‘Bouncing back’, ‘a reaction’, ‘a response’… all are commonly used phrases following an unlikely defeat such as that experienced at Merstham last weekend but as the FA Cup run gives way for a further season, the Fleet are more looking for a continuation of recent league form which has yielded the maximum 12 points from the last four games.
That kind of points return is vital following a week where Maidenhead extended their lead at the top courtesy of a 6-0 win and closest challengers Chelmsford City registered the same result while other clubs were concentrating on cup glory. A win for Hampton & Richmond Borough also saw them stretch their advantage over the Fleet to four points, though Daryl McMahon’s side have a game in hand with games against both the Magpies and the Beavers coming up at Stonebridge Road in November.
Another of last weekend’s big scorers just happened to be East Thurrock United and by coincidence the newly promoted Essex side are next up for the Fleet. The visitors look likely to travel without Kenny Clark in contention once again as the defender continues to nurse his back injury but Sean Shields was back in training and expected to be fit for consideration.
The Rocks, who were promoted via the Ryman League play-offs ahead of more fancied opponents in Bognor Regis, Dulwich Hamlet and Tonbridge Angels last season, have adapted well to life at their new level. Sitting just four points behind the Fleet in eighth place, their 5-1 win over Weston-super-Mare last Saturday is one of just three high-scoring victories so far this season, with Gosport (5-1) and Truro City (6-0) also impressively put to the sword.
The Rocks have also defeated impressive starters Hampton & Richmond on their own patch and are the fourth highest scorers this season, three goals ahead of the Fleet. The majority of their goals have come from midfield, with Tom Wraight on six and Ben Marlow and Reece Harris on four apiece. All of which is a great statistic for the Rocks who have had to cope without hotshot Sam Higgins, scorer of 89 goals in his last 93 games for the club! The striker pulled his hamstring in pre-season and although he has returned to training, he wasn’t in the squad last weekend.
The only familiar face in the home lineup will be full-back Lee Burns, a stalwart of the promotion-winning Dartford side and veteran of their Conference Premier campaigns, although several others have faced Fleet in the past including James Walker (Dover Athletic, Bishop’s Stortford) and Joe Gardner (Concord Rangers).
Fleet’s only previous visit to the Future Fuel (Rookery Hill) Stadium was 11 years ago when James Smith and Charlie MacDonald gave us a 2-0 win in the FA Trophy. Admission to the ground is £12 (£6 concessions and £2 for U16s).