These are the players most likely to feature for Chelmsford City on Saturday, with boss Rod Stringer having plenty of physical presence and firepower at his disposal. The City boss likes to mix it up formation-wise, with three big strikers often leading the line, plenty of creativity out wide and an adaptable bunch of defenders. We run down the Clarets rollcall ahead of this weekend’s big game…
Ross Fitzsimons (GK)
A former Crystal Palace youth and Bolton Wanderers reserve goalkeeper, Ross left Burnden Park in the summer to sign for Braintree Town but was soon on the move to Essex neighbours Chelmsford when Rod Stringer decided to replace summer signing and ex-Fleet keeper Joe Welch after only five games between the posts. Fitzsimons has lasted slightly longer and has been ever-present since, settling well and impressing in the City squad. He played under Stringer at Bishop’s Stortford last season on loan.
Josh Hill (DF)
Only in his fifth month at the Melbourne Stadium, Hill has won promotion with Boreham Wood in the past and also played for Dartford and last season Havant & Waterlooville. He played for St Albans earlier this season, his departure in January coinciding with their slide down the table. A centre-back in his usual position, he has also been deployed at full-back.
Luke Daley (DF/MF)
A left-sided player who operates on the wing or at left-back, the experienced Daley played for Norwich City in the Championship and has also clocked up Football League appearances for Stevenage and Plymouth Argyle before dropping into non-league with Lincoln City, Braintree Town and Dartford. Now in his second season at City, it will likely be Daley’s responsibility to help shackle Sam Deering.
Chris Bush (DF)
Stand-in skipper at City in Anthony Church’s absence, Bush wasn’t too popular with Dartford fans after their recent semi-final! A long-throw specialist whose deliveries into the box (both of the kicked and thrown variety) gave Chelmsford a dangerous outlet in their 2-1 win over us back in September, he is a commanding, 6ft 3in central defender or left back who had League experience with AFC Wimbledon and a long non-league career with the likes of Gateshead, Hereford United, Welling United and Lincoln City. A former teammate of Danny Kedwell’s at Wimbledon, he could well come face to face with his former colleague depending on Fleet’s starting XI.
Mark Haines (DF)
A loyal servant across the river, Haines is a tall central defender and the longest-serving player at the club, having made 250 appearances. The only survivor of City’s team from our 2010/11 play-off meeting, Haines was on the books of Southend United, West Ham and Northampton Town before playing for Grays Athletic. He joined City in 2009 and is a big favourite in the centre of defence. A former defensive partner of Kenny Clark’s, he’ll be tasked with keeping a check on the goalscoring ambitions of his former colleague at set pieces.
Max Porter (MF)
Essex-born central midfielder, 29, who turned out for Cambridge United, Bishop’s Stortford, Barnet and AFC Wimbledon before playing for Newport County at Wembley in the FA Trophy Final and then earning promotion to the Football League with the Welsh club. He spent last season in the National League with Bromley before joining the Stringer revolution last summer. Likely to play as a holding midfielder, and with quality on the ball, he will need to vye with Dean Rance and Andy Drury for supremacy in the middle.
Josh Rees (MF)
An Arsenal schoolboy and former England youth international who broke into the Nottingham Forest squad in 2013/14, he went on to join Nuneaton under Liam Daish and last season Torquay United. A central midfielder with an eye for the odd goal, he has become a fixture at the heart of the City side since joining in the summer in a competitive central midfield area.
Robbie Willmott (MF)
A winger who can play on either flank and needs little introduction to Fleet fans, his capture last season by Daryl McMahon was greeted with great anticipation – but after starting the campaign as a regular fixture in the Fleet side, he found himself out of favour and on loan. A major success at Chelmsford since following boss Rod Stringer from Bishop’s Stortford, Willmott has racked up the assists and is likely to be a real menace from the wide positions. His battle against Anthony Cook could be key and whichever winger manages to get on the offensive and shake off defensive duties might dictate which way the final leans. Willmott has plenty of experience having played in three Conference play-off finals in his time with Luton Town, Cambridge United and Newport County.
Chris Dickson (FW)
The scorer of an excellent goal and creator of another at Dartford last weekend, the veteran Londoner is an instinctive frontman starting to hit some real form after joining Chelmsford in January. He has scored nine goals in 20 games and will need to be well marshalled by the Fleet defence. Having started life in non-league with Erith & Belvedere and Dulwich Hamlet, he was a short-lived hit at Charlton Athletic before playing for Gillingham, Bristol Rovers, Dagenham & Redbridge and enjoying a lengthy spell in Cyprus. He signed for National League new boys Sutton in the summer and although his spell there was unremarkable, he seems to be making up for that at the Melbourne Stadium.
Louie Theophanous (FW)
A regular goal-getter at South level, having top-scored for Staines Town (where he was the division’s top scorer in 2013/14), Farnborough and St Albans City, Theophanous has also played for Bromley and Sutton United. Having hit form early on this season for St Albans, he was being linked with a move into the League before falling out of favour. This led to Rod Stringer swooping to sign him in March, since when he has scored seven times in 12 games, including the breakthrough goal at Princes Park last Sunday. He hasn’t had the best scoring record against the Fleet but that should be no reason for our defence to switch off against another player who carries a real goal threat.
Shaun Jeffers (FW)
Another big striker making up City’s three-pronged attack, the former Coventry, Cheltenham and Peterborough man played in Newport’s first season back in the League and last season had a fairly unproductive season at Yeovil Town. Since joining Chelmsford after a summer trial, that has all changed and he has racked up 21 goals in 41 appearances. An ex-England U19 youth, he has worked well from either a starting position or off the bench this season and is always a useful Plan B option for City if not in the starting line-up.
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Lamar Johnson (GK)
A March signing on dual-registration terms from Canvey Island, the back-up goalkeeper has been brought in purely as cover for Ross Fitzsimons in a Chelmsford side that rarely features a goalkeeper on the bench… but it’s likely Stringer won’t go into a final without the option of Johnson should anything happen to Fitzsimons. He has also played for Aveley, Grays Athletic, Romford and Thurrock.
Ashley Miller (DF)
Right-sided full-back who followed Stringer from Bishop’s Stortford in the summer, where he previously won player of the year, this is Miller’s second spell with Chelmsford, having also spent a season with East Thurrock United. Out of the side for much of February and March, he featured in City’s run-in to play-off qualification during April.
Michael Spillane (DF/MF)
A signing from Lowestoft Town, having previously come up against the Fleet while with Sutton United, the ex-Republic of Ireland youth international has a good Football League pedigree. He began his career at Norwich City and then played for Luton Town, Brentford, Dagenham & Redbridge, Southend United (with Mark Phillips) and Cambridge United. The versatile defender or midfielder lost his place recently due to a three-match suspension, but he’s in line for a recall in time for the final.
Anthony Church (MF)
Influential Chelmsford skipper who has sat out the last few games with injury, he was another of several key Bishop’s Stortford players to move with Stringer to Essex. Whether he is fully fit and put straight back into the side after Chelmsford’s semi-final win, however, is one of Stringer’s likely headaches ahead of the final. A real worker and leader at the heart of the City side, it would be a brave move to leave a fit Church out of the starting XI. Before joining Stortford, he played for Boston United, Grimsby Town and Alfreton Town.
Max Cornhill (MF)
Ex-Dartford central midfielder who rejoined City from Concord Rangers in the summer, he was also a mainstay at East Thurrock United. With 15 starts this season, he’s probably just behind Church, Porter and Rees for the industrious central berth, but is nonetheless another option in the middle of the park and was used regularly throughout April as City cemented their place in the top five.
Bagasan Graham (MF)
Scorer of the winning goal for Chelmsford in our away fixture at the Melbourne Stadium this season, Graham joined Cheltenham Town after coming through QPR’s ranks and is now in his second spell at City, either side of a season at Dulwich Hamlet. Last season’s young player of the year, he offers wide options be it from the start or coming off the bench and with Willmott on the other wing, needs careful watching, particularly if the visitors set up with an offensive formation. He could be another option instead of Luke Daley for a starting place.
Kane Haysman (MF)
An ex-Gillingham and Sutton attacking midfielder who can also play down the left flank or just off the strikers, he scored against the Fleet last season for Eastbourne and is a useful option from the bench, having joined City in December from Staines Town. He gives City the ability to mix things up when they need to chase a game and alter formation. He’s made 11 starts in 2017, with five appearances from the bench, and has weighed in with three goals.
Elliott Buchanan (FW)
It shows the strength of Chelmsford’s current attacking line-up that last season’s golden boot winner, who scored more goals than Fleet’s Matt Godden, has found himself down the pecking order. Having begun the season at Margate, their financial meltdown led to Buchanan replacing the outgoing Shamir Mullings and Billy Bricknell at Chelmsford. However, with seven goals in 21, he has struggled to repeat the form of last season. That said, he’s another very capable weapon in an offensive Chelmsford side and one to call on if Stringer is looking for another option with which to batter the Fleet defence.