to that total and when on form is considered one of the best players in the league.
Since the teams last met at the Kuflink Stadium, Neal Ardley’s side have risen from 16th to eighth and added 25 points from 14 games. Performances have improved greatly, although the Magpies have still come unstuck in a couple of games, losing to Chesterfield and having to recover a 2-0 deficit last weekend to draw at home to Hartlepool.
Their passage through to the First Round of the FA Cup was none too convincing either, going behind to Northern Premier League side Belper Town before turning things around to win 2-1. But by and large, Ardley is very pleased with how his squad is knitting together, calling them “a joy to watch” lately with attacking options and a patient approach that more often than not has been rewarded.
The match IS segregated and Notts County fans should enter at the Swanscombe End turnstiles. All supporters can pay on the gate. 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.
• We invite all supporters to join with us in a minute’s silence before kick-off in honour of Remembrance Weekend.