Fleet go into their first home Boxing Day game since 2011 atop the Vanarama National League South table knowing that a healthy points return will give them the perfect springboard for 2016.
Last week’s late reverse at home to Bath City, however, was “a real sucker punch” for boss Daryl McMahon who in the Fleet’s previous league game had experienced the delight of his side’s own late win over Hemel Hempstead.
“You go from the absolute high of Hemel to the real low of that,” McMahon told FleetOnline about the Bath game. “I didn’t know about the other results going our way until well after the game, so the damage of losing was somewhat less than it could have been. I’ve told the players we’ve been given a massive opportunity by that, but we have to do our bit and win these home games now.”
In his programme notes for the Boxing Day clash (kick-off 3pm), McMahon praises the home crowd, saying, “I’ve been here two and a half years and apart from play-off games, the support of the crowd against Bath was up there as one of the best I’ve heard. They tried to raise the team, you could feel them really wanting to help us out. They really did their bit for 90 minutes and we needed to do ours.
“This is the challenge. It was a challenge to be in the promotion frame, it’s a challenge to be top and it’s a massive challenge to be promoted. It’s the challenge for all of us, management, players and supporters. They try to be patient but you can understand if it gets frustrating. But I believe we’ll crack it, the players we’ve got, they’re confident and they’re capable.”
With Concord next up at Stonebridge Road, McMahon doesn’t expect a vastly different game to those that have gone before at home. “We shouldn’t expect visiting teams to play into our hands, why should we?” he said. “It’s up to us to break down their 4-5-1 if that’s the way they set up and who can blame them? If I was them, had seen us lose three, I’d keep it tight and then fancy ourselves on the counterattack too.”
With Tom Bonner starting his three-match suspension, Anthony Acheampong is expected to deputise. Dean Rance picked up his fifth yellow card of the season on Saturday but is past the cut-off point for an automatic one-game suspension and players from this point will only be suspended if they accrue 10 yellows.
VIsitors Concord have lost three games in succession, including a midweek FA Trophy game at Sutton that had to be replayed because the Essex side had fielded an ineligible player. But before that, the Beachboys had put together a fine run in November that had seen them scoop both manager and player of the month awards. Having been to Whitehawk and won there, they are clearly capable of springing a surprise result or two on the road.
After a tricky start to this season, new manager Adam Flanagan – a former Dartford skipper – seems to have instilled the same team spirit and self-belief in his Concord side that departed boss Danny Cowley used to his advantage in winning several promotions.
Concord’s Steve Cawley has nine goals this term and is complemented by the wily Lewis Taaffe up front, while goalkeeper Ben McNamara conceded no goals at all in November. Supplying the forwards is former Fleet winger Ben Greenhalgh and he has hit a purple patch of form since his switch from Maidstone over the summer.
The Essex side haven’t scored in two visits to Stonebridge Road, losing 4-0 and then 2-0 since 2013, but their 1-0 victory on their own ground in March as they just missed out on the play-offs laid down a marker that has made them serious contenders in this division, rather than candidates for the drop that lazy bookmakers have made them in seasons gone by.